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



Examination of Witnesses(Questions 540-555)

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

WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL 2002

  540. But without a democratically elected body, who is going to do it?
  (Mr Goodstadt) It would have to be the interim regional assembly in this sense. There is no option.

Mrs Dunwoody

  541. That is a load of nonsense, is it not? Forgive me, I am sure it is a most mature and balanced view, but Chester is going to be delighted if you say to them, "Take account of what Wrexham are doing." They are going to be thrilled. Are they to say, in effect, "Well we who are about, we take these decision because we see that spatial development is needed in the area", and the views of not only different nationalities but people in different localities will be really of very minimal importance?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think there is no question of ignoring the views.

  542. You have just quoted Bristol. I have to tell you, as somebody who lived in the West Country for many years, that the view of the West Country is that Bristol is nothing to do with it, but Bristol thinks of itself as being the West Country and Gloucester thinks of itself as being West of England.
  (Mr Goodstadt) That is one of the problems with the use of the additional regions, on the basis of regional planning, that in fact they are not necessarily coherent areas.

  543. But the fact that they think of themselves in that way, the fact that all their structure is absorbed that way, the fact that they have put years and years of planning behind them, does not really matter because you say, "No, unfortunately market forces have driven development the other way, and they're not really concerned with your views."
  (Mr Goodstadt) I do not think that is being said at all.

  544. Then how do you define the differences?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think that if the local authority were involved in the process of preparing a regional plan, then they would be part of the definition of which areas require the sub-regional planning.

  545. If they came up with a different definition because of their historic involvement, you would say that is unfortunate because it does not fit in with the spatial strategy?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think that where there are clear differences of view, what would be required is for those to be on the table and examined, and ultimately the Secretary of State is party to decisions taken. What we have at the moment is a form of approach to regional planning which does not allow those issues to be addressed.

Christine Russell

  546. Could you answer, perhaps both of you, what topics would you actually put? Let us put on one side the arguments that, say, by some manner or means, we are going to get sub-regional planning. How is that going to differ from the current structure plans? For instance, what topics that are already included in current structure plans would perhaps no longer be included, or there may be omissions in the current plans?
  (Mr Goodstadt) I think the key issues that we know are cross-boundary in their nature and extend beyond boundaries are obviously housing, major employment areas, the role of the key regional shopping centres in terms of their catchment, and there would be other issues like transport obviously which link those together. Those are caught up in every area. There may be some areas, some other issues, which need to be caught up in both, but those are the ones that need to be specified.

  547. Would you go along with that, Mr Lock?
  (Mr Lock) I see it slightly differently. I think it is essentially a simple concept. We have a precedent already in the Thames Gateway which is the first official sub-regional planning guidance. It seems to us that that exhibits exactly the right characteristics. It is part of the region, quite different from the rest, in so far as it is going to be subject to enormous change over the 15, 25-year period. The rest of the South East in this case there will be battles over little things here and there, but Thames Gateway stands out. If you think of that being the criterion for a sub-regional strategy, you can go round the map of England in your mind, and what I call Greater Bristol but locals like to call the West of England clearly needs a sub-regional plan to distinguish it, because there are things going on there which are not going on further into the South West. The Liverpool/Mersey belt clearly needs a sub-regional strategy in a way that Cumbria, which is all part of the same region does not. So you can go through like that. Where I know we take a different position to the Institute is that apart from those hot spots of the region which would warrant a sub-regional strategy, do we need the counties to be doing anything in the rest of the territory? We reached the conclusion that the gap from the regional planning guidance or regional spatial strategy to the locality is too big a gap. Again to use the North West as an example, with a regional spatial strategy for the whole of the North West, Cumbria to Cheshire, the next step from that would be Ribble Borough Council trying to do its local plan, and in that void some more articulation of the structure of the area needs to be done. Rather than having each county doing its thing as we have in the past, we are persuaded by the Minister that we could edit that effort a bit and get two or three counties to work together to produce one structure plan between them, so that everywhere there would be the regional strategy, there would then either be a sub-regional strategy or these joint structure plans bridging the gap for the locality. In that way, when we get to the locality, there should be a clear enough operational framework, which everybody would have explained to them and have rights to participate in, in the sense of what local decisions are going to have to be taken.

