Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Thirteenth Report


The Transport, Local Government and the Regions has agreed to the following Report:



1. The current planning and development control system was set up 50 years ago by the Town & Country Planning Act 1947. Since then it has been subject to a continuous process of evolution. It has gained the confidence of a wide range of interest groups. The Town & Country Planning Association commented:

2. However, the Government has been persuaded by a number of organisations that radical reform is needed because it is claimed that it is slow, undermines the competitiveness of British industry and does not provide certainty, predictability and transparency. This led to proposals for a fundamental overhaul of the whole planning system which were put forward in December 2001 in the Planning Green Paper, entitled Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change.[3] Lord Falconer told us that radical reform of the system in England was required because:

    "the planning system is often rules-driven, reactive as opposed to pro-active, overcomplex, unpredictable, lacking in adequate community engagement, underresourced and not user friendly."[4]

The Government's Reforms

  3. The proposals in the Green Paper aim to shorten the time taken to examine development proposals and to simplify the planning system by:

Details about some of the reforms to the planning system were included in an accompanying set of documents:

  • Major Infrastructure Projects: delivering a fundamental change;
  • Reforming Planning Obligations: a consultation paper;
  • Review of the Use Classes Order and Part 4 of the GPDO (Temporary Uses); and
  • Compulsory Purchase Order and Compensation - the Government's Proposals for Change.

Terms of Reference

  4. Shortly after the Green Paper was published, the Committee decided to hold an inquiry and called for evidence on:

The Committee held five oral evidence sessions in April and May this year. We would like to express our gratitude to our specialist advisers, Richard Bate and John Popham.

5. The responses to the DTLR's consultation and the submissions to the Committee were split. The consultation showed that many people thought that the planning system was in need of improvement but there was also widespread opposition to many of the Government's proposals.[5] The DTLR provided the Committee with an analysis of the responses to its consultation on the Green Paper, which showed that 88 per cent of the respondents did not support the replacement of Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans with Local Development Frameworks; and the abolition of County Structure Plans was only supported by 10 per cent of respondents. Many of those organisations, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which supported reform in principle, opposed many of the practical proposals: the former was critical of the proposals for Business Planning Zones,[6] while the latter criticised the plan to introduce tariffs.[7]

6. The Government's proposals amount to a fundamental and radical reform of the planning system, but it has been argued that the Government's objectives could be better met by reforming the existing system. This approach is being adopted by the National Assembly for Wales in a separate review of the planning system in Wales. In its memorandum, the Assembly stated that, although the current planning system was not delivering "speedy, clear and consistent decisions in a transparent way," it was fundamentally sound.[8] The aim of the Assembly's reforms is to improve the existing plan-based system by simplifying the procedures for drawing up plans, while achieving a radical change in culture and operation of the planning service.[9]

7. A range of alternative approaches, which involve modifying the existing system in England, were put forward by witnesses. We considered that they required careful evaluation as well as the Government's more radical reforms. We examine below the comparative benefits of radical and evolutionary approaches as well as a number of other suggestions made by witnesses.

8. A large number of submissions to the Committee emphasised the shortage of staff to run the planning system. There was disappointment that the Green Paper barely mentioned this; moreover, the reforms proposed in it will require a considerable number of additional staff in planning departments.[10] The current planning system requires significantly more staff and resources than are currently available. The new system proposed by the Government will require even more staff, and any radical changes will not be possible until they are in post. We discuss this further later in this report.

1   PGP36 Back

2   PGP19 Back

3   Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change DTLR December 2001 Back

4   Q788 Back

5   A supplementary submission from the DTLR (PGP06a); only 69 per cent of businesses supported the proposal for Business Planning Zones Back

6   PGP52 Back

7   PGP46 Back

8   PGP66 Back

9   PGP66 Back

10   Q853 Lord Falconer acknowledged the need for extra funds for local authority planning departments when he appeared before the Committee  Back

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Prepared 3 July 2002