Examination of Witnesses (Questions 216-219)
MR HUGH ELLIS, MR NEIL SINDEN AND MR HENRY OLIVER
WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2002
216. Can I welcome you to this session of the Select Committee on the proposals of the Planning Green Paper and ask you to identify yourselves for the record please.
(Mr Sinden) I am Neil Sinden. I am the Assistant Director responsible for policy at CPRE.
(Mr Oliver) I am Henry Oliver, Head of Planning and Local Government at CPRE.
(Mr Ellis) I am Hugh Ellis, Planning Adviser for Friends of the Earth.
217. Does either of the organisations want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Sinden) I think we are happy for you to proceed.
218. I think there is a fair sense in the main thrust of the submissions that you have put into us that you feel that the reforms of the Green Paper are based on a false set of assumptions by the Department. Could you elaborate on that and tell us what you mean?
(Mr Sinden) Can I say by way of response to that that we feel that the Planning Green Paper is a significant opportunity to reform and improve the planning system so that it is better able to deliver a better quality of life for all. We feel that the starting point, however, should be a recognition that planning over the years has performed an immensely valuable function in terms of a range of thingsmanaging urban sprawl, promoting urban renewal, protecting landscapes, conserving our urban heritage, and, I think crucially, securing a degree of public confidence in and support for major land-use change. We feel that the Green Paper has not taken that starting point and, for a range of reasons, that the assumptions which the proposals in the Green Paper are based on are incorrect and unhelpful. For example, one of the assumptions is that the users of the planning system can be defined purely as applicants for planning permission or developers. The Green Paper fails to recognise that we are all beneficiaries of the planning system and that the wider community is a beneficiary of the planning system. That false assumption has not helped in taking us forward in terms of modernising the system for the benefit of all.
(Mr Ellis) I would add to that by saying that one of the reasons that this is such a flawed Green Paper is that it contains no analysis about what the problems are potentially. The problems of the planning system at the moment are largely to do with resources, management and administrative cultures, and what the Green Paper sought to do is take a structural response to managerial and resource problems in planning. In other words, it seeks to dismantle the development plan system and other mechanisms in planning without ever having stacked up the arguments for why that should happen. You are left with this strange position where we are seeking to abolish wholesale essentially the structures of planning on the back of very little analysis and indeed the research is not there either in DTLR or in wider academia to suggest that such a structural change is necessary. My final point would be that given that these changes remove wholesale people's rights from the planning system, they have to be based on a very sound analysis. That analysis of problems is not there in the Green Paper.
219. When people defend the current system, they often use the words a "plan-led system", and then the Minister will go on and say, "All right, let's have a plan-led system", but in 13 per cent of the local authorities, they have not actually got a plan to be led by and the unitary development plans do not exist or have not been produced. Is that a failure of the system that we should be addressing?
(Mr Sinden) I do not think it is so much a failure of the system. I think it is a failure of the issue of resourcing of the system. CPRE and all the other environmental groups were very much at the forefront of debates surrounding the 1991 Act which introduced the plan-led system. In support of that system, we wanted a more proactive, positive planning system which was able to engage with debates about future development and, through an objectives-led process, ensure that we have patterns of development which enable us to lead more sustainable lifestyles and to gain access to services, for example, without having to use the car. The problem that we have seen, I think, over the years since the introduction of the 1991 Act is to do with the ability of the system to actually meet the aspirations that that Act set out. We do not believe that the answer is to go back and throw the structure up in the air again and devise a new structure. We believe that the starting point for the set of reforms should be to identify those specific aspects of the current system which are not working, and then to define tailored solutions, including enhanced resources, both human and financial. We should also try to sustain broad political support for the role of the planning system in ensuring that decisions on the development and use of land are made in the broader public interest, and in a way which secures more sustainable patterns of development.
(Mr Oliver) May I just add something to that in the context of the Secretary of State's speech introducing the Green Paper in July of last year which contains some very welcome emphases on the importance of the planning system for securing consensus over change and more sustainable development and the management of natural resources and so on. That is in stark contrast, as far as we can see, to the emphasis in the Green Paper which appears to assume that planning is primarily about facilitating business growth, which it is not, and that it somehow is about balancing pressure for development against environmental protection, which again, we would argue, it should not be. It should be about achieving more sustainable development by reconciling those conflicting objectives. Just two examples of the assumptions which underline that are that faster decisions are always better regardless of, if you like, the quality of the decision-making process and that planning is always an obstacle to progress which does seem to underline parts of the Green Paper.