The Single Window Concept and Planning Reform

Lets say you are an architect and are preparing a scheme for a listed building in a county council area. You do a joint listed building and planning joint application, as is good practice. There is a problem. The planning application has to be dealt with by the County under reg 3. The County has no powers over listed buildings, that’s a district matter. If in the course of negotiation repair become replacement or vice versa you have to to and from between the two.

This is just one of many examples of multiple consent regimes. For example in many areas planning consent is just the beginning, a variety of consents from the Environment Agency and Natural England may be required.

Believe it or not uk town planning is just one of may hat and another if international customs processes and business process reengineering. A key concept in this realm is that of the ‘Single Window‘. This originated in Singapore. The idea is you fill in a form once, and then the state handles the bueracracy of multiple sign offs. You will notice with the Irish Border the British Government really doesn’t have a clue how to facilitate trade in this manner.

World Customs Organization

The single window …permits the trader or transporter to submit all the data needed for determining admissibility of the goods in a standardized format only once to the authorities involved in border controls and at a single portal. The Single Window concept places the onus on the authorities to manage the Single Window and to ensure that the participating authorities or agencies are either given access to the information or are actually given the information by the managing authority. It eliminates the need for the trader or transporter to submit the same data to several different border authorities or agencies.

There are a couple of international cases where the concept has been internationally applied. In the middle east there is the system of NOCs (no objection certificates) where a planning case has to signed off by multiple agencies (fire, environment etc. etc.) In Bahrain there is the Developers One STop shop system, which I studied closely and in KSA set up the Ministry of Housing Developers Centre at the Ministry of Housing, discovering that where legal authority is driven by Royal Decrees you will only get regulatory reform when driven by the centre.

Another good example if the reform of the Dutch Planning System.

The cabinet wants to simplify the laws on the environment and planning and to combine them in a single Environment and Planning Act. For the time being, the Act will replace 15 existing laws, including the Water Act, the Crisis & Recovery Act and the Spatial Planning Act. The provisions of eight other laws will be transferred to the Environment & Planning Act.

The new bill has been approved by both Chambers of Parliament. The cabinet now draws up introductory legislation. The expectation is that the Act will take effect in 2021.

Environmental Plan for authorities

Currently, some municipalities have over 100 land-use plans. A single environmental plan for the entire area will replace all of these. This means fewer regulations and more cohesion.

‘One-stop-shop’ for citizens and companies

If citizens or companies want to implement a project, they will be able to apply for a (digital) permit at a ‘one-stop-shop’. The municipality or province will then make a decision. Are they both responsible for the decision? No matter, only 1 will make the decision. This simplifies things for the applicant and speeds up the permit application procedure.

Companies need to conduct fewer studies

To obtain a permit for a spatial project, companies have to conduct studies (for example, a soil survey). With the Environment and Planning Act, research data will remain valid for longer. This makes it easier to re-use data. Moreover, some research obligations will be abolished and this means lower costs.

The scope of the Dutch Planning system is beyond the scope of this post. There has been toing and froing over the years between planning based on string principles and that base don rules, between planning being state driven and being ore locally driven and discretionary. However the principle of simple enabling legislation enabling a single window approach is a good one. In the Netherlands water is the driver and the need to simplify and unify systems around flood and water management. In the 1980s they replaced the previous approach of stopping water with one of making space for water, hence water became part of the planning and zoning system.

There isnt really time to do this in the new Planning Act. But it could have a few enabling Planning and Enterprise Act type Henry VIII clauses to enable future consolidation of regimes and plans in the future with a legislative aim of introducing a single window approach.

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