Memorandum by Derek Waller Esq (PGP 09)
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
Further to your Committee's Press Notice No
38 dated 31 January 2002, I welcome the opportunity to offer some
views about the Government's Green Paper"Planning:
Delivering a Fundamental Change".
I do so as an interested member of the general
public who has served as a Borough Councillor in Lancashire (where
I was shadow chairman of the Planning Committee), and who has
been involved in numerous consultation exercises in North Yorkshire,
Lancashire, West Sussex and the South East Region in respect of
RPGs, Structure Plans, Minerals Plans, Waste Plans and District
As far as Structure Plans, Minerals and Waste
Local Plans and District Local Plans are concerned, I very much
welcome the opportunity to become involved at the various consultation,
deposit, inquiry and review stages. I find the process easy to
understand, I am pleased with the opportunities to make comments
and suggestions, and I am content with the way in which Objections
are handled. On the other hand, my experience has shown that it
is much harder for a member of the public to influence a draft
RPG because of the different consultation arrangements and the
inherent "distance" between the drafters and the general
Whilst I agree that the current planning system
could be improved, especially the detail of the development control
process, I am opposed to the wholesale changes that are proposed
to the plan framework, and I am unconvinced that there is any
proven need either to eliminate Structure Plans or to change District
Local Plans into Local Development Frameworks and their plethora
of associated Action Plans which will not, in any case, provide
total local authority area coverage.
In particular, the Green Paper is generally
short on evidence as far as the shortcomings of the current system
are concerned; rather mainly relying on assertions which are repeated
for emphasis and statements of the obvious which apply just as
much to the present system as to any possible replacement system.
I must observe, however, that I feel at a considerable
disadvantage in "taking on the system" on this occasion.
This is because my research has shown that most of the changes
proposed either originate from or have the full support of the
Royal Town Planning Institute, and since the overwhelming weight
of opinion in support of the proposals comes from planners, house
builders and architects, and since virtually all the local authority
responses will have been drafted by RTPI members, I wonder what
chance there is for the views of an "outsider" to be
Rather than considering local plans on their
own, I believe it is important to consider the whole of the plan
framework, and here I stress my view that the current system is
sound in principle, albeit that some improvements would be helpful.
Starting with national planning guidance, I
very much welcome the idea of reducing its volume. The 25 PPGs
and 15 MPGs are far too lengthy, detailed and prescriptive, and
the current plethora of rules contributes significantly to the
extended timescales and difficulties at the lower levels of the
Turning to regional guidance, I consider that
PPG11, which was only published in October 2000, is a sound and
sensible document which already emphasises the need for RPGs to
be briefer and more focussed. On the other hand if, in the future,
RPGs were to contain District-level house building allocations,
then it would be necessary to consider whether or not the current
restricted consultation arrangements were still valid. Clearly,
there are irritations relating to RPGs, but the solution to these
should be found without eliminating Structure Plans and, in this
regard, I refer to the DTLR's "Report on the Responses to
the Public Consultation Draft of Regional Planning Guidance, PPG11",
published in July 2000 which, on page 7, stated that:
"RPG and structure plans have different
purposes. The new PPG11 makes clear that RPG should not descend
into the level of detail more appropriate to a development plan.
PPG11 also explains that the sub-regional basis of RPG should
not be confused with county structure plans and their purpose
is not to move local decisions to the regional tier."
Below the level of national and regional planning
guidance, I accept that for a whole variety of reasons Structure
Plans and Local Plans take too long to develop from initial drafting
to final adoption but, instead of supporting the wholesale changes
that are proposed, I believe that the existing process could be
speeded up by close adherence to the sensible guidance in the
relatively young PPG 12 (December 1999); which should be given
a chance to work before the framework is subject to wholesale
Of course it is quite unacceptable that 13 per
cent of local authorities have still to put their first plan in
place and 214 current plans are now out of date. Equally, it is
daft that plans should contain 200 or more detailed policiesbut
that is just what PPG12 is designed to eliminate; albeit that
(strangely) there is no mention whatsoever of this important PPG
in the whole of the Green Paper.
