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DCLG to implement majority of Taylor review on planning guidance

The Government has said it will accept the majority of the Taylor review’s recommendations on rationalising planning practice guidance.

In a report published in December 2012, the review group led by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor concluded that the current system was “no longer fit for purpose”.

In its formal response following a consultation, the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We accept that the existing guidance suite needs reform and consolidation. In light of the positive response to this consultation, we are carefully considering the implementation of the review group’s recommendations.

”As set out in the Budget, we will publish significantly reduced planning guidance, providing much needed simplicity and clarity in line with Lord Taylor’s recommendations. We accept the majority of the report’s recommendations, with the exception of those on signposting best practice material produced by the sector and the immediate cancellation of out-of-date guidance.”

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The DCLG said it would only only signpost – and therefore link to – other Government departments, statutory consultees, and other Government bodies, and would not endorse specific documents.

It added that it believed that the current guidance should remain in place until the new guidance suite was ready.

“We consider this important to ensure that there is no gap or perceived gap in the provision of guidance, and so will not be accepting the recommendation to cancel any material ahead of the new guidance being available,” the DCLG argued.

Lord Taylor’s report called for an altogether new approach to guidance, rather than the simple removal from current guidance that which is most redundant, contradictory or out-of-date.

Amongst other things, it found that:

  • A vast range of material had all counted as ‘guidance’ simply by virtue of carrying a DCLG stamp.
  • Some documents were “wildly out-of-date”.
  • Given that many organisations provided case study based advice, it was not obvious why the Government should retain or in future produce this material. This should instead be sector led.
  • In future there needed to be an editorial process that identified and updated essential items, and offered this as guidance, “excluding all that is unnecessary, if well intentioned”.
  • In some cases a particular piece of guidance might only be explicable and complete if several documents were cross-referenced, “making it unusable to those without specialist knowledge and potentially (if the unamended document is relied on) misleading and even dangerous”. It should be the responsibility of the DCLG – through the office of the Chief Planner – to ensure that in future guidance is kept easily accessible, explicable, and in a coherent form when updated.
  • Guidance encouraged lazy legislative thinking. “If statute, regulations and statutory instruments were clearer, the wording would not need to be pieced together or clarified in guidance”.
  • The practice of using Chief Planner’s letters and sometimes circulars to highlight and explain changes or current issues can confuse the waters. It should be possible to draw attention to or explain new guidance or address current issues without adding to the body of formal guidance.

The report said: “Across all those we met there is a clear understanding that the historic accumulation of out-of-date, contradictory and unmanageable material must be brought to an end, whittled down to an essential, coherent, accessible and well- managed suite of guidance that aids the delivery of good planning. It must then be maintained as such. Where there is a will, we believe there is a way.”

It recommended cutting guidance to that which is essential and clearly defined as 'Government Planning Practice Guidance'. However, the report warned that guidance could never replace local judgement and the application of professional expertise. Best practice material should be managed by professional bodies, rather than by the Government.

The report added that live management of the set of guidance – through a web-based resource on a single site – should be the core task for the Government. Planning Inspectorate guidance should also be incorporated into the single set of guidance, it suggested. 

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