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



Examination of Witnesses(Questions 520-539)

MR NICK DAVIES, MR VINCENT GOODSTADT, MR DAVID LOCK AND MR GIDEON AMOS

WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002

Sir Paul Beresford

  520. Are you sure that the minister, Sir George Young, did not propose it?
  (Mr Lock) I know better than to quarrel with you, Sir Paul. My recollection is he was reluctant to concede the point but Parliament pushed it through. I would be happily put right by the record.

Mrs Ellman

  521. You say that you think the problems experienced now could be solved by a statutory timetable of decision making. Are you confident that would solve the problem?
  (Mr Lock) I do apologise, that was the main part of your question. The reforms we suggested of the existing system, which we think would be superior, referred to in our paper include, for example, the imposition of a statutory timetable and that is an observation borne of experience. So many times a local planning authority progressing its plan will stall in the period coming up to a local election, for example, and then by the time the new council is reconstituted and its first meetings occur in June or September literally a year can be lost in the programme. It seems that as the principle of statutory timetables has already been established, local transport plans have to be done on that basis, community strategies have to be done on that basis, and there are others, it seems to us that the principle of setting a statutory timetable for the preparation of your local plan would drive the local authority on and discourage or prevent members of whatever party it is locally prevaricating, delaying, ducking and weaving, which has certainly been the experience of the last ten years and has caused much delay.

  522. The Royal Town Planning Institute, you say that there is a need for what you call fundamental reform. Are you satisfied with what has been put forward or what else do you want to see?
  (Mr Davies) I think that we differ from the TCPA in this. We tend to the view that the current system is discredited, it brings not only enormous cost and delay to business and everyone else in the country but it does not do much for the planning profession and planners either, which is one of our interests. The new system as proposed quite clearly, in my view, can be made to work. There is obviously a lot of detail yet to be sorted out but the essence of it is a simpler system at the more local level. The Local Development Frameworks should essentially consist of generic development control policies and not a great deal else in my view, and a relatively small number of those, because they cover the whole area where there is little change expected. The areas where there is change expected are where Action Plans should be prepared, as the Green Paper suggests, and that is where the local authority should concentrate on detailed planning and getting things done: regeneration areas, refurbishments of town centres, sorting out decaying housing areas, designated areas for action. The rest of the administrative area of each authority can be covered by a very limited number of generic development control policies which in my view should be nationally issued apart from anything else so they can be rapidly taken on board by local authorities.

Chairman

  523. But is not unexpected change the thing that the planning system has most difficulty coping with and upsets local people most?
  (Mr Goodstadt) That is one of the reasons why you do need to have very clear criteria within Local Development Frameworks. The criteria are there to establish various things. First of all, the criteria will measure whether something is in accordance with the planning at first instance. They will also guide decisions on where something new has come forward that has not been expected to make sure that it is decided in the same context that the plan itself was determined. There is a quite clear need for criteria to do that but clearly the Local Development Frameworks also have to have a clear locational strategy, they need a plan that actually identifies where the major areas of change are.

  524. So you want a framework but you want a plan to go with it, some coloured paper in fact?
  (Mr Goodstadt) Otherwise it assumes that all criteria apply equally across the whole area and that is not the case. It also needs to show where the major areas of change are, you need to identify those, people need to be clear.

Helen Jackson

  525. Are not all the variety of national strategic frameworks, regional strategic frameworks, local planning frameworks and then the action plan going to complicate the issue, or is what you are saying that really the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the Local Action Plan?
  (Mr Goodstadt) No, you clearly have three levels of decisions that need to be taken. There are decisions which can only be taken at a national level and are currently taken at national level, which is the whole debate about national infrastructure, for example, and key infrastructure decisions. The second are those issues which are cross-boundary, involve more than one authority and require to be decided in terms of coherent regions. At the moment the county areas do not reflect the social geography of Britain. The areas in which people work, live, sleep, shop cross those boundaries, and decisions have to be taken on a collective basis, therefore you need to have a regional series of sub-regions. Then within that there are a series of very clear local decisions, interpretations of decisions on growth, detailing, adding quality to that process. I think that these levels of decisions are fully and clearly understood. I do not think the Green Paper has got the clarity quite there yet, but it is possible. We cannot carry on with the current system where we have the decisions being taken at the wrong level and therefore having plans that are inappropriate.

