Brexit and planning

20 June 2016

As the country goes to the polls, Tom Newcombe considers the impact of Brexit on the planning system.

The primary impact of a ‘Leave’ vote tomorrow could be the reduction of environmental controls. 

  • Many environmentally sensitive sites have ‘European’ status and are subject to one or more special European protections. 'Ramsar’ site status is secured through the European Convention on Wetlands. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the Birds Directive.
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive requires automatic screening and /or assessment of the environmental impacts of development projects while the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive imposes a similar requirement on ‘plans and programmes’. Both have given rise to landmark cases, notably ‘Berkeley’ and ‘Cala Homes’.
  • The Aarhus Convention came into force in 2001 and established a freedom of information regime specific to the environment which has generated its own body of decisions, many concerned with disclosure of viability information. 

Brexit could mean that all of these protections fall away, or become diluted over time. Many will welcome this reduction in regulation but there may also be fewer constraints for more controversial developments such as fracking, waste disposal and nuclear power.

The wider impacts are more difficult to anticipate. Funding for some regeneration projects is provided from the EU European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and this would come to an end. It seems more than possible that there will be a general economic downturn; which could also affect housebuilding and other development, which is exactly what both the development industry, and the Government do not want given the construction sector is so critical to the health of UK PLC.

The only certainty is uncertainty as the effects of a ‘leave’ vote start to be felt. With significant parts of the new Housing and Planning Act subject to the implementation of as yet unseen regulations, planning lawyers may feel that there is enough of this already.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding Brexit and the impact on the planning system, please contact Tom Newcombe or a member of Birketts' Planning and Environmental team. Law covered as at June 2016.