Mr Betts

  548. Coming on to the issue of tariffs, both of you basically support the idea of moving to planning tariffs. Do you think they can actually be flexible enough to deal with the issues that arise? I notice that the RTPI thinks that the issue should be related to the wider needs of an area around a planning application: the TCPA suggests that the tariff might be related to development values. Those are two very different ideas, are they not?
  (Mr Davies) I think the RTPI's position has been consistent for a long time on this. We are very unhappy about the current system which has got all sorts of criticisms and is dealt with on an entirely ad hoc basis by different authorities all across the country. The advantage of a tariff system is far greater transparency, in that any tariff would require to be published as part of the development plan process, as part of the urban development framework, and would be subject to challenge in a public inquiry or whatever in due course before it was adopted. The essence is that the normal tests in the current circular should be applied in terms of necessity and proportionality. We do not see it as a general development tax, although the Green Paper is a bit unclear, in my view, on precisely how the Green Paper sees it. It is far safer, I think, to stick with the standard sort of tests for these sorts of arrangements that it is necessary for something to be provided to allow the development to go ahead, and that what is required is proportionate to the scale of the development. That being the case, we think it is far simpler to apply a tariff, per area, based on the scale and type of development, so it would be far simpler to work out some system based on square metreage, for example, perhaps the number of units if you are dealing with housing developments, rather than some sort of very complex calculation based on value, which would require an enormous number of new people.

  549. Can I come back to your statement that the square metreage seems to be a development tax by another name. Initially you were talking about relating it to the needs, were you not?
  (Mr Davies) Yes.

  550. Almost saying that if a development causes certain problems which need to be offset, then you get some contribution from the developer to offset those problems?
  (Mr Davies) Yes.

  551. Which is different to a square metreage, is it not?
  (Mr Davies) No, the reference to square metreage is within that overall concept of the necessity, need, in the area.

  552. It sounds a bit like section 106 negotiations, does it not?
  (Mr Davies) No. The point is, it would not be subject to detailed negotiations, because the basic parameters would be set out in a published tariff.

  553. Someone has to measure the metreage. It is subjective, is it not?
  (Mr Davies) Yes, but if you look at affordable housing, for example, local authorities are required to provide an assessment of local housing need in their areas, which they can then use to apply for these sorts of tests. So a requirement of a proportion of the tariff would be to provide for affordable housing somewhere or other, or to provide a fund for the future provision of affordable housing.

  554. Does the TCPA have a slightly different view?
  (Mr Lock) I think it is mixed up in the Green Paper. It seems to me that you either inhabit a world where you are going to take some money from a development because of that development's impacts in the way that the present system operates, or you inhabit another world, which is the world we inhabit, which is a philosophical one which says that if society is to grant planning permission, society should take a proportion of its value. You cannot mix those two up. Our position is that by observation since the War it looks as though if society takes more than about 20 per cent of the uplift in value, landowners will simply hold land back hoping for the wind to change, another generation. So somewhere around 20 per cent seems to be about the take that the market could bear. That is 200,000 on an acre of housing land in the South East, for example. We can then talk about what to do with the 200,000, how much would be spent on that project, how much would it put into a community chest at local level or at regional community chest level. So we are starting from the other end and saying we think that it is the principle of society taking a proportion of the unearned income and then disbursing that, rather than coming at it in the way that the Institute does, which is a project-specific approach.

Chairman

  555. We are getting very short of time. On major infrastructure projects, do you think you can trust Ministers to make lateral decisions now about infrastructure?
  (Mr Lock) Gideon Amos can say something about that.
  (Mr Amos) I think there were some points made earlier about the attractiveness of the timing decisions from ministerial points of view and better reactions. Those are not going to go away. The main point we make on major infrastructure projects is that yes, we believe that Members of Parliament should be involved in setting a national, open and honest framework for planning and infrastructure requirements. We do not believe that it is the appropriate role for Members of Parliament to be carrying out a planning committee role, development control function. The more successful the Government is in involving MPs in what it calls clear statements of national policy, the greater the chances are that Parliament will be both involved at that stage and again later on at the stage of deciding on major infrastructure projects in a committee setting, which does not seem to speed up the system. We do not believe that centralising the decision into Parliament either will enhance the system or make it faster.
  (Mr Davies) It is crucially important, in my view, that the public and the various parties with an interest in any major development of this scale have a right to be heard, essentially. Yes, the Secretary of State is quite right when he says that all major infrastructure developments in the last ten years or whatever have been called in and decided on by the Secretary of State, but in my view that has always been through a public inquiry process, and if we are going to avoid the public inquiry process on the principle of a development in a specific area, then we need something like a major projects evaluation committee, or a select committee of some sort, to look into these cases, who can call evidence and hear from the developer, the environmental interests and third parties.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.


 


 
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