Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by the Local Government Information unit (PGP 02)

THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER

  This paper provides the LGIU's memorandum on the Planning Green Paper and the "daughter" papers. The Local Government Information Unit is an independent research and information organisation. It is supported by over 150 local authority affiliates in England and Wales.

The role of regional planning bodies

  The LGIU supports proposals for statutory Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) but this must be developed by elected representatives. We have argued in support of directly elected regional assemblies and the proposals for statutory RSS make this institutional reform more urgent. In the meantime we oppose the proposal that the RSS cannot be prepared by regional associations of local authorities but has to involve "Regional Development Agencies and representatives of the public, business and voluntary sector". This proposal will also rule out the regional chambers preparing such strategies, since the scrutiny function of the chamber over the RDA should preclude direct membership by the RDA of a chamber working party.

  The justification for the government's proposals is that local authority associations in the South East have avoided making "the hard strategic choices". But the problems in the South East have been created because there are development pressures, which raise key political issues. The decisions in preparing RSS will be even more important if RSS has statutory status. Giving more influence over such decisions to non-elected individuals will not solve the difficulties. It is particularly problematic when these non-elected individuals are weighted towards those who represent the land and property interests and when they are not bound by ethical standards in the same ways as elected members, who have to abide by a strict code and are regulated by the Standards Committee. It is noticeable that the Green Paper does not call for a wider input from passenger transport groups, those with public health interests or the regional round tables responsible for producing the sustainability framework. Nor does it call for a declaration of interests and compulsory training for non-members involved on regional planning bodies. If RSS is to be statutory, we believe it should be the clear responsibility of regional associations of local authorities to prepare such strategies until there are directly elected regional assemblies. These associations should consult wider stakeholders, chambers and RDAs and a better system of community involvement in regional planning will need to be developed, but accountability should remain clear.

  A further point is that the new RSSs need to be underpinned by a sustainability appraisal system agreed by the regional chamber or directly elected assembly. The Green Paper reveals some confusion about proposals to expand the scope of regional planning. Current regional planning guidance (RPG) deals with narrow land use issues. The proposal is to replace RPG with a regional spatial strategy "which should provide the longer term planning framework for the RDA strategies and those of other stakeholders and assist in their implementation" (4.42). Many planners have for some time called for spatial strategies. These are commonly used on the European continent. However, the RSS as outlined in the Green Paper, still shows a very limited concept of "spatial".

  The emphasis on RSS is on the "provision of new housing, including setting a brown field target and the growth of major urban areas" (paragraph 4.39). A more comprehensive spatial policy would also cover:

    —  issues around environmental management—flooding, water provision, energy supply and demand management, bio-diversity, food sustainability;

    —  issues around rural development and major agriculture and forestry developments;

    —  transport planning—this is particularly difficult at the moment as the fragmentation of land use and financial investment decision-making is leading to decisions on transport being taken outside the RPG. There is no evidence that this has been addressed in the Green Paper.

  For regional planning to be successful it must be based on a wider concept of "spatial" and there will need to be clear objectives for sustainability to which outcome targets can be attached. The regional development spatial frameworks have begun this task but the targets, and ways of monitoring them, need to be politically developed, non-technical and widely owned. There is a job here for the democratic regional structures to develop regional sustainability appraisal systems that are more politically accountable. The chambers should also continue to develop their role of linking the RSS to other regional strategies and creating an integrated regional strategy. The East Midlands is one example of a chamber that has done some interesting work in this area. But real integrated regional strategies require the ability to link investment in infrastructure to planning proposals. This needs to be considered in the next stage of planning reform and in the forthcoming White Paper on regional government.

  Finally, some consideration is needed of joint regional planning. This is particularly important in the South East where the creation of three regions has led to weakening of the spatial planning regime for the London labour market area.

The procedures for scrutinising major development projects

  One of the main weaknesses in the Planning Green Paper is the failure to put forward proposals for a national spatial strategy. This would provide a context for scrutinising major development projects and ultimately speed up the process. Proposals for revised national planning guidance provide no substitute for a national spatial strategy. It is now widely recognised that there is an imbalance in development between the north and south of the country, which has resulted in an acute housing and transport problem in the South East, and London, while there are areas of abandonment in the North. We still lack an overall spatial policy to address these issues. Such a policy would need to be backed by a national infrastructure investment plan (in transport, economic development, housing and regeneration) which would provide a framework both for the development of regional and local strategies and for their implementation. The current Green Paper highlights the problems over the planning application for a fifth terminal at Heathrow. It would be easier to assess such an application if there were a national airport development policy that was part of a national spatial policy. We are now being promised the former but still not the latter. It will be difficult to agree a national airport policy unless it relates to a wider spatial strategy. Should it just provide for current growth trends thereby reinforcing them or should you try to develop infrastructure and economic development opportunities more evenly across the country? The LGIU would support the development of a national spatial strategy. We would wish to see this developed with broad and thorough consultation of regional and local interests.

  The LGIU is not opposed to the proposal for parliamentary decisions on major infrastructure projects rather than these being taken by Secretary of State and we support attempts to speed up decision making in this area. However, we strongly oppose the procedures outlined in the consultation paper, in particular the limiting of local and regional objections, on the principle of whether the development should proceed, to six weeks.

  We also believe that the categories of what constitutes a national infrastructure project are far too wide. A national spatial policy and elected regional government should enable most of such applications to be dealt with at the regional level. Finally we are not convinced that the procedures will speed up such applications. It is worth looking back at the Sizewell B Inquiry where the decision to proceed did not speed up the process.

