Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by QPA (PGP 03)

"THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER"

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  QPA is the principal trade association representing the UK aggregates industry. In England our members produce well over 90 per cent of aggregates extracted—sand and gravel and crushed rock as well as other non aggregate minerals such as silica sand, agricultural and industrial lime including limestone, chalk, clay and shale for cement. In restoring their quarries our members are often dependent on landfill. Our members are also major owners of land especially in rural areas and they thus have a direct and relevant interest in the efficient working of the planning system at all levels in the process.

  1.2  In framing this memorandum we have worked from three basic points:

    (i)  There is a need to make the current planning system simpler, more effective and more consistent across the country; and

    (ii)  We strongly support the retention of the present minerals and waste planning system at the County or sub-regional level because minerals, in particular, have always had a special and distinct position within the planning system, this distinction should be retained. In simple terms a system that is redesigned to deal with housing or retail issues will probably not work for minerals—something the Stevens Committee recognised in the 1976 Report on Minerals Planning.

    (iii)  We strongly support retention of County Planning departments as we believe they are the only authorities, which have sufficient size to support fully experienced, expert minerals and waste planning teams.

2.  THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE PLAN SYSTEM AND THE GOVERNMENT'S PROPOSALS

  2.1  We welcome the recognition in the Green Paper that the development plan system is too slow and too complex. We also welcome the proposals to simplify the system and believe that if structure plans are to be abolished they must be replaced by properly resourced sub-regional plans, perhaps prepared by teams made up from those who handled structure plans in the Counties. However, whilst we welcome retention of minerals and waste planning as a County function, we are very concerned as to whether this will be properly resourced without structure plans remaining as a County function. This has not been addressed in the Green Paper and presents a resourcing conundrum. We are also concerned that abolition of structure plans will leave too wide a jump from Regional Spatial Strategies down to LDFs.

  2.2  We have examined the latter problem from the minerals and waste point of view and believe the answer lies in the following solution:

    (i)  provide for a level of sub-regional planning with appropriate and realistic boundaries;

    (ii)  replace structure plans with sub-regional plans prepared by joint teams from the County Councils;

    (iii)  retain minerals and waste local plans as a County function;

    (iv)  take minerals and waste development plan functions away from District Councils and UDCs and allocate this to formal groupings of UDCs on a sub-regional basis, perhaps grouped with an adjoining County. For Districts allocate the function to a grouping with appropriate adjoining Counties.

  2.3  On Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the minerals industry has invested heavily in land allocated for mineral working in adopted minerals local plans in the expectation that Section 54A would continue. If the intention is to lose or weaken Section 54A, something we would strongly oppose, it is essential that any legislation for a new system makes proper provision to "save" existing adopted plans along with any allocations for mineral working within them.

  2.4  Minerals local plans—these have existed, principally as a County function, since about 1982. They are a tried and tested system. They could, of course, be produced more quickly and more efficiently and, although there are no specific proposals for this in the Green Paper, we would urge evolutionary reforms here which would be complementary to the other reforms in the Green Paper. We are concerned that at present minerals site specific allocations get considered in detail twice—once at the plan stage and then again at the planning application stage. This is wrong.

  2.5  Our vision for minerals (and waste) local plans would include:

    —  Simpler plans with far fewer policies—more akin to the Essex Plan's 8 policies than Nottinghamshire's 80 policies.

    —  More consistency of policy approach across the country—it makes no sense at all, for example, to have differing policies from area to area in respect of SSSIs or AONBs.

    —  Simplifying the structure of minerals local plans, which we believe need three clear sections:

      —  Part (i)—General, national/regional policy framework—the statement of core policies;

      —  Part (ii)—Development control criteria policies;

      —  Part (iii)—Plan based preferred areas to match the arithmetic of plan provision in (i);

      —  Both (i) and (ii) should closely follow the national and regional policy advice template.