  526. It does not sound like speed and simplicity, which is one of the aims of the Green Paper, does it?
  (Mr Goodstadt) It should mean a speed-up. Part of the problem by extending the concept is that the decision is taken at the wrong level. At the moment we have strategic planning being taken at too low a level, so that it gets involved in too much detail, and we also have local plans being prepared in a way that they are duplicating policies and, as it were, reinventing the wheel. A series of nationally prepared policies which apply as criteria in most areas would actually simplify most of those relatively local development frameworks. There is also duplication of effort in the process in terms of in many of the things that were touched on at the last evidence which was given was this idea that people are seeking to use the system to delay. If there was much greater clarity and less confrontation in the process, the timescale taken to improve plans and make decisions would become faster.

  527. One little example: green belt. Can you actually protect the green belt without a simple map and a line on the map saying, "This is green belt, and those are the criteria"? Can you do that without a map?
  (Mr Goodstadt) No, you cannot. You must have a map.

  528. So that green belt areas have to be covered by a local map?
  (Mr Goodstadt) They would need to be defined first of all in their broad extent within the regional framework, I think, and then interpreted in detail on a site-specific basis in the local framework.
  (Mr Davies) Along with the action areas and conservation areas and possibly other designations of that nature that actually have to have a finite boundary on them.

  529. Do your collaborators want to comment on that sort of area?
  (Mr Lock) I would be grateful. We are very much attracted to the idea that local plans should concentrate everybody's efforts on the parts of the area that have changed—town centres, town expansion or whatever—and not give equal attention, as they have to at the moment, as to whether this settlement boundary goes through the greenhouse of number 27 or does not. So the idea of a plan which only focuses on areas of change and on which all the planners focus their efforts is very attractive to us, but I think, as the Committee may have just heard, once you start to pull at the thread on the jumper, by the time you need a map to show you where green belts are, or conservation areas are, or the best landscapes and AONBs and maybe road schemes—which should be in, as local people need to know where they are coming—and then the EA flood plains, really this is ending up rather like the plans we have got at the moment. This is part of the thread of our argument, that the proposed system in these respects is not robust. New regulations, new guidances on how to put things in and how to put things out, the filters to put through in your plans and maps, would, I think, get us closer to a faster, fairer and speedier system than chucking the whole lot out and spending several years constructing a brand-new one which is not yet designed.

Chairman

  530. But Ministers would be able to claim they had done something.
  (Mr Lock) That is true. I understand. Seriously, there is something in this Green Paper which would be a great achievement for the Minister, for all Ministers, the Secretary of State, and that would be greatly to enhance the quality of national policy-making on big issues, because Parliament really has a role there and it is not given the chance, in our view; and secondly, greatly to strengthen the quality of planning at the regional scale. Those are two big goals for any Minister.

  Chairman: I think we had better move on now.

Mr Stevenson

  531. This is to the RTPI primarily. Will the proposals in the Green Paper help to distribute development more effectively throughout the country?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think that one of the things that we are quite determined about is the need for a clearer national spatial framework which actually would address this issue, amongst others, and give confidence as to the role of each region in fulfilling the wider economic and social objectives of the country. At the moment there is not that, and each regional planning guidance and RDA strategy and others are produced in a vacuum of where their role is, what their contribution should be. There is also no vehicle at the moment to have that debate. It seems to me that that is as crucial as anything, actually to have a forum in which we can debate the options and the alternative ways of handling the problems of over-heating in some parts of the country and low levels of development in others.
  (Mr Lock) May I add that we are within a smidgen of this anyway, with the idea of a national spatial strategy where you have a forum in which those issues can be discussed. The European Union, in its various regional organisations, already publishes frameworks of sections of the Union. I am thinking, for example, of the one published the Christmas before last for the North Sea region, which shows the diagrammatic relationships between Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Low Countries which, unless you understand the European picture, confuses people. So we are very close to already having, thanks to the Union, the diagrammatic frameworks, but there is no national discourse on the relationships between the regions. So when you hear—a very common view from the CPRE and others—that the over-heated South East should be exporting people and firms to the rest of England, there is nowhere for that actually to be discussed as to the pros and cons. I happen to know from work in the North that there is not an awful lot of enthusiasm to receive whingeing Southerners. They would like the jobs, but not the people! There is no place for that discourse. So back to the way you put the question, getting the distribution of development, people and jobs right is improved by better regional planning within that region, but there is no place where we can discuss inter-regional movement.

  532. So you both seem to be generally in support of a national planning framework to co-ordinate between regions?
  (Mr Lock) Yes.
  (Mr Davies) Yes.

  533. And the notion that national statements on policy and development of major infrastructure projects could help manage a growth across the different regions? Is that a fair proposition to put to you?
  (Mr Davies) Yes, absolutely.
  (Mr Lock) Yes.

