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History of the Town and County Planning in the UK.

Town and Country Planning legislation has affected many home and land owners over the years which has perhaps been seen as restrictive at best or obstructive at worst.  Planning controls have also protected many home owners for which they are eternally grateful. So has the balance been struck & what was history that has lead to the current Planning Controls?

Town an Country Planning is a system to control land use by central Government & implemented by Local Government. This seeks to maintain a balance of economic development and protection or improvement of the environment. Every Council of the United Kingdom has developed its own planning policy with responsibility for town and country planning.

permitted development auction hammerThe critical framework for the system was set in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, with addition of green belts in 1955, which were introduced via a Government Circular. The system has not been significantly amended since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which repealed all previous legislation, including the first Housing and Town Planning Act 1909, law to which there followed: Housing and Town Planning Act 1919, Town Planning Act 1925 and Town and Country Planning Act 1932.

Current planning legislation for England and Wales is consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA 1990). Associated with this principal Act are three further Acts related to planning. These 4 acts were defined as the Planning Acts. Parts of these Acts have been replaced or amended by the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which received Royal Assent on 13 May 2004.

QUOTE: "The minute you read something that you can't understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer".

The years previous to the UK town and country planning systems created an explosion in industry, urban sprawl, pollution and ribbon development.  These were seen as undesirable which needed control by the powers that be at the time.

These concerns were expressed through 'thinkers' such as Ebenezer Howard and the philanthropic actions of industrialists such as the Lever Brothers and the Cadbury family although by now these influential people had already made their fortune by utilising the very over-development of the countryside that they now showed interest in preventing.

The outbreak of the second world war saw a series of Royal commissions that looked at the problems of urban planning and development control.

These included:

  • the Uthwatt Committee into compensation and betterment (1942)
  • (later) the Reith Report into New Towns (1947)
  • the Barlow Commission (1940) into the distribution of industrial population
  • the Scott Committee into rural land use (1941)

Patrick Abercrombie developed a plan for the reconstruction of London, which envisaged moving over 1,500,000 people from London to new and developed towns.

The effect of these report were:

  • The New Towns Act 1946 and
  • The Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

The 1947 Act nationalised the right to develop land that required most proposals to obtain planning consent from their relevant local authority (there was a right of appeal).


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Permitted Development information

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The Planning Act required local authorities and councils to develop Local Plans or Unitary Development Plans to schedule the kind of development they would prefer and to mark special development areas on Local Plan Maps. Counties were to develop Structure Plans which set broad targets for the wider area. Structure Plans were expensive in timing and delays evolved meaning that many structure plans were no longer relevant by the time they were formally adopted.

The frustrated planning system received a number of alterations consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA 1990). Section 106 substantially re-enacted Section 52 from the former Act which set the framework of agreements (known as "planning obligation agreements" or more commonly "Section 106 agreements") where the developer or home owner is subject to an extra set of detailed arrangements and restrictions well beyond those which a typical planning condition could impose.  This could include the provision of a financial contribution beyond the immediate building costs in order to compensate for the 'theoretical' external effects of the development onto the local area such as transport and road improvements. 

Due to the complex & inefficient mechanisms within the 106 legal agreement route it was soon amended to allow a developer to accept a unilateral obligation to streamline the system which mainly involved the local authority in receiving a sum of money from the Developer / home owner.  This was meant to stop the Council from withholding permissions by their own failure to negotiate on such detail within a 106 legal agreement.

Linked to this principal Act were 3 further Acts related to planning:-

  • The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990
  • The Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990.
  • The Planning (Consequential Provisions) Act 1990.

These 4 Acts were defined as the Planning Acts. Almost immediately after parliament passed these Acts, the government had second thoughts on the excessive control of land development which led to the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 which rewrote, with important alterations many of the provisions of the Planning Acts.

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 resulted in a number of substantial changes to the English Development Plan system. Structure Plans and Local Plans were removed to be replaced with Local Development Frameworks (LDFs), which comprise of a number of Local Development Documents (LDDs) and Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs).

The Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which is produced by Regional Assemblies in England, replaces the Structure Plan as the strategic planning document.  This document sets targets for housing and employment development within each district in a Region for the future. Wales has a variation of this.

Local Authorities must now produce Local Development Schemes (LDS). These outline the work the LDDs/SPDs they intend to produce over a three year period.  Statements of Community Involvement (SCI) which schedule how the Council will involve the local community must also be included. All LDDs and SPDs must also have a Sustainability Appraisal (SA) together with a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). We are told that the SEA is a requirement under European Union laws. Planning Policy Guidance Notes used to be the mainstay of providing extra information to the Council waffle but these are being replaced by Planning Policy Statements.

Minor amendments or variations to existing planning approvals are normally allowed which recognises the fact that planning information is not always detailed enough as to allow the instant construction of a building project. Working drawings are then prepared based upon the planning scheme where design Agents or their clients would often install minor changes to accommodate technical issues or reflective thought on the design.  

Buildings are also adjusted on site to overcome unforeseen problems. Regretfully, the legality of these minor amendments was challenged in 2006 and the 'arse covering' advice to many local authorities is that any variation to a planning permission should require subsequent planning approval which would entail a lengthy resubmission and extra fees by the site owner with all the anguish and stress that entails.