    —  We thus believe there is a continuing need for strong centralised guidance/policy advice in the form of PPGs and MPGs.

    —  Minerals plans should continue to be framed in accordance with RAWP/RPG policy advice.

    —  As with the more general Green Paper proposals, Inspectors' reports should be binding (paragraph 4.26).

    —  Public inquiries into minerals and waste local plans should continue to have a mix of round-table, hearing and adversarial procedures. Round table procedures work well in dealing with the general plan policies, adversarial sessions are the best approach for allocations/preferred areas issues.

    —  For Districts and UDCs, minerals planning arrangements are far less satisfactory. Many Districts are far too small to be able to retain a nucleus of expert minerals planning staff and far too small to be able to take the necessary, broad, strategic view. This applies, also, to many of the UDCs. For these areas, QPA believes the solution is to provide powers requiring groups of UDCs, or groups of UDCs and any adjoining Counties, to produce joint minerals (and waste) local plans and to provide powers for isolated, lower-tier Districts to produce joint Plans with the Counties with which they are associated. As mentioned above we also believe use should be made of sub-regional planning strategies.

3.  THE ROLE OF THE REGIONS

  3.1  We are generally content with the proposals for new/strengthened arrangements for the regions including the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) set out in paragraphs 4.39-4.53 of the Green Paper. Assuming County Structure Plans are abolished it will be essential that there is a strong and influential tier of regional planning and as we have said, provision for an effective tier of sub-regional planning. For minerals we believe retention of the RAWP system as the technical advice forum to the regions is absolutely essential and indeed may provide a model from other policy issues.

4.  NATIONAL POLICY GUIDANCE—PPGS AND MPGS

  4.1  We would like to stress that QPA members find national planning guidance—PPGs and MPGs invaluable, both to inform our members' work within the planning system—minerals local plans, planning applications etc and to provide a bedrock of policy material guidance at local plan and planning appeal inquiries. We don't believe these are a "burden on the planning system" nor do they stifle regional and local flexibility. The development plan system is already far too inconsistent in its policy approach across the country—to water down the role of national planning guidance could only make things worse. As set out in our views above, if minerals local plans are evolved as we have suggested, it will be essential that the core policy parts are founded on clear national and regional guidance. MPGs and PPGs should be retained.

  4.2  Their status as material planning guidance does need to be strengthened by having their role as "quasi-circulars" enshrined in legislation. At the very least they should all carry the statement set out on the back of the original (1988) version of MPG1, ie:

      "The Secretaries of State and their Inspectors will have regard to this guidance in dealing with development plan matters, appeals and called-in planning applications and the Secretaries of State expect LPAs to have regard to it in the exercise of their planning functions."

  4.3  It is essential, in our view, that LPAs pay much closer regard to national policy guidance—days are currently spent at local plan inquiries dealing with objections where a plan has departed from National guidance.

  4.4  It is also essential that MPGs and PPGs are kept up-to-date by more frequent and on-time reviews. It would be helpful if there was a distinction made between the policy guidance MPGs such as MPG 1 and 6 and the technical advice MPGs such as MPG 8,9 and 14, for example. In essence we believe the PPGs and MPGs need "repackaging" to cut down repetition, but done in such a way as to retain the basic core of national policy advice largely unchanged. This would also help to speed the review process.

5.  DEVELOPMENT CONTROL

  5.1  The development control system in England is in need of reform, but not necessarily in the way set out in the Green Paper. There is a growing obsession with performance league tables, best value and speed which is distorting the system and leading to premature and poorly justified refusals. What is needed is a properly resourced system, staffed by expert planners with properly trained Councillors making the decisions, geared to providing a quality decision within a period appropriate to the complexity of the proposal. For all but the simplest mineral cases, we believe decisions should be aimed at, and project managed within six to nine months. In respect of the larger proposals we believe that there should be an agreed delivery contract to ensure a timely decision. It is likewise totally unacceptable, for all but the most exceptionally complex cases, to take over 12 months to determine. Where a Section 106 obligation has to be agreed (post-resolution) this should be programmed to take no longer than three months.