Mrs Ellman

  534. Do you support the proposals for new regional planning bodies and regional strategy statements?
  (Mr Lock) Enthusiastically, but with a qualification, which is in our submission to you, that until such time as we have elected regional planning organisations—elected regional planning organisations—it seems that there is a serious democratic deficit, and a lot more effort will have to be put in even than now to get stakeholder involvement so that people actually sign up to the strategy. Once we have elected regional planning bodies, it seems to us that then the democratic deficit is overcome, and there would be a proper foundation for the regional strategy. At the moment stakeholders are involved in that we are all allowed to make representations. Some of us are selected, for reasons that are never explained, to take part in a public examination, which is a civilised discourse. It has worked so far in East Anglia where there has been a general consensus that that is an area of growth that requires special planning arrangements, but in other parts of England the consensus is not clear. There are areas that do not wish to grow and others that wish to grow desperately. So stakeholder involvement is just about being achieved now, but as the stresses come to bear it will be need elected authorities to carry the proper decisions through.

Mrs Dunwoody

  535. Although you yourself say in 6.1.5: "it may not be easy to secure inter-agency agreement on pooling or to persuade"—and this is the important part—"local people to accept the spending of funds generated locally, possibly from unpopular development," (or "an unpopular development"—I am paraphrasing now) "in other localities."
  (Mr Lock) That is in the context of the planning gain, the planning tariffs proposal.

  536. But it actually applies to other things, does it not?
  (Mr Lock) It does apply to other things. The way I would answer that point, if I may, is to say this. There is a didactic role in our planning system which is completely misunderstood and under-resourced, and that is explaining to the citizenry what is going on and why the sudden pressure for something in a particular place suddenly turns up. We are very bad at that. People are constantly surprised to see things proposed for their locality, they have no idea of the bigger picture. So the first point would be to say that explaining to people what is happening is a very, very important and much neglected part. Secondly, the benefits and costs in a place of change, it seems to me, are all badly distributed just at the moment. Areas where change is greatest, where houses are getting built in big numbers, receive least in the way of returns for community facilities, support for their schools, for their infrastructure. Areas where there is market failure, where nothing is happening and everybody is trying desperately hard to get development to occur, are awash with new motorways and all the infrastructure you can possibly imagine. So it is all kind of mixed up. Put it another way. Where local people feel bruised by development, they are getting no benefit from it, they are not getting any reward, or return, or compensation from the strain their place is taking.

  Chairman: I am going to have to curtail you there.

Mrs Ellman

  537. To the Royal Town Planning Institute, you make a similar point in your written evidence. You say that difficult decisions are not taken because of the parochial attitude of indirectly elected people. Do you have the same view?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think it is endemic in a situation where you do not have a directly elected and accountable regional body, but there are ways around this, and that is to face up to the fact that there is going to be this parochialism and choices being made, in situations where the Secretary of State will ultimately make the decision on the regional plan when it is prepared. Therefore, rather than force people to compromise and achieve a lowest common denominator, to expose those differences as clear alternatives in any plan that is put forward for approval and subject to examination in fact could reassure people that they would not be voted against or vetoed against in their views as the plan is being prepared. The other thing that is important in this is that the regional plan has to be part of the development plan, it has to be part of the statutory planning process. It is therefore quite important to determine, in a sense, who is the planning authority. That is quite difficult when you have this fragmentation. One way is to reintroduce a requirement of an authority to work together. There are examples in France of the agencies not necessarily being the preparers of the plan, the authorities, but being integral to the formation of the plan, and when it goes out to the public it is there as with the views of the agencies on the table at the time, so the joining up of government is done from the beginning rather than being a reactive process.

Christine Russell

  538. I think you both see the need for sub-regional plans. Mr Goodstadt, you have already put the knife into the counties by saying that they do not really represent the total geography of Britain anymore. Who should do this sub-regional planning? What topics would it include?
  (Mr Goodstadt) There are two situations that arise where sub-regional planning is necessary. One is where it is actually an essential part of the regional strategy and you need to go into more detail, so that in some areas where in fact you have a city region you need to have greater clarity about what is happening around the Bristol area as part of the South West, and therefore you almost need an inset. There are other areas where you are saying, "As part of the regional plan, we recognise the need for certain authorities to work together in preparing the local frameworks", and you actually identify where that joined-up working should take place.

  539. Who is going to do the identification?
  (Mr Goodstadt) It should be done at the regional level.

 


 
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