  The LGIU would suggest that such applications should be considered by a joint regional/local body in the first instance. Such a body could test the developer's case and put the developer's environmental assessment under scrutiny. This should not be a legalistic procedure but could be more like a citizen's jury or environmental round table with access to independent expert research and witnesses. An alternative would be an independent Planning Inquiry Commission, taking evidence from regional and national interests on the questions of principle/need. Either procedure could be strictly time-limited and tasked to produce a report for Parliament within, say, six months. Parliament should consider establishing a joint standing committee of the two Houses with appropriate expertise to fully scrutinise any proposals. The reform of the House of Lords should offer an opportunity for such a committee to have some regional representation. This type of procedure is absolutely essential if decisions are to have any local legitimacy and it could help build a consensus between community and business interests. There is a real danger that the procedures in the Green Paper will allow decisions to be speedily whipped through Parliament without thorough scrutiny and full consideration of local views. Local interests will be left feeling deeply alienated from the process.

BUSINESS PLANNING ZONES

  There have been numerous attempts to introduce speedy planning consent areas for business and all have failed for good reason. Developers require certainty and guarantees of quality development around them if they are going to invest. Such regimes are therefore time consuming to set up. The Green Paper states such zones should have a low impact on the surrounding area and "not add significantly to high local housing demand, have large infrastructure requirements or require special environmental precautions to be taken" (paragraph 5.37). This reveals the contradictions in the policy, as only developments with minimal labour demands would have such low impacts. There have been major problems around green belt proposals in over developed areas like Reading and Cambridge and certainly any business zone in these areas would not be low impact. The LGIU cannot see the need for this proposal. A DETR report by ECOTEC in June 2000 found the current system does not constrain cluster development.

Proposed changes to planning obligations, CPOs and compensation

  The LGIU supports the proposals for a tariff based planning obligation system with the Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) specifying the tariff and indicating how it will be used.

  We have some concerns that the planning obligations system is seen as solving the social housing problem. It will never be possible to deliver enough social housing through the planning system. In 1999-2000 only 13,773 units of social housing were built as a result of Section 106 agreements. The "Shelter Housing Investment Project" (2000) said that "current evidence suggests that 85,000 additional affordable homes will be required every year over the next decade to meet newly arising housing needs . . . . If the backlog of unmet needs is to be effectively addressed, a further 15-20,000 homes will be needed each year". An improved planning obligations system might double or triple the figure achieved through planning gain but would still provide a small proportion of the social housing that is needed.

  There is also a danger that the focus on social housing will be at the expense of other important community gains. One of our affiliates is keen to encourage more energy-efficient construction; some local authorities have looked for a 1 per cent contribution for the arts; others look to employers and retailers to provide child care facilities. In new communities, health and education facilities are required. It is important that planning obligations are considered widely. If the LDF flows from the community strategy, the planning obligations specified should deliver the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community as prioritised in the community strategy and agreed through the community planning process. We have argued for some time that the well-being power should be able to be used by a regulatory committee (the planning committee) and not just the executive in a local authority. We would appreciate the Select Committee looking at this anomaly.

  There is some concern about the setting of priorities for planning obligations in two-tier areas. Some infrastructure (some roads, new schools etc) will be required from the county level and in some cases the tariff will need to be shared. These complex issues will need to be recognised in guidance.

  A further issue that needs clarification is the timing of payment of the tariff. As stated above, some up-front funding of major infrastructure, that can subsequently be repaid through the tariff, would facilitate proactive planning.

  Planning obligations represent a tax on the developer rather than the landowner and therefore mean that only a small proportion of the increase in value is received by the community. An additional system is needed that captures for the community a fair share of the income from the increase in land values resulting from that community deciding to proceed with major infrastructure investment and/or grant planning permission.

  The LGIU supports the proposals for compulsory purchase and compensation. However, we do have some concerns. Firstly, funding must be made available for the loss payments. The government has still not implemented fully the recommendations of the Urban Task Force on funding the urban renaissance. Secondly we are concerned that the proposals may involve more CPOs unless the payments are made available to those who settle without the need for a CPO. The Town and Country Planning association has suggested a sliding scale to reward those who settle early and this would seem a sensible suggestion.

Planning's contribution to the urban renaissance

  We would agree with the CPRE that: "We undervalue the benefits of good planning and stifle its potential at our peril . . . It is a system that brings communities together, provides a sense of certainty and direction, adeptly handles conflict and gives public legitimacy to development and change which is central to improving our quality of life".

  This is a need for a more proactive planning system that provides clarity for applicants; that is seen as a legitimate and fair system in which all interests have a voice; and that promotes sustainability and enhances the quality of life. Reform of the system is welcome but it needs to be underpinned by a clearer national spatial strategy that ties infrastructure investment decisions into holistic land use plans that focus on sustainability. This will enable regional and local plans to be proactive and to be implemented and enable us to move forward on the urban renaissance agenda. It is essential for the urban renaissance agenda that infrastructure investment is tied into land use planning and the current green paper fails to look at this issue. Without this wider reform, planning will continue to be seen as a system that stops development, rather than one which enhances the quality of life. It is also essential that there are more resources. It will be impossible to achieve the urban renaissance without the resources specified in the Rogers' Urban Task Force report, which have only partially been allocated. It will also be necessary to increase the planning resources to enable pro-active planning to take place. The CBI has argued for more planning resources and the LGIU supports this view.

March 2002



 
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