HITTING THE TARGET AND MISSING THE POINT: Speed in planning decisions
Development control has long been the Cinderella of planning, largely ignored or overlooked and wrongly perceived as being narrow, regulatory and technical. Such a view tends to approach it from a management perspective and see it as being about process. Criticism of the speed of decision-making has been a consistent theme and has emphasised the idea of development control being a process that largely endorses or refuses development proposals by comparing them to the outcomes of decisions taken elsewhere. The Dobry report in the mid-1970s, for example, explored the reasons for delays in development control and recommended better management of the process and applications (Dobry, 1975). The Conservative government from 1979 also introduced a range of measures aimed at making decisions quicker. The concerns of successive governments and the largely unsuccessful attempts to speed up planning in general and development control in particular represent a fundamental characteristic of UK planning. The separation of plan-making from decision-taking in the postwar system was envisaged as a way of separating strategic from detailed issues. This separation has always had advantages and disadvantages. The much vaunted flexibility and discretion, on the one hand, has to be weighed against speed, cost and complexity, on the other (see Haughton et al., 2010: ch. 2). As a result there have also been successive attempts to ‘bridge the gap’ between the two without actually moving wholesale towards the zoningbased approach of combined plan and permission more common in continental Europe and North America. The ‘plan-led’ approach introduced in 1991 and reinforced in 2004 sought to link plan and permission with a presumption in favour of the development plan. The primacy of the plan, among other material considerations, was not only an attempt at minimising local discretion but also, through the requirements for approval of development plans, a way of centralising control (Haughton and Allmendinger, 2009b; see also Chapter 1).