Irish Style “Special Development Zones’ – A Case for them in England?

The recent Autumn statement included a clause for planning reforms to ensure ‘the principle of development’ only need be established once.  There was great debate over what that meant,  Some thought it meant a return to ‘redline’ style approvals, as advocated in the Lyons review. I thought not because:

-Redline approvals were always granted by the same legal provision we have now – outline approvals;

-Today with EA etc. it would be very difficult to submit large scale applications with just a redline, and

-Even with reforms to reduce the amount of supporting information it still would not ensure a single stage approval for the principle of development, you have still the local plan zoning and the outline approval.

So in a previous post I offered my theory that this was a  further move towards a continental style ‘zoning and subdivision system’.

I have long argues on this blog that such systems manage to deliver more housing (when their is proper investment in them) in other jurisdictions.  I don’t think this hasn’t escaped the attention of the DCLG either.

Now what options exist for reform?  Well we could simply rip up the planning act and translate the Dutch one for example.  No-one would advocate that.

Secondly their already is a model on the UK statute books, the ability of New Town Development Corporations to grant consent according a planning scheme under section 3.  Whilst the New Towns act 1946 can and should be updated the problem is it was drafted in advance of comprehensive planning legislation and sits rather uneasily within it. I dont think we want to go back to a system of where local plans are simply black holes where development corporations are designated or worse only regulate changes of use and extensions to buildings already granted in New Town areas.

There is a useful model which is worth studying which is based in part on the model of the New Towns Act but embeds it within a plan-led system.  The Irish ‘Special Development Zone’ regime introduced under their 2000 Planning and Development Act (as Amended 2013) part IX clauses 165-171 are relevant.  The powers in summary allow a ‘development agency’ to designate a SDZ and then prepare a planning scheme for the area for approval by the planning authority which then becomes part of the development plan for the area.  This avoids the clear conflict of interest of Nw Town Development Agencies approving their own masterplans.

The key operative clause is section 170.

a planning authority shall grant permission in respect of an application for a development in a strategic development zone where it is satisfied that the development, where carried out in accordance with the application or subject to any conditions which the planning authority may attach to a permission, would be consistent with any planning scheme in force for the land in question, and no permission shall be granted for any development which would not be consistent with such a planning scheme.

This is pretty much exactly the same as an application for a No Objection Certificate in a zoning and Subdivision jurisdiction.

The clause is clear and straightforward – though a little blunt to English planners used to a disctionary regime.  It establishes the principal of development once and voids the pre plan-led archaisms of the 1946 act.  One problem with the Irish wording, it can be seen as a presumption against development where there is no exact conformity.  I would suggest the following instead

Conforms =shall grant permission

Substantially conforms =may having regard to the development plan and other material considerations

Substantially non conforms =shall refuse.

The Irish regime was originally crafter to give the IDA a one stop shop regime to attract inward investment, but more recently to aid regeneration of Dublin Dock.  Here you can see a recently submitted SDZ scheme which is pretty similar in form to a LDO, though as part of the development plan rather than the development order. I think these are easier for planner  (as opposed to lawyers) to draft and allow for more discretionary wording.  I think though with more judicious editing it can be a quarter of its length and far more visual and exciting.  The Grangegorman SDZ I think is more professional and a better read (note this is wider than a SDZ scheme and includes regeneration sstrategy requirements under other legislation – it is a spatial plan not just a land use plan).  This was created following an international competition and extensible consultation.

I would strongly recommend these be studied by the DCLG for Enterprise Zones and Housing Zones (where LDOs are not always the best approach, LDOs are mush better for small changes to an already masterplanned scheme – SDZ are better at defining a masterplan or development framework) and Garden Cities. Another lesson I think that can be learned from Grangegorman is that the legislation needs to be flexible eniugh to craft a proper sptial plan (a lesson lost in England).

One thought on “Irish Style “Special Development Zones’ – A Case for them in England?

  1. Pingback: Using LDOs to Boost Brownfield Sites is Using a Loaf of Bread to Drive in a Nail | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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