Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)



  160. Why not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not know why not. Local authorities have been very `unkeen' to use them. I have been told that in the few cases where they have used Simplified Planning Zones, the development of the Simplified Planning Zone has not been particularly sustainable, but the difference between a Simplified Planning Zone on the one hand and the Business Planning Zone on the other is the Business Planning Zone, unlike the Simplified Planning Zone, will have tight criteria about such things as quality, nature of development, precise location and development, et cetera.

  161. So who decides whether those criteria are met?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The local authority.

  162. So actually they are back there, are they not, because they are planning by the back door because when you come along and say, "Am I to do this?", you actually have to say, "Yes, but is it within the criteria that the local authority has laid down?"
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The way it will work is that if the criteria are satisfied, the development can go ahead. There would have to be some notification procedure, but instead of having to wait for a yes, the local authority only intervenes when they think the criteria are not satisfied.

  163. Why do you want these Business Planning Zones? Your own paper tells us that in fact there is not the evidence from the case studies that business has been hampered by the planning system.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, when you speak to business, they say that they have been considerably hampered in many cases by the process slowing things down.

  164. Yes, they talk about it, but your case studies do not show it, do they?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which particular case studies are you referring to?

  165. The ones that you referred to on page ES4.4, the Report on Planning for Clusters, I am now told.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am sorry, I have not got that one.

  166. Anyway, it is your document, so you collected the evidence. I continually hear complaints on behalf of industry saying, "Yes, the system is cumbersome", but you actually did some case studies and you did not find that evidence from them.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot say that I have read the particular document you are referring to.

  167. Where is your evidence other than hearsay from industry?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a widespread perception.

  168. Which may well be untrue, may it not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, it is repeated so often.

  169. Well, why not look for some evidence for it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Well, as far as the particular issue about, "Do people think the planning system takes too long to come to conclusions?", there is a widespread view that people do think that. If one simply looks and sees how long decisions take, they do take a long time.

  170. If we look at this problem, in fact I think it was in 1991, about 5.1 per cent of planning applications ended up going to appeal. We are now down to 2.7. Is that not really quite a substantial achievement because there is much more certainty in the planning system so that on the whole people know where they stand. It is not a really large number that are going to appeal, is it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I am not sure the extent to which the number of appeals indicates the extent to which the planning system is producing results within a reasonable time and with a reasonable degree of certainty.

  171. How long does a planning application now take if it is not contested?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will vary from local authority to local authority. I cannot tell you how long it takes. It is a very, very variable figure. You will know, because the figures are published in the Green Paper, about how many meet the eight week target and how many do not.

  172. Yes. It has been improving, the figure, you have been pressing Best Value to make it better.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It has been improving to some extent but, overall, authorities are remorselessly not meeting the targets.[1] We have changed the targets now to draw a distinction between domestic applications and commercial or industrial ones.

Ms King

  173. Unfortunately I speak from experience of the very long delays I have personally had of the planning system. If we abolish the current planning system and replace it with an emphasis on co-ordination with the local community strategy, how is the Government going to be able to enforce its own planning policies? So, if you take PPG3 on housing, for example.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes?

  174. How would that actually be enforced by the Government?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Like it is at the present time, by call ins and recovering appeals so in effect ministers at national level taking decisions where they believe that a local authority is about to take a decision that is inconsistent with the national planning policy. The problem about that is though the delays which infect the local authority end of the application system also infect the national end of the planning system. As well as improving the process by which decisions are based at local authority level, we need, also, to improve the system at central Government level as well. That is what we have said in the green paper.

  175. Given that response, I wondered what you thought of the experiment in Wales in the 1990s when they cut back on the national level planning virtually to the bone. They are now in the process of reinstating that. There has been a lot of criticism of that policy. Is that essentially what is going to be repeated in England?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I do not think the number of cases that are called in is remotely at fault and I think you do need it to be clear that national government will intervene where appropriate to ensure that which is dealt with at national level is actually enforced. So, for example, if you did not have the ability to call in, taking your example, PPG3, I do not think we would be able, as effectively, to enforce the brown field policy in relation to the development of housing. No, I do not envisage us cutting back on the number of cases we call in, because we will continue to call in to enforce national policy but what I do envisage is us dealing with the cases that we do call in more efficiently.

Mr O'Brien

  176. In the report, paragraph 6.19 to 6.22, it refers to the third party right of appeal.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  177. If you reject the third party right of appeal how do you plan to address the present abuse where local authorities grant planning permission for itself? How are you going to address that kind of problem?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you look at the document, we have considered very carefully whether or not we should give a third party right of appeal in those cases where a local authority grants planning permission to itself. We look to that in detail. There are about 5,000 cases in a year where they have got an interest in land. Many of those applications are of a community nature, regeneration projects or such. If we gave a right of appeal in those cases, what you would end up with would be community applications very frequently subject to a much slower track planning process than you would have for everybody else, for the private developer. How do you deal with the problem? Well, if and in so far as it is a departure from the local plan, where the local authority is giving itself planning permission, that is something which would have to be reported in any event under ordinary existing rules about referrals to the Secretary of State and he could decide whether or not to call in. It is those cases where the local authority is giving itself planning permission departing from the local plan. Those are the cases where perhaps, as a minister, one would be particularly vigilant to see whether or not that is one which should be called in.

  178. Who refers it to the Secretary of State?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A permission a local authority is about to grant, which is a departure from a local plan, has to be referred to the Secretary of State so he can decide whether or not he should call in.

Mr Betts

  179. In future there will be lots of areas where there is not a local action plan to depart from?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is the departure cases where there are difficulties.

1   Note by witness: The improvements are very small. Back

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