As next month’s EU referendum approaches, much has been discussed and debated about the political and economic implications of a ‘no’ vote. But what would be the potential impact of leaving the union on the domestic planning system, asks Emma Williams.
The likely answer to this question from a development management perspective is ‘not significant’, as the UK has in place its own national planning system against which plan making and decision taking operates. However, there are a number of aspects and features associated with our EU membership which are not part of domestic statutory policy or legislation and are therefore controlled by EU law and regulation. As an independent state, there would be no obligation for the UK to comply with such regulations (which are directly enforceable within all member states) which could potentially result in fundamental changes that could impact upon planning at a national strategic level.
The planning system is to an extent interlinked with EU law which sets out the framework for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is required for developments with potentially significant effects on the environment. These directives have helped to put environmental issues at the forefront of debate in decision making and, by setting rigorous standards, have contributed to the Government’s national policy objective of promoting and encouraging sustainable development. As many EU Directives have been transposed in to domestic law, Brexit would be unlikely to have a significant impact upon current environmental protection standards immediately; however, it could mean that some changes may be made to procedure and practice in the medium to long term. The predicted two-year transition between the referendum and Brexit would provide a ‘cooling off’ period during which any changes to procedure would be confirmed. However, this could interfere with the progress of the new EIA Regulations, which are due to come in to force in May 2017, as it is not clear whether there would be a moratorium on EU Directives passing into UK law during this cooling off period.
One area where it is difficult to foresee the benefits of a Brexit is the delivery of those major UK infrastructure projects which are currently heavily reliant on EU funding. At present, the UK benefits from EU funding towards projects such as HS2 and Crossrail. Although it is unclear how a Brexit would affect projects that have received, or expect to receive EU funding, it is probable that the UK would have to replace much, if not all of the project and infrastructure finance originating from the EU institutions. As the planning and subsequent CPO process for HS2 is now well underway, if the delivery of this major transport infrastructure were to slow down or halt due to funding withdrawal, there would likely be huge implications which would be felt at both local and national level.
One thing is clear, when it come to the UK’s future as an EU member and the implications of a Brexit for the UK planning system, ‘the only certainty is uncertainty’.
Emma Williams is a planner at HOW Planning in Manchester.