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


Memorandum by the Local Government Association (PGP 65)

PLANNING GREEN PAPER

1.  SPATIAL PLANNING AND DELIVERY

  The LGA has lobbied for spatial development strategies to be introduced in place of traditional land use plans. The association believes that land use priorities (for example to achieve economic regeneration, environmental improvement, social inclusion) should help to shape the wider delivery of public services offered by local authorities and their key local partners, as well as providing a context for private investment. However, the green paper as a whole does little to explore the extent of spatial planning or how spatial development strategies should be formulated.

  It is difficult to see how true spatial integration can be achieved as desired, based on a system that cuts out county councils—a significant tier of service delivery for transport, waste management, education, social services, community safety and other services.

2.  THE NATIONAL DIMENSION

  The LGA welcomes the greater emphasis placed in the green paper on regional and sub-regional levels in the context of clearer national policy. But there is a clear need for an overarching national spatial strategy.

  The LGA supports the government's intention to examine its planning policies to make it clear what is policy and what is guidance or advice. This can only be successful if it is accompanied by a commitment from the government to reduce the overall coverage of national policy. What is required is a streamlined set of nationally defined core policies.

3.  THE REGIONAL DIMENSION

  The planning system needs to be capable for operation in a variety of regional circumstances reflecting different local government structures, economic and social needs. Regional planning bodies should have powers that are commensurate with the level of their accountability.

4.  THE LOCAL DIMENSION

  The LGA recognises the government's strong desire to streamline the planning system by introducing a single tier below the regional level for statutory spatial planning. The Government has proposed that Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) should be drawn up at the district/unitary level on the assumption that only at this level can people be engaged in the planning process. Also, the government is worried that a separation of policy making (at county level) from decision-making (at district level) will lead to a lack of ownership of LDF policy at the lower tier, affecting the quality of development control decisions.

  The problem with this approach is that it does not take into account the significant role of county councils in delivering transport, waste management, education, social services and community safety. The government's aim in introducing LDFs in place of traditional land use plans is to integrate priorities such as economic regeneration, environmental improvement and social inclusion into the planning process. It is difficult to see how this integration can be achieved if county councils do not have a statutory role in the preparation of LDFs.

  The LGA believes that a better solution would be to give all local authorities a statutory role in spatial and land use planning. In two tier areas this would take the form of LDFs prepared jointly by county and districts councils. This would satisfy the government's aim to have a single statutory tier below regional level for planning while retaining the input of all the councils responsible for services with land use implications.

  In two-tier areas the emphasis would be on counties and districts agreeing an appropriate pattern based on arrangements that make sense geographically and socio-demographically. This could involve partnerships that cross county borders and involve neighbouring counties and districts. There may even be potential for cross-regional LDFs.

5.  ACTION PLANS

  The proposal to formalise action plans within the planning process is welcomed by the LGA. Many authorities already prepare this type of plan in the form of design briefs, supplementary planning guidance.

6.  ALTERNATIVES TO PUBLIC INQUIRY

  The less formal and adversarial process is welcomed and is a crucial element in the reform package. If the removal of adversarial inquiry procedures can be secured, then there is a potential to change the whole character of the involvement of stakeholders in the planning process from one of objection to one based on discussion and positive engagement.

  The association's preferred option is an independent examination in public culminating in report for consideration by local authorities. The secretary of state or the regional planning body should have the right to intervene before final adoption.

7.  DEVELOPMENT CONTROL

  The association considers that most of the proposals in Chapter 5 reflect good management practices rather than propose a fundamental change to the development control system.

    —  Handling targets—The target to achieve 90 per cent delegation to officers is not consistent with good practice. The target figure does not take account of the proportion of applications received by local authorities that may be suitable for delegation. Increased delegation should be at the discretion of local authorities and not an imposed national directive.

    —  Business planning zones—The association is as yet unconvinced of the need for business planning zones. Proposed changes to speed up and improve the quality of decisions appears to negate the need for BPZ.

