From regulation to discretion: the evolution of development control in the British planning system 1909-1947
Controlling development through the granting and refusing of planning permission came to occupy a central position in the British planning system created in 1947. Development control in Britain is, moreover, distinguished by the wide discretion that it offers local authorities in the decisions that they are required to make. Yet this process of dealing with planning applications was not originally part of the planning system at all. It was added to a plan-making system put into place by the legislation in 1909 as an administrative expedient to ensure that necessary building was not impeded by the preparation of town planning schemes. Although its origins were almost accidental, development control can also be seen as a direct successor to building control under the Public Health Acts, and to some extent, a reaction to the normative standards of the building by-laws. And the building by-laws and their application were themselves developed from the control exercised by private landowners in issuing building leases. This paper traces the way in which twentieth century development control arose from the experience of nineteenth century public health standards in new building and from leasehold control. It then explains why the emergence of local government and the traditions of British case law led to the development of a discretionary system when the model for the plan-making system had been the regulatory plans of continental Europe. It concludes that even though development control emerged as an ad hoc administrative response to a particular problem, this form of control can only be understood in a longer historical context.