Examination of Witnesses (Questions 424-439)
MR JOHN WALKER, MR IAN TREHEARNE AND MR SEAN CREIGHTON
WEDNESDAY 17 APRIL 2002
424. Can I welcome you to the Committee for the third session this morning and can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
(Mr Walker) My name is John Walker. I am the chief executive of the British Urban Regeneration Association, BURA, here today with my colleagues representing the steering and development forum of BURA about which I will say a few words in a moment, if I may.
(Mr Trehearne) Ian Trehearne. I am a partner in the planning department in Berwin Leighton Paisner. We do a lot of planning and we are a member of the BURA SPF.
(Mr Creighton) Sean Creighton. I am the policy development officer for the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres. Our members operate at neighbourhood level providing services and support to local communities.
425. Would you like to say a few words in introduction?
(Mr Walker) If I may. BURA is a not for profit membership organisation crossing the private, public and community sectors, focused on promoting best practices in urban regeneration. Because it has over 500 members, last year it took the initiative of forming a smaller group which would be able to deal more practically with forming views on policy issues affecting regeneration. To do that with 500 members in any depth was quite difficult. The steering development forum represents that initiative. It crosses all the different boundaries of regeneration that BURA's general membership does from investment, development, retailing, professional services, public authorities, national bodies and community groups. In that sense, it is an attempt to bring together quite a wide range of perspectives on the subject, obviously with a focus on the planning system's impact on regeneration. Because of that, it is somewhat difficult for us today, representing the group, to go much beyond in great detail what our paper says because the paper has been formed through many sessions and many internet, e-mail drafting comments and thrashed out at some length. We will be happy to expand on it wherever we can.
426. Can I ask you all, wearing your different hats, whether you think we are managing to achieve urban regeneration and if we are not do you feel that the Green Paper will help or hinder the process?
(Mr Walker) We are achieving urban regeneration. The issue is whether we could achieve it better and more of it and more effectively. Our approach as a group to this planning Green Paper and its associated documents has been to recognise that the aims and aspirations could be very helpful to the stimulation of good quality urban regeneration. They do aspire to do a number of things we would like to see to put the planning system more centrally connected with other aspects of economic and social policy making and delivery in neighbourhoods, to see the community and the business input integrated in a way which also delivers an effective, clear planning system. We see the potential for the planning Green Paper to assist in the better delivery of urban regeneration but we also see, as our paper makes clear, major pitfalls in terms of things that really do need thinking through very carefully both in terms of what they do and when and how they are brought in. Our fear is that unless that takes place in a transparent and considered way we may end up with changes which inhibit, frustrate and damage the progress of regeneration.
427. In general, what are these reservations?
(Mr Walker) The reservations are to do with the devil is in the detail. The planning Green Paper can be read by many people in many different ways. Whilst we do recognise and welcome the aspirations, we also recognise that the way in which a number of these things are brought in could possibly in the long term, but particularly in the short and medium term, lead to a hiatus and an inability to act, an inability to have clarity and certainty on the part of the development industry, an inability to move forward on behalf of local authorities. They cover virtually the full range of aspects of the Green Paper from the way in which LDFs are brought in, their connection with community strategies, the way that the tariff system might come in and either replace or partially replace section 106.
428. How confident are you that if the proposals as outlined in the Green Paper do come to fruition there will be a change in attitude towards planning from a rather negative attitude at the moment towards a more positive attitude? Planning is often thought of as planners saying no and local communities saying no. Do you have any confidence?
(Mr Walker) There is a chicken and egg here. We believe in the aspirations. We believe that if they are to be brought in and produce a more positive, confident system that helps to deliver sustainable communities and sustainable regeneration, it needs a transition plan. It needs clear thinking about the detail of many of these proposals, clear thinking about how they are brought in, in what sequence and the relationship between each of them to the others. Also it needs resources and encouragement for cultural change which will bring a more positive dimension to the planning system and see it result in positive support for the regeneration of communities. In a way, I am ducking your question but what I am saying is that we see the potential here. We are not convinced, but we would like to be convinced by seeing more detail and being engaged in that process, that it can deliver.