    —  Better enforcement—Enforcement is a fundamental part of the planning process and the LGA fully supports the government's proposal to review current arrangements and introduce simpler procedures. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the provision of a sustainable regime for the funding of enforcement activities.

8.  RESOURCES

  It is clear that resources devoted to planning are inadequate to provide the level of service demanded by users and required by the government. The LGA welcomes the commitment to review the free regime and address the issue of resources. However, a review of the fee regime should be in addition to an increase in core funding and should concentrate on increasing fees in order to enable more resources to improve planning at the local level.

  The LGA welcomes the Government's commitment to work with the LGA and IDEA to develop an action plan to deliver improvements in the recruitment, retention and training of planners in local authorities.

DAUGHTER DOCUMENTS

9.  Major infrastructure proposals

  The range of projects that will fall under the scope of the new procedures is wide. Each will only be designated in the light of a national policy statement covering that topic area. It would therefore make more sense for the Government to commit to produce a national spatial development strategy to give a proper context for the development of nationally important infrastructure.

  It is therefore imperative that the type of proposal that the secretary of state can designate to go through the new parliamentary procedures is specified in advance and enshrined in statute. Local government and all key stakeholders should be consulted in this process.

  The LGA believes that the best option for handling designated proposals in parliament is through a committee-based system. This would allow the fullest use of the limited time available to consider and give a view on proposals. It also allows for structured consultation with the public and key stakeholders and a process through it can be seen how their views are being taken into account.

10.  Planning Obligations

  The Local Government Association welcomes the proposed change in policy to allow authorities to use planning obligations as a positive planning tool to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to a wider community than just the immediate environs of the development.

  The tariff approach is welcomed. The association considers that this approach has the potential to achieve a speedier, more predictable, less costly and transparent outcome than is currently the case with many negotiated section 106 agreements. However, it is not a substitute for government provision of adequate funding for affordable housing.

  Consideration needs to be given to the practicalities of operating a tariff system. It is important to ensure that the tariff system does not become unduly complex as a result of setting different tariff levels for different types of development. In particular, the following issues need to be addressed:

    —  a standard tariff mechanism needs to be devised that is sensitive to variations in development value for the same types of development within a geographical area;

    —  policy needs to be formulated that is responsive to local conditions yet is simple to operate and is comprehensible by planners, developers and the community; and

    —  the green paper refers to tariff policy being set out in the Local Development Framework; however, local action plans may be more appropriate in some circumstances.

  The proposals on the delivery of affordable housing are broadly welcomed. The emphasis on achieving onsite provision is strongly supported, as is the ability to use tariff receipts from both residential and commercial developments. The mechanics of translating tariff receipts into onsite provision needs to be considered. Authorities should have the power to determine the mix, size, type and tenure of onsite affordable housing provision. This should not be left to negotiation.

  The LGA supports the option to allow authorities to allocate sites solely for affordable housing where there is a robust assessment of need. In a number of areas, particularly rural areas, the opportunity to obtain sites for affordable housing on the open market is minimal.

  The association welcomes the proposal to allow the wider application of tariffs generated for affordable housing. The ability to allocate tariff receipts to empty properties and property conversions will give authorities additional flexibility to tailor affordable provision to meet local circumstances.

11.  Compulsory Purchase

  The LGA fully support reform of compulsory purchase procedures to achieve simpler, fairer and quicker outcomes that benefits both acquiring authorities and those whose property is taken.

  The association considers that compulsory purchase can play a key role in delivering environmental improvement, community regeneration and infrastructure projects. The proposals should assist authorities to deliver government policy on renewal and regeneration and the proposals are considered to complement new local authority powers for private sector housing renewal.

  A number of the proposals will involve additional costs for local authorities as acquiring authorities. Additional resources should be made available to local authorities to fund any new costs arising from the compulsory purchase proposals.

Local Government Association

25 April 2002



 
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