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'Public must be involved in planning changes'

Middle MHK seeks clarity over government proposals

An MHK says there needs to be a full public debate about changes to the Island's planning system to ensure questions don't go unanswered.

The Cabinet Office is proposing a raft of measures designed to improve the planning process, including new national policy directives, and a community infrastructure levy.

What's being proposed?

  1. National policy directives - powers to override development plans to 'better meet our needs', but would require Tynwald approval before being introduced. Designed to make planning system more 'responsive to changing circumstances'.
  2. Community Infrastructure Levy - a form of tax for ensuring new developments pay for wider infrastructure, hoped to take effect by 2020 - how this will work in practice has yet to be revealed.
  3. A method for making minor amendments to existing planning approvals to reduce bureaucracy, mooted for the end of 2019.
  4. 'General Importance to the Island' - a new definition for 'key' applications to be 'called in' to the Council of Ministers.
  5. Cabinet Office powers to appoint a planning advisory body.
  6. An explicit definition of the statutory basis for the Planning Committee and its decisions.

A consultation on the amendments to the law which would facilitate these changes closed last week. Respondents were concerned the measure would fast track some planning applications to the Council of Ministers, bypassing the Planning Committee and removing a layer of public scrutiny.

Policy and Reform Minister Chris Thomas says this feedback will be factored in to a bill he's hoping to introduce in Tynwald before the end of the year. Mr Thomas is keen to stress however that much of the detail behind the proposals has yet to be 'fleshed out'.

One of those who took part in the survey was Middle MHK Bill Shimmins.

He's broadly supportive of the changes but wants to ensure the public is aware of what's being proposed.

Mr Shimmins believes the Council of Ministers should not be making decisions on smaller developments, and a 'clear criteria' should be given when defining applications of 'general importance'.

He's welcomed the principle of national planning policy directives, calling existing area plans 'fragmented' and inflexible.

The Middle MHK says there are also opportunities to incentivise 'brownfield over greenfield' development within the new measure.

Mr Shimmins has been speaking to Local Democracy Reporter Ewan Gawne:

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