Memorandum by the Bloomsbury Conservation
Area Advisory Committee (PGP 61)
PLANNING GREEN PAPER
While there are many detailed proposals, which
can be warmly welcomed, and we identified these in our response
to DTLR, the Advisory Committee is concerned about the underlying
tenor of the document. In particular, the stress placed on the
needs of business and the speed taken in reaching decisions. These
concerns permeate the entire document and it would appear that
the government has been talking almost exclusively to business.
The planning system is supposed to operate in the general interest
and not to serve the interest of a particular group, albeit a
very powerful and single-minded group.
The Green Paper states somewhat disingenuously
that: "there is a perception that the system favours those
with the deepest pockets and the greatest stamina". From
our experience, this is not just a perception, but a statement
of fact that should be obvious to anyone. BCAAC is very concerned
that the proposals in this Green Paper will tend to lend further
support to this inequality, despite attempts at planning aid and
While, of course, it is recognised that economic
activity is crucial for our future well being, so is the effective
control of development. In our country, which is one of the most
densely developed in the world and where one in 20 of the world
population lives, the need for proper constraint ought to be recognised.
One fact that the document fails to mention,
is the apparent lack of corruption in our system, despite the
relatively poor pay received by many local government professional
workers. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the fabulous
financial gains involved in the development industry. It would
be very dangerous for the government to take this "happy"
state of affairs for granted. A greater emphasis on private sector
practices and an uncritical lauding of its supposed benefits,
never mind advocating their actual involvement in supervising
the system, in certain circumstances, could well undermine this
There appears to be an inherent conflict in
the document. On the one hand it continually, almost obsessively,
addresses the issue of speed of decisions on planning applications,
as though that is the only measure of a properly functioning planning
system. On the other, it talks endlessly about community engagement
in a more easily understandable, user friendly system. It would
be very interesting to know how long it takes developers to implement
their permissions. It is quite clear that they use time and delays
as a weapon, to drive through schemes.
While this is a laudable objective, in our view
it is bound to mean that the more people understand the system,
the more they are likely to use it to further their own concerns.
This is bound to impose greater strains on the system and could
result in delays to the processing of planning applications.
The Green Paper states that all parts of the
communityindividuals, organisation and businessmust
be able to make their voices heard. It is important that they
should not only be heard, but must be able to influence the final
decision! The balance of advantage is with property interestssee
statistic in paragraph 1.7 that 90 per cent of applications are
approved in the end. The Green Paper should acknowledge the imbalance
in the present system where local communities continue to be at
a serious disadvantage.
Speedier decisions are principally in the interest
of business, as it takes a long time for local opposition to mobilise.
Local voluntary organisations and the people they represent are
often unaware of proposals until late in the day. They do not
have access to a paid professional team. While proposals for pre-application
discussions and community involvement are welcome, these are hardly
likely to overcome the inherent inequalities in the system.
The statement regarding targets is also a cause
for concern. It is impossible to turn around decisions and ask
for revisions, if applications are submitted cold, within the
statutory period. In such circumstances, the only way to meet
the targets is to either say yes or no. Requests for revisions,
possibly in response to consultations, are out of the question.
The system is a vital way of the public having
an opportunity to impinge on the process and have an influence
on their environment. Overall, if this results in some delays
then BCAAC believes this is a price worth paying. If the government
is sincere in wishing to encourage greater public participation
in planning, then it must recognise, as has already been said,
that this could result in greater potential for delay.
Another implication of the obsession with speed
is the target of 90 per cent of planning decisions being delegated
to officers. This means that only one in 10 of applications would
be heard in public. Therefore, the government's advocacy of objectors
being able to speak at planning meetings is somewhat hollow. Of
course, our local councilCamden, has long allowed for deputations
to be heard, both in favour and against applications. This should
be universal practice throughout the country.
However, this is not possible for delegated
decisions. Instead, there is a small panel of Camden members who
consider whether or not applications that have attracted objections
should go the DC-sub-committee. By encouraging further use of
delegated powers, the government is ensuring that the vast majority
of decisions will be taken behind closed doors. This is a real
problem if there is a genuine interest to encourage more "community
engagement" in the system.
The Green Paper is suggesting that LPAs should
give reasons for approving applications and this is long overdue.
BCAAC firmly believes that there should be a right for third parties,
in certain specific circumstances, to challenge reasons for approval,
as the applicants has the right to challenge reasons for refusal.
The whole system is weighted in favour of those wishing to develop
and this is borne out by the 90 per cent approval rate. Such a
right would help to redress the present imbalance of power and
would encourage a greater degree of confidence in the equity and
relevance of the system.
While, of course, there may be practical difficulties,
it must be possible in this, as in other areas, to develop workable
criteria to ensure that only proper challenges were made. The
suggestion by government that this right would lead to a string
of court cases is, in our view very far fetched. The experience
of other countries should be looked at, most notably the Republic
In fact, the time and effort involved in lodging
such an appeal would inhibit all but the few. An analogy can be
drawn with the right to strike. Anyone who has tried to organise
industrial action will know just how reluctant the majority is
to exercise its fundamental human right to withdraw labour. Similarly,
third party right of appeal would be a proper and healthy discipline
on decision-makers, at all levels. It should be regarded, not
as a concession, but as a basic human right.
At present, the appeal system is entirely one
sided as it is only the applicant who can impose unspoken pressure
on hard pressed planning officers of the threat of appeal. It
would be an entirely positive development for the system of development
control if LPAs knew that their planning decisions could, in certain
circumstances, also be challenged by third parties. It would lead
to more rigorous decision making.
Why should it contribute to uncertainty, as
the government claim, unless the present system is simply an elaborate
mechanism for delivering approvals across the board, while giving
the semblance of being even handed? The government should trust
the very people, who, in certain passages of the Green paper,
it appears to patronise.
The Mayor's role in London, acting as a committee
of one may shorten discussion, but leaves London with a roaring
democratic deficit. While our regional assembly, the GLA, is reduced
to being little more than a talking shop. It means that local
councillors cannot have a direct influence, especially on planning
matters which affect their constituents.
This conflicts with paragraph 4.53 of the Green
Paper, where it states that if directly elected assemblies are
established it is envisaged that they, as democratically accountable
bodies, would take over the regional planning role. The Mayor's
SDS will, as we understand the arrangements, not be subject to
a full public inquiry. The future planning of London deserves
nothing less, especially given Ken's controversial approach to
planning issues such as high buildings. BCAAC is dismayed that
the arrangements in London are not going to be reconsidered by
the government. The government ought to give proper consideration
to vesting the GLA's planning powers with the Assembly and not
the Mayor. In this case, 25 heads really are better than one,
and certainly more democratic!