429. If you are going to be an optimist?
(Mr Walker) There is good reason to want to see this work because there is good reason to want to see a planning system which is more positive, more connected with vision and with community values and that is more practical and gives more certainty to all sides.
430. People often use the words "cultural change" when they mean that the current system does not do quite everything they want and they would like one that does.
(Mr Walker) In our terms, we debated this quite a lot and we put very deliberately in the response "cultural change which leads to behavioural change". The behavioural change that is needed is primarily seen as being the positive attitude wards the broadly based, economic, social and environmental requirements that are needed to produce and sustain communities; and a planning system that starts from a positive point of view rather than one that is often characterised
431. Redefine "positive point of view". Does that mean "agree to development"?
(Mr Walker) No. Positive can mean forward planning, even if forward planning says that nothing should change in an area.
432. You think the present system is too reactive?
(Mr Walker) It is proactive rather than reactive.
433. Is that what individual planners think but they do not have time to do it very often because they are under-resourced?
(Mr Walker) Resourcing is a substantial part of the problem but it goes slightly deeper than resourcing in that, over many years, there has been a gradual down grading of the perception of the planning system in terms of its importance as part of local, social and economic activity. It needs that upgrading of the whole system and the perception of people who are in it about themselves and about their role.
434. Does the Green Paper do any of that?
(Mr Walker) It aspires to it.
(Mr Creighton) It goes part of the way. From our perspective, the major fault with the current planning system is the lack of real, meaningful community involvement which as a result lands up in too many conflicts and set positions and rejection sometimes of good applications or acquiescence to applications because people do not have the ability to really influence decisions. If we take the starting off point, which we would totally endorse, that the government has across a whole strand of its policies that communities, local people, must be at the heart of the decision making process, planning is a tool. If we can strengthen community involvement in planning, planning is a tool to partly achieve that. One of the good things about the current planning system is where good UDPs exist you have a long term vision for the area and the planning detail is about how to achieve that vision. Then you will get that supplemented by local development briefs. It seems to me that, with the requirement for community strategies, the vision side is being taken out of the UDPs. The local development framework needs to be very much locked into and supporting the achievement of the community strategy and the vision in that community strategy. If we look at community involvement across community strategies, neighbourhood strategies, all the other community involvement, requirements on public service deliveries that the government is putting into place, plus community involvement statements for certain types of development schemes, we need a bit more joined up thinking and the Green Paper is not quite there. There is a common, minimum standard requirement supported by good practice for all forms of community involvement. Otherwise, what you will have is a danger that the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions will produce its definition of good community involvement. The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit will produce another definition of good community involvement and communities will get very confused about what is expected of them. Some more thought needs to be done on that in terms of taking the Green Paper forward.
435. You talk about planning as a tool. We have a tool at the moment which is vaguely understood and people vaguely know how to use it. How soon do you think the new tool will be in place and how soon do you think people will understand how to use it?
(Mr Trehearne) It is very important that the transition is done in an ordered and well understood way.
436. You would not want to do a transition, would you, in anything other than that way? Tell me how long this transition period is going to be.
(Mr Trehearne) To pluck a figure out of the air, I would say that it might take two years. It needs to be carefully mapped out.
437. Is that two years from now or is that two years from the legislation going through?
(Mr Trehearne) It could be two years from the legislation going through.
438. We could be talking about three to four years?
(Mr Trehearne) Yes.
439. For three to four years, we are going to have considerable uncertainty, are we not?
(Mr Trehearne) We are going to have considerable uncertainty and we are going to have the people who are involved in planning working out ways of doing it. One of the exciting things about this is the opportunity for new rules to be written but they do need to be understood and transparent. They should not just be written in different ways at local level, which is one of the dangers.