Context 153 - March 2018

12 C O N T E X T 1 5 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 8 CHARLES MYNORS All change for planning and historic environment law Context ’s former legal correspondent offers his perspective on the Welsh Government’s invitation to the Law Commission to review the operation of planning law in Wales. Imagine that you have been living in a house since 1947. It still more or less meets your needs, but the attic is full of all manner of stuff – you’re not sure precisely what, but you thought that it would be useful at the time you bought it. In fact, the whole house is rather cluttered, and you can never find anything you actually need. But you dare not throw anything away, because it might come in handy one day. And some of the internal walls, erected or altered over the years, are located so that they get in the way of what you wish to do now. That is the problem with the law governing plan- ning and the historic environment. It used to be rela- tively straightforward – with just theTown and Country Planning Act 1947. However, now there are over 30 acts dealing with this area, including the TCPA 1990 and the Listed Buildings Act 1990, of course, but also many others – from the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 through to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. The first thing that is needed is a complete overhaul of the whole lot. That is precisely what happened with the planning acts in 1971 and 1990, in a process known as ‘consolidation’, when all the acts in a particular field are replaced with one new one (or, as in 1990, a group of linked ones). That makes the law tidier, but not necessarily more straightforward; it is the equivalent of tidying up all the rubbish in the old house, but throwing none of it away. So what is also needed is to go through all the legislation and see what is no longer required, and throw it out; to see what laws are basically different ways of doing the same thing, and which should be kept; and what is unclear and should be updated. In other words, the householder needs to hire a couple of skips and fill themwith a large quantity of old rubbish, including many items that are not rubbish but simply serve no continuing purpose. That needs to happen to planning law in all areas of the UK. InWales there is a further problem, in that – in theory – the law is the same throughout England and Wales; but in practice the law that is applicable inWales is significantly, and increasingly, different from that which applies in England. Thus most (but not all) acts of the Westminster Parliament dealing with planning in the past 10 years have applied only in England; and acts of theWelsh Assembly, obviously, apply only inWales – notably the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016.The latter two are similar to recent English legislation, but by no means the same. TheWelsh Government has therefore invited the Law Commission – an independent statutory body charged with keeping the law up-to-date – to review the operation of planning law in Wales, and to review ways in which it can be simplified and made fit for purpose.The com- mission has accordingly produced a consultation paper, on which it has been seeking views. This covers a wide range of topics, and includes around 180 proposals for technical reform of planning law. Following an analysis of the views expressed, the commission will issue a final report to theWelsh Government, and there will emerge in 2020 two new acts that will between them replace all of the 25 to 30 Acts of Parliament and Acts of the Assembly that currently underpin the planning system and the historic environment. In England, the present situation will remain until further notice. The Grade I listed St Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron, Gwynedd. The poet RS Thomas (1913–2000) was minister here. (Photo: Llywelyn2000, Wikimedia Commons)