  5.2  What the minerals industry wants from the development control system is the right decision, at the right time, for the right reasons.

  5.3  On the detailed proposals in Chapter five we have set out a full critique in our formal response to DTLR. A few key parts of this are highlighted below:

    —  Charging for pre-application discussions (paragraph 5.10) would totally negate the good intentions of paragraph 5.9 and the model checklist. Pre-application discussions should be encouraged. Charging fees for this part of the process would have the opposite effect.

    —  We strongly support the procedures in paragraph 5.11 and 5.25-26 to project manage larger proposals—this is very necessary for minerals cases and particularly so if our suggestion for a longer statutory period for such cases is accepted.

    —  We have serious misgivings about the proposals in paragraphs 5.17-5.18 to synchronise the planning consent process with other authorisations. Other agencies, particularly the Environment Agency, have very slow procedures and very different aims. Synchronisation of procedures could end up delaying the planning consent. There is, moreover, a particular difficulty with the Environment Agency, which is both slower and inconsistent in its approach on consultations and seems to want to encroach on the land use planning system as an alternative planning authority. The Agency's role as an environmental consultee not a "land-use-planning consultee" needs to be clarified and enforced.

    —  With regard to Statutory Consultees (paragraphs 5.29 and 5.35) whilst we welcome the proposal to reduce the number of these, we reject putting the onus of consultation with the applicant rather than the planning authority. What is suggested here will make no difference to the overall time of decision and could well result in all such consultations being carried out twice. As discussed later, we also strongly reject making such consultations chargeable.

    —  With regard to consultees generally—there is a need for clear government guidance on timetables for responses. The 14-day response rate in Article 10(4)(b) rule in the GDPO 1995 sets out a statutory remedy for dealing with late consultees. However, a 14-day response on major proposals would be unrealistic. Perhaps consideration should be given to amending this part of the GDPO to one month and enforcing much stricter adherence to this timetable. It is essential that such a system is not circumvented by responses on a "holding basis".

    —  Limiting planning permissions to three years (page 40) is strongly opposed—it must not be applied to minerals extraction proposals. For minerals permissions, normal practice is to grant permission subject to conditions requiring later submission of details of working and restoration, construction of accesses, plant etc. Only when the initial permission is granted is it normal for the mineral operator to gain access to the site—it can take well over three years to complete the further submissions—five years is sometimes too short for this—three years would be impossible. It is also important to remember that in most cases a mineral permission does not have a "legal start" until all such submissions are approved, the processing plant constructed and a production tonnage has been sold out of the front gate. An exemption for mineral extraction permissions is thus essential. It is also essential that when an expiring consent needs to be renewed, provided there are no material differences to the original, the whole issue does not need to be considered afresh.

    —  The whole process of managing planning committees needs a serious overhaul. Meetings must be held at least once a month to ensure speed of decision. Agendas should be publicly available two clear weeks before meetings to allow mistakes in reports to be rectified. Councillors should be required to undergo full training on planning and, for Counties, minerals and waste planning issues. Copies of all consultees' responses must be available at reasonable cost and Committee minutes should be in full, not just brief summaries of decisions. Thus reasons for permissions/refusals should be made quite clear (paragraph 5.60) in the reports/minutes. For appeal cases, Inspectors should likewise be required to give full reasons for their decisions and for conditions.

    —  We believe the whole process of development control should be project managed with strict timetables—say one week to update applications, consultations and advertisements out within two weeks of validation, target Committees identified and so on. Both the dc and appeal system need a much more disciplined approach with clear and realistic performance standards geared to the types and complexities of the applications.

