Important changes to the planning system
The Human Rights Act 1998 comes into effect on 2nd October 2000. The Act brings much of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The Act will have significant effects on many UK institutions.
In relation to planning and the environment, the effect of the 1998 Act is likely to place more emphasis on the protection of the individual - such as when a local authority exercises discretion in planning decisions. Third parties objecting to the granting of planning permissio may need to be taken into account, because of the right to the enjoyment of their property (Article 1 of the 1st Protocol). The environmental impact of a planning decision on a neighbourhood property brings into play the right for respect for home, privacy and family life (Article 8).
Local authorities have environmental obligations concerning air pollution, contaminated land, nuisances, clean air, litter, noise, etc. They will need to consider the human rights consequences of not acting against severe environmental damage, or of their own economic development powers.
Another important development that will affect the UK planning system is the forthcoming implementation of the Aarhus Convention - "Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matter" (agreed by European States in Aarhus, Denmark, on 25th June 1998). It is expected that the necessary number of countries required to bring the Convention into force (16) will have ratified the Convention by the end of 2000. The Convention will ensure public participation in a wide range of planning decisions and will lead to third party right of appeal.
It was also announced on 16th June 2000 that the Planning Inspectorate had been awarded £3m from the Government's Capital Modernisation Fund to develop a planning Internet service. The proposed new system will make the handling of appeals and other casework more efficient by enabling the Inspectorate to automate many manual processes and giving "customers" a more efficient service. The DETR Press Release (16th June 2000) noted that: "It is envisaged that the system will link the Inspectorate, local planning authorities, Government Offices for the Regions, the National Assembly for Wales and other statutory bodies with planning interests to facilitate the transfer of information electronically. It is proposed that the system will also provide a national information service on planning matters. A paper-based casework system will continue to be available for those people who do not wish to use the Internet service."The Inspectorate's objective is for the system to be in place by 2002-03.The work and structure of the Planning Inspectorate is currently the subject of a detailed review by the Government (which should be completed by late-2000). In addition, the Inspectorate is also the subject of an investigation by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport & the Regions - which is scheduled to be published in July 2000.