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Keep Flying the Flag

9th January, 2012

I just thought I would run this up the flagpole…

Notwithstanding the current economic issues gripping Europe and pretty much the rest of the known world, the lack of new development and construction projects across the UK and the current fog being created by the coalition governments decision to introduce radical change into the planning system at a time when the country really needs some certainty to promote and support regeneration,  it is good to see that the Department for Communities and Local Government is keeping its finger on the pulse of the nation and dealing with those things that really matter.

On the 6 January 2012 Eric Pickles has launched the Department’s latest discussion paper on “Liberalising the regime for flying flags”.

Some of you may recall that one of Mr Pickles first decisions on becoming Communities secretary was to fly “county flags” at the HQ of the Department with each County flag getting a weeks flying time.

It seems like this was not enough for Mr Pickles, who obviously enjoys seeing a good flag flapping in the wind. The discussion paper sets out its policy background and points out that “We wish to encourage flag flying by relaxing statutory constraints on the display of flags. Our aim is to provide the broadest scope for this freedom that we reasonably can, so that there is more scope for people, communities, institutions and firms to take advantage of the opportunities that flags offer to express local identity and pride” as well as confirming that “The power of flags to move people is written deep in our culture…Flags deserve respect”.

As planning law stands, flags are treated as a form of advertisement. No permission is needed to fly national, EU, UN or County flags or saints flags.  Deemed permission to fly a range of other flags also exists for flags such as house builders flags or flags advertising shops or other business occupying a building (subject to size requirements).

Any other form of flag would need express planning permission.

The proposals in the discussion paper seeks views on extending the range of flags that either do not need consent or fall within the deemed permission regime. Those that may not need consent in the future could include flags for Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories as well as international organisations of which the UK is a member, historic or current flags for a UK region, district, parish town or hamlet, flags for administrative areas outside the UK, such as Australian states, and heraldic banners. Less traditional flags could also be included including the rainbow “Pride ” flag, flags in relation to official environmental award schemes and sports club flags (away from the relevant club premises).

With regard to deemed permission, this looks primarily at increasing the number of flagstaffs that any user may have without permission. Currently flags should be from a single flagstaff flown vertically. The proposed changes include flagstaffs allowed to project outwards as well as allowing a second flagstaff on site. The limits on the sizes of characters of flags would also be removed.

The closing date for consideration of these significant proposals is the 30 March 2012.

Whilst the writer has no problem at all with flying flags (and is the proud owner of a very large St George’s flag which comes out at appropriate sporting occasions) it is somehow difficult to understand why any Departmental time is being spent on something which at best has only limited significance across the country notwithstanding the impending Olympics and Euro 2012, especially when compared to the issues being raised by the proposed National Planning Policy Framework and the Localism Act. One would hope that Ministers would have their focus on matters which could help revitalise the UK economy rather than on flag waving.

Still, perhaps we can be accused of forgetting the bigger picture. With “localism” and “the Big Society” being such important policy keystones for the coalition government and with battle lines already being drawn between various pressure groups, environmental groups and business groups, at least the new proposals will allow them all to demonstrate their “power and identity” whilst rallying their supporters behind an appropriate flag.

If you have any queries relating to this article, or planning law in general, please contact us on 01244 405555.

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