The IPC was established by the Planning Act 2008 and is currently scheduled to start work in October 2009 and begin hearing cases in early 2010. It will determine applications for consents for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP).
In our May edition of this Planning Review, we reported that the Conservatives opposed the creation of the IPC. They believe that the IPC is anti-democratic because it transfers certain planning decisions away from elected local authorities and ministers to the Commissioners, who will be made up of appointees.
Charles Hendry MP, the shadow energy minister, recently outlined the Conservative's position. He confirmed that a Conservative government will abolish the IPC and hand NSIP applications back to the Secretary of State. The IPC planning team will be redeployed as a "large projects team" to the Planning Inspectorate and would make recommendations to ministers about NSIPs.
Another proposed change relates to National Policy Statements (NPSs), the documents which will set out national policy for NSIP development. The 2008 Act currently provides for Parliament to make recommendations in respect of proposed NPSs but the Conservatives propose to give Parliament the power to vote on NPSs which will also have to be ratified as secondary legislation.
The Conservatives consider that their proposals will reduce the likelihood of legal challenges to NSIP consents and they have promised further clarification later this year. Their proposed changes will have to be implemented by primary legislation. Even if the Conservatives win the next general election, as has been predicted, it appears that there will be sufficient time for any application, which has been made or sent to the IPC, to be determined before the relevant legislation is in place to abolish the IPC.
There have also been reports of a leaked letter from shadow communities secretary, Caroline Spelman to Tory-run LPAs, that Conservatives also intend to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and regional planning bodies.