The solution to such problems is not to eliminate
Structure and Local Plans in their present form just because their
gestation periods are too long and because some local authorities
are tardy; rather the Government should seek to analyse the real
reasons for the poor performance, then learn the lessons and correct
the system; if necessary by imposing penalties for tardy performance.
One solution being to "name and shame" Councils, as
illustrated in para 6.46 of the Green Paper in relation to the
speed at which planning applications are determined.
Additionally, a change of attitude towards suggested
amendments by the planning officers who draft such plans would
help the process towards a speedier conclusion. It is not always
the general public and other Objectors who are responsible for
today's delays! The drafters of Structure Plans and Local Plans
are not always right, and a review by interested and informed
local individuals can very often result in a markedly improved
final version of a draft plan.
I am also opposed to any fundamental alterations
to the current system of consultation which, in my experience
and contrary to the assertions contained in the Green Paper, is
already entirely satisfactory for the general public as evidenced
by the number of Objections received by County and District Councils
when draft plans are published for comment.
Indeed, reading between the lines, I discern
that the real reason for the Government's ambition to do away
with Structure Plans and change Local Plans is because the public
(and their concern with protecting the environment) get in the
way of extra house building, and therefore do not always deliver
what the Government, the house builders and the planners want.
So, what we are now presented with is a proposal to get rid of
them; thus solving the perceived problem in a single stroke.
This conclusion is reinforced by several quotations
from the Green Paper:
"What was once an emphasis on consultation
now blocks developmentso it is time for change".
"Delay in dealing with contentious proposals
can hold up Plans".
"Under the present system everyone has the
right to make objections, but it is time-consuming".
"The process can lead to the avoidance of
difficult decisions, such as the supply of housing in the South
I therefore see a frustrated Government and
house building industry who, together with the planners, neither
like the consequences of public consultation and involvement,
nor the fact that what they call "difficult decisions"
are avoided. Thus, under the popular banner of "modernisation",
the Government are using the excuse that the current planning
system has fundamental faults as the reason for reducing the rights
of the general public to have their proper say in the production
of Structure Plans and District Local Plans.
There will always be varying points of view
in relation to development proposals, no matter what planning
framework is adopted. Thus, I believe that the right to challenge
such proposals is very important indeed, and that it should be
maintained. The procedure was recently changed slightly when PPG12
was re-issued, and it needs to be given time to settle down. Please
remember that it is the community that Structure and Local Plans
are supposed to serve; not the planning professionals, and the
current proposalsmany of which seem to originate with the
RTPIsmack of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater".
In answer to the Committee's questions with
which this submission is linked, I believe that the current system
of local plans is inherently effective; albeit that several small
changes could improve it. I am opposed to the Government's proposals
to replace it with a Local Development Framework plus its associated
plethora of Action Plans, especially as the new system will neither
provide comprehensive land-use policy cover for Districts or Boroughs,
nor provide such an effective means whereby the general public
and other interested parties can object to proposals as now.
Also, I believe that the new proposals will
decrease certainty, will diminish the effectiveness of public
participation, and that they may well slow down some decisions,
particularly in areas where land use policy with regard to house
building could now become unclear. On the other hand, however,
they may facilitate the central imposition of house building targets,
thus creating immense frustration and anger amongst those who
live in areas selected for housing growth and who will no longer
have an effective conduit for their Objections.
In summary, I hope that your Committee will
find this submission helpful, that they will take note of my confidence
in Structure and Local Plans, and that they will ask the Government
to reconsider the Green Paper's proposals in respect of the planning
Finally, please permit me to finish with a pertinent
quotation from the Roman, Gaius Petronius (27 BC-66 AD):
"We trained hard to meet our challenges,
but it seemed as if every time we were beginning to form into
teams we would be re-organised. I was to learn later in life that
we tend to meet any new situation by re-organising. And a wonderful
method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing
confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation."
In my view, the Government would be far better
engaged in making the present planning system work rather than
destroying it and inventing something new. The general public
would be better served by a slightly improved version of the present
planning framework, rather than by a completely new one which
seems to have enhanced status for planning professionals and an
easier ride for house building proposals as two of its underlying
8 March 2002