6.  FEES AND CHARGES GENERALLY

  6.1  The planning service is a statutory, mandatory service provided by local authorities, which used to be entirely funded by rates. The minerals industry continues to pay rates through the system of UBR but has increasingly had to pay more and more charges for services that used to be "free". The Green Paper proposes even more charges. It is useful therefore to consider, by way of a worked example, the likely level of charges now in being/proposed. For this exercise we have assumed a fairly modest new sand and gravel quarry with a 1.5mt reserve, a 10 year life and a relatively smooth process leading to a speedy permission.

Minerals Fees for sites over 15ha:
  
Existing:
  
Planning application fee
£14,250
Proposed:
  
—Planning Application Fee
£33,000
—Enforcement and Monitoring Fee
  
(DTLR Option four = £2,160 pa) ie
£21,600 (over 10 years)
—Pre application discussions
  
with MPA (say 3 meetings, including site visit @ £500/day)
£1,500
—Pre application consultations
  
(say five statutory consultations @ £500/day, 1/2 day each)
£1,250
—Section 106 Obligations tariff
  
(assume 10p/tonne—Oxfordshire uses 10p/tonne as does South Lanarkshire)
£150,000
Total (Over 10 Years)
£207,350 (ie 13.8p/tonne)


  All of the above charges would be extra to the aggregates levy of £1.60/tonne plus VAT which comes into effect on 1.4.02 and which has been calculated on the basis of the environmental disbenefits of quarrying and would thus duplicate the Section 106 obligation charge, discussed in Annexe B and summarised above.

  Thus the total of charges and fees and tax for this notional 1.5mt reserve quarry would be £207,500 + £2,400,000 ie £2,607,500 at today's rates.

  6.2  We would like to emphasise:

    —  Fees and charges are getting out of hand—the solution is to properly fund local authorities from the Council Tax/UBR system. Recent reviews of local authority financing need re-visiting in this respect.

    —  For minerals, the regime, including aggregates levy is already penal. Aggregates are a low cost, low profit, essential basic resource—they cannot be considered as part of the same charging/community benefit system as retail superstores. As we have demonstrated above, what is proposed in the way of fees, charges and tariffs is beyond belief.

    —  Any system of fees and charges as proposed in the Green Paper would discriminate in favour of existing permissions. Only new extensions and new sites would be subject to the whole spectrum of charges set out above—there would thus be an interference in the principles of free and fair trade.

7.  THIRD PARTY RIGHTS OF APPEAL

  7.1  We strongly support the conclusions of the Green Paper that third party rights of appeal do not need widening. There are already adequate remedies available to third parties through the courts. Any widening of these could only slow the whole process down further and introduce even further uncertainty.

8.  REFORMING PLANNING OBLIGATIONS

  8.1  The majority of new planning permissions granted for quarrying now include Section 106 obligations and an increasing number of these include provision for what is commonly called "planning gain". Our members are thus very concerned at the proposals in the Consultation Paper, as now explained.

  8.2  The first key point is that Government guidance has always made clear that "if there is a choice between imposing conditions and entering into a planning obligation, the imposition of a condition which satisfies the policy tests for conditions is preferable."—that should remain the case—Section 106 obligations are complex legal documents that are the principal reason for delaying complex applications such as those for minerals and waste. If Government policy on the preference to use conditions instead was followed, much time, money and delay could be saved.

  8.3  Our second key point is that minerals should be treated differently to the construction sector. Minerals extraction is a low value, temporary activity that does not normally result in enhancement of land values. The minerals industry does not have the vast financial resources available to the retail or housing sector, which can be used to offer planning gain packages as a way of securing planning consents. Minerals are different and require different considerations in any proposals to reform the Section 106 obligation system.

