Rules, discretion and local responsibility : development control case studies in the urban community of Lyon
The research presented in this thesis rests on the premise that the administrative and legal systems of France have a critical bearing on the way that decisions on applications for permissions to build are taken, and the nature of the decisions themselves. In the knowledge that the French system of law offered a legalistic, regulatory franiework for planning policy and policy implementation, four specific questions are posed: firstly about the relationship of plans to development control decisions; secondly about the effects of the system on applicants; thirdly about the possibilities for third parties to be involved in, and seek redress from, development control decisions and fourthly about the effects of the decentralisation of development control powers that has taken place since 1983. These questions are then located within a broader discussion of discretion, accountability and the management of uncertainty. The theoretical discussion of the first chapter paves the way for a more detailed presentation of the nature and origins of French local administration and French planning law and procedure which in turn lead to a case study of the 55 communes of the Urban Community of Lyon and eight studies of development control applications which are explored through an examination of the case file documents and interviews with participants. Two sets of conclusions are drawn from the study. The first set concerns the effects of a legalised system on the making and implementation of planning policy. The first conclusion is that the legalistic approach of the French planning system appears to create serious difficulties for finding an appropriate expression for policy. In part the problem is shown to be as much a question of ethos as of what is really possible under the law, amid some examples of practice in Lyon show how flexibility is still possible even within a legalised system. The second conclusion is that once the rules are departed from, the system offers no alternative means of testing policy in its specific application, although the use of non-statutory consultation meetings in Lyon has gone some way to meeting the problem. The third is that the pattern of zoning and regulations does not appear to help the maintenance of a planning strategy. The fourth is that a legalised system does not promote certainty for either administrators or applicants. The fifth is that a legalised system does not permit third parties to participate in the decision-making and ensures that objections are seen mainly as being about property values. The second set of conclusions has to do with the question of the power to decide and the accountability of decision-makers. The first is that the legalised system, while offering potential for agency discretion, nevertheless appears to favour officer discretion which on the evidence of the case studies is rife. While offering mayors the possibility of tactical power, it appears to reduce the accountability for decisions taken. Moreover, the control of the legality of decisions is dependent equally upon the discretion of the prefect. The second is that the pattern of crossregulation within the French system of local government has ensured the continuity of dependencies between the principal actors in the planning system. The final conclusion is that decentralisation has had relatively little effect on the balance of power. In the Lyon conurbation, COURLY would appear to be the principal beneficiary of the new powers, which would suggest that more power will be concentrated in future at the local level, but that the power will not be any more susceptible to control by the electorate.