New system will help to develop communities where people's needs are met, from regenerating land to creating city centres The British planning process is undergoing a major overhaul. Local authorities are adapting their procedures to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act passed last year, which seeks faster, consensus-based solutions to planning issues. Simon Fife, planning director at property consultancy Savills, said it tied in with the government's aim of developing communities where people's needs were catered for, infrastructure developed, run-down areas regenerated, car-reliance reduced, public transport encouraged and attractive city centres created. 'This has heralded a significant shift in the way we do things. It will make processes more transparent and accessible, and build up a consensus approach. It goes with the government's urban renaissance and urban regeneration and building sustainable communities' agenda. These ideas have filtered through to the planning system,' he said. 'It is early days yet. People are still trying to get their heads round the nuts and bolts of the new system, so the jury is still out.' Under the new system, upper-tier county councils and unitary authorities have jointly devised Regional Spatial Strategies to deal with local authority cross-border issues - not simply those within their own boundaries as before - thereby allowing for greater flexibility, Mr Fife said. Below them, borough and district councils and unitary authorities would create Local Development Frameworks which are more flexible and holistic than the previous system, he said. They would also enable authorities to create Area Action Plans for dealing with specific issues in specific areas, such as regeneration and change of land use. The government wants these frameworks devised within three years. However, Mr Fife was concerned that time-consuming public consultation would make it difficult for councils to speed up the decision-making. The central government will be less prescriptive in its guidance to local authorities, thus giving them greater freedom. However, new European Union directives must be heeded as they appear. The public can now take part in the planning approval process at the beginning rather than halfway through, so controversial issues can be resolved early. To help create consensus solutions, the old adversarial system of resolving disputes has been abandoned in favour of informal hearings and discussion forums. Local councils have strong powers of compulsory purchase - if they wish, they can take over property for social and economic reasons, such as supporting a job-creating business venture, and for public schemes, such as building roads.