  8.4  Our members have long been concerned at the way demands for planning gain/community benefits at the application stage have evolved out of control, despite law and policy guidance designed to control this. The situation has now been allowed to escalate out of control as a barely legitimate way for local authorities to augment declining budgets. It is sometimes also justified as a form of ad hoc development land tax. That is indefensible. Attempts at imposing development land taxes have failed twice since 1947. If this is to be the reason for encouraging the practice of planning gain/community benefits then it should be done openly and honestly as a properly legitimate development land tax through primary legislation. Planning applications should be determined on their merits, not on the scale of the "bribe" accompanying them. However, we must emphasise that our members do not believe such a tax is either necessary or desirable and thus we reject the concept of planning gain/community benefits, however sought.

  8.5  We recognise, however, that it is impossible to turn the clock back totally on what has, regrettably, become common practice. We have therefore set out some specific comments on the paper where we believe that are concerns from the wider planning point of view and in particular in relation to quarrying.

  The good advice in circular 1/97, that planning obligations should only be sought where they would be "fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed developments" and that "planning permissions must not be bought or sold", seems to be rarely properly observed. In Oxfordshire for example, as we have mentioned, the County Council are demanding obligations, which include provision for a 10p/tonne levy to provide for offsite infrastructure in the Lower Windrush Valley, using a development plan policy as justification.

  8.6  It is QPA's contention that demands for both planning gain and community benefit are out of control, a situation exacerbated by ever more swingeing cuts in Local Authority finances. Although court cases and Circular 1/97 have helped to determine what is a material consideration in determination of a planning application, no limits have been set on what could be demanded by a "voluntary" agreement. In the Plymouth supermarket cases, the Council actively encouraged Tesco's and Sainsbury's to compete in what could be offered.

  8.7  Similar demands are being placed upon the minerals industry where demands for new bypasses, donations of land, community support levies are becoming both ever more common and ever more ambitious.

  8.8  From a position from within the minerals industry it is clear that we are now close to a situation where planning permissions are having to be bought. From the point of view of local residents, they see it as a situation where a mineral operator seems to be bribing a planning authority to get its permission. Both views are close to the truth and neither is desirable. There is now an urgent need for the Government to impose parameters on the activity and, in line with Option A in the Annexe, to offer firmer guidance on the subject. Whilst Circular 1/97 has helped, it does not seem to have been successful in curbing the wilder enthusiasms of local authorities for collecting cash or kind in return for the grant of planning permissions.

  8.9  The minerals sector does not agree that betterment should always be recouped for the community. In terms of mineral working this is a temporary activity, which frequently hands back to the community a landscape in an enhanced condition or use. There is no "betterment" as such in terms of land value as there might be in the case of built development—the premise of betterment is thus wrong in our case. If Section 106 obligations are to be reformed—minerals/waste issues require different treatment to retail and housing.

  8.10  The Paper wilfully misquotes from the Nolan Committee Report in relation to planning obligations and as a result completely misdirects the issues. Recommendation R36 of the Nolan Report (paragraph 320) states:

    "The DoE (and the Scottish and Welsh offices) should consider whether present legislation on planning obligations is sufficiently tightly worded to prevent planning permissions from being bought and sold."

  8.11  What is now proposed will quite simply exacerbate that situation, albeit to a set tariff, but one set without regard to the relevance of the development proposed and levied in the name of relieving public financing.

  8.12  These are bad proposals, drafted for the wrong reasons. What is needed is a tighter system, not a looser one, framed around Option A in Annexe A.

9.  KEY CONCLUSIONS

  9.1  QPA believes minerals planning is different: it currently has a special and distinct position within the planning system, deriving from the Stevens Committee Report and which should not be changed.

    —  Mineral extraction is like no other form of development—it is a temporary process after which the landscape is either restored or enhanced. It is not a process like built development that normally results in an enhanced land value.

    —  We are pleased to see retention of the RAWPs, of minerals and waste local plans as a County function—with evolutionary improvements this process should continue.

    —  For UDCs and Districts the system lacks resources, minerals expertise and a strategic overview—the answer lies in some form of statutory joint working arrangements.

    —  We reject the proposal to levy ever more fees and charges—the answer lies in proper resourcing for local Government.


 
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