An interview with Adrian Penfold

MOLA team

“It’s all about simplifying, rationalising and integrating.”

The Penfold Review of non-planning consents (July 2010) focused on the many and overlapping regulatory frameworks, and quickly identified heritage, transport and environmental permitting as key issues. Today, the implementation of the Penfold Review (BIS 2011) is at the heart of reform and integration. 

Taryn Nixon, MD of MOLA, and Mark Sanderson, Heritage Planning Consultant at MOLA, went to meet with Adrian Penfold to hear about the drivers for the review, and what he thinks about some of the latest changes. Read on for more about new Development Consent Orders and a call for a braver approach to piloting new approaches…

TN: Take us back to the initial drivers behind the review: what were your objectives?

AP: The approach came from Government, through the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). The Killian Pretty review had come out in 2008, with recommendations on streamlining the planning application process. It seems clear that there was a need to look at the other, non-planning issues. As a planner myself, with a background in local government, I was particularly interested in the coordination between planning and all the other regulatory frameworks. (There are some kinds of schemes, for example a chemical plant, that could need some 35 consents). I was taken on and immediately given a brilliant team of civil servants to work with, led by Alison French – who, in some ways, is as much the author of the report as I am.

TN: And within that team, were there particular concerns that had to be tackled first?

AP: Actually, what was very interesting was how the Review took place in the context of better regulation generally. The team were part of a group in BIS called the Better Regulation Executive. It was clear just how much regulation there was, how much overlap there was and how unnecessary some of it was. So from a customer perspective, say, or for a consultee, it might be really hard to know which bit of regulation applied to you. You know the list of ‘informatives’ you get on the back of a planning permission? We thought wouldn’t it be good to give that list to people at the beginning of the process – so we looked at the Planning Portal.

MS: Was ‘heritage’ felt across the board to be a particular problem?

AP: One of them, yes. What you have to understand is the governance structure: there was the team of Civil Servants. Then there was a Project Board, involving several Government departments; and we also set up a Sounding Board, which had representatives from, for example, the CBI, local government, English Heritage, the Environment Agency … a whole range of people. The last item on the agenda for Meeting One was ‘focus areas’. Within ten minutes there was consensus around the room that the three main areas we should focus on were heritage, transport and environmental permitting. We tested that – but continually that was the message.
It wasn’t heritage per se that was the problem – but the regulation around heritage and the many different consent regimes and how they are (or are not) integrated with planning. That was the thing that really interested me – and in fact I wrote a paper on it for the Oxford Joint Planning Law Conference.

TN: Let’s talk about some of the latest planning and non-planning consultations and changes.

AP: I’m really interested in is the recent announcements about the Development Consent Order process. It was all in the 2008 Planning Act that set up the Infrastructure Planning Commission (now disbanded and integrated into the Planning Inspectorate). The idea behind it is it brings together planning permission, listed building consent, and a whole range of different consents and deals with them all together as one consent.

TN: So no separate Acts of Parliament, no hybrid Bills...

AP: Exactly. I’ve seen that model (I was involved with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link when I was a planner in Dartford, and gave evidence at the CTRL Select Committee, and in fact at the Crossrail Select Committee). And I could see the model in the 2008 Act, which Kate Barker had initiated in, I think, 2006. What I concluded was that Government should, after a period of operation of the new regime, consider extending the model from major infrastructure to other types of development – say to major regeneration, housing, urban extensions, whatever. So it was really interesting to hear the announcements that they’re considering doing that.

MS: Do you think that responds to your review?

AP: Yes, in that it came out of the thinking about the lack of integration between planning and environmental permitting. They cover a lot of the same ground, and at the nub is the confusion for the applicant, the decision-maker and the local consultee. Integrating all this makes so much sense for all parties, including the developer.

TN: And I guess that now needs to take account of the Localism Act?

AP: Ah, yes: when we were doing the Review there was no Localism Bill or Act. There was no NPPF. If you can imagine, we did this very soon after the general election in 2010. We saw localism coming, of course, but it hadn’t arrived, as it were. The way I reconciled that was to say why couldn’t Development Consent Orders be determined by local authorities as well as by the Planning Inspectorate, depending on the type of development.

TN: That then raises the big question of local authority resourcing.

AP: Certainly, resourcing is a huge issue – though it’s not the only issue. Again, there is reference to it in the Review. And actually I took some flak for suggesting that developers could or should bear greater fees in planning.

MS: What are your thoughts about the recent consultation over Listed Building Consents?

AP: I personally am quite interested in the idea of accredited inspectors. I know there are concerns about it, but there are good examples of how the concerns can be managed, for instance in nature conservation. We still need to deal with the curtilage problem, and there’s obviously the underlying need to review all the old listings (there’s your resourcing problem!). From the developer or owner perspective, you want to know what you are going to be able to do with a particular heritage asset – and it can take a long time to understand what the parameters are. If I want to prepare a plan to change or even enhance a listed asset, and if the listing is old and needs revisiting, then it would be great to go to an accredited inspector, and pay for it, to update the information and the listing. All we really need is clarity on what’s important and what’s possible and what’s not… and then a simple process for making it happen. Part of that would undoubtedly involve a Certificate of Immunity, and I think there is potential to widen their scope to include other designations such as conservation areas and village and town greens, and to extend their physical area to cover zones that have been identified for growth. Planning and consents could be integrated or, at the very least, happen at the same time as planning. Maybe we could pilot some new ways of doing things in an integrated way. We don’t seem to be very good at piloting things in this country.

TN: A good place to pause our discussion – with a challenge!


Further thoughts from Adrian Penfold can be read in ‘The Relationship between Planning Permission and Non-Planning Consents — Unfinished Business?’ presented at the Joint Planning Law Conference (Sept 2010)

The Penfold review of non planning consents. (BIS 2010)


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