Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by The Council for National Parks (PGP 14)


  The Council for National Parks (CNP) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee's inquiry into the Government's proposals for the future of planning set out in the Green Paper Planning: delivering a fundamental change. CNP is the national charity that works to protect and enhance the National Parks of England and Wales, and areas that merit National Park status, and promote understanding and quiet enjoyment of them for the benefit of all. CNP would like to draw the following points to the Committee's attention.


  1.  The key role of the planning system is to deliver sustainable development and effective protection of the countryside. The proposals, as drafted, will not achieve this. CNP considers that the fundamental purpose of the planning system to "regulate the use of land in the public interest" remains valid and needs to be made much clearer in any subsequent legislation, statements or guidance. This purpose is particularly important in National Parks, which are nationally designated in the public interest.

  2.  It is essential that the follow-ups to the Green Paper deliver the commitment made by Sally Keeble MP to "create a better, faster and fairer planning system with sustainability at its heart"[1]. CNP has asked the Department to ensure that sustainable development is placed at the heart of the planning system. This could be achieved by the new Planning Acts introducing an additional purpose/duty of the planning system to further the achievement of sustainable development. This means equal emphasis being given to economic, social and environmental progress. The consultation document often puts economic before social and environmental progress, which does not accord with the principles of sustainable development. For example, paragraph 1.6 singles out the interests of business, when all the principles discussed apply equally to the public and to other participants in the planning system.

  3.  The links between appropriate economic development and environmental quality are crucial and have largely been forgotten in the consultation document. It is important to remember that:

    —  environmental constraints = high quality landscapes = economic opportunities.

  National Parks offer many examples of this and the inter-relationship between National Park statutory purposes[2] and the duty[3] on National Park Authorities (NPAs) to seek to foster the social and economic well-being of their local communities in ways which are compatible with the pursuit of National Park purposes[4] is a good example. A further example is the recent research by the National Trust[5] which quantified the direct link between a high quality environment and the economy. In the South West, the tourism and leisure sectors were estimated to sustain 225,000 jobs, which is equivalent to around 10 per cent of the regional economy, with 43 per cent of all tourism related employment in the South West motivated by its high quality environment (National Parks cover a significant percentage of the South West Region).


  4.  National Park purposes[6] need to be given much more explicit recognition by the Department when it considers and plans for changes to the planning system. As sole land use planning authorities for their areas, NPAs cover 7.6 per cent of England. CNP welcomes the reference in paragraph 3.3 of the consultation document to the role that planning has played in helping preserve National Parks. CNP further welcomes the recognition in paragraph 4.56 that National Parks have "enjoyed the highest protection"[7] and urges the continuation of this in any new or updated guidance.

  5.  CNP suggests that the three cornerstones of planning in National Parks (conservation, sustainability and high quality design) are given a much higher profile in the shaping and delivery of any new planning system. Specifically, CNP considers that conservation should be added as one of the clear objectives which planning authorities will be required to achieve, as set out in paragraph 4.10. This is crucial if the highest status of protection of National Parks is to be delivered in practice.


  6.  The review of national policy statements is welcome but adequate time needs to be allowed for consultation and a new mechanism is needed for consultation on national policy statements (eg a Public Examination type mechanism) as the current process is not very publicly transparent or accessible. For example, CNP understands that the Department has embarked upon a fast-track review of PPG7 and has met certain interest groups to help inform its initial thinking. It is important that the Department casts its consultation nets more widely at formative stages on key PPGs and CNP would hope that a commitment to this end is included in the Department's follow ups to this consultation.

  7.  CNP welcomes the commitment in paragraph 4.62 of the consultation document to review MPG1 and supports the more overarching role that would be given to this within the mineral planning system. It is important that the rigorous test for minerals developments in National Parks currently set out in MPG6 is included in the new MPG1.


  8.  NPAs must be more closely integrated into regional structures—NPAs must be represented at the regional level as of right and should have equivalent rights of participation in regional assemblies (or in whatever form of regional government is created following the regional government White Paper) to other LPAs. National Parks are nationally designated for certain reasons[8], which have regional and spatial consequences and which need full consideration by and integration with any new regional policy and/or decision-making bodies. The Report of the 1991 National Parks Review Panel (see below) concluded that:

    "We endorsed . . . the need for national park authorities to have a formal role in the preparation of draft [regional] guidance—and one which is independent of the county and district councils.

    The park authorities' task must be to ensure that the strategic and national significance of the parks is fully reflected in regional guidance".

  CNP has urged the Department to introduce a mechanism to ensure that the NPAs are able to fulfil this task. CNP does not consider that giving the NPAs the status of statutory consultee on the preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies will be adequate to achieve this role.


  9.  The strategic planning role of NPAs is crucial and must be retained. This responsibility was vested in all NPAs as recently as 1995 so it seems odd that strategic planning powers should now be removed, particularly without any evidence to suggest why NPAs have not benefited from these powers. The Government made it clear in 1995 that "A National Park Authority will be the strategic land-use planning authority for its area"[9]. This was in response to the last major review of National Parks in 1991[10], which concluded that NPAs "must play a fuller statutory role in the new structure plan process". The Panel also considered that "An effective forward planning process is essential to provide a firm basis for development control decisions in the Parks".

  10.  Further thought should be given to the best way to achieve this (perhaps through the preparation of a Park-wide Unitary Development Plan, as in the Welsh National Parks). CNP has advised the Department to liaise with colleagues in DEFRA on the emerging conclusions from DEFRA's National Parks Review of 2001, as this may contain some pertinent recommendations on the strategic planning role of National Parks.

  11.  As there will be a significant gap between the proposed Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks, there will clearly be a need for sub-regional strategies/planning. The key point here is for NPAs to be fully involved at the sub-regional level and in identifying and preparing any sub-regional strategies affecting the National Parks. This is another important tool for achieving the highest status of protection referred to above.


  12.  CNP welcomes the clarification in paragraph 4.38 of the consultation document that NPAs will continue to be responsible for minerals and waste planning (planning policy and development control). CNP has asked the Department to clarify that NPAs will include minerals and waste policies in their Statement of Core Policies.


  13.  The Local Development Framework should be renamed the Local Sustainable Development Framework. This would help send the right message to developers and other participants in the planning process.

  14.  In National Parks, the National Park Management Plan sets the vision and the strategy for the Park (". . . the role of the Plans as strategic documents outlining overall policies"[11]). CNP welcomes the reference in paragraph 4.11 of the consultation document that "in National Parks . . . ., the statutory management plan will be relevant" in determining the statement of core policies. It is important that the Department issues guidance to LPAs preparing community strategies in National Parks (as some National Parks will be covered by several community strategies).

  15.  This guidance should:

    —  Clarify the relationship between the National Park Management Plan and the community strategy(ies), making clear that the National Park Management Plan sets the overarching framework for their preparation;

    —  Recognise that the National Park Management Plan cannot substitute entirely for the community strategy because it does not cover all areas that the strategy does;

    —  Reiterate that LPAs have a statutory duty[12] to have regard to National Park statutory purposes when preparing their community strategies. This duty should be monitored to ensure that it is properly observed.

  16.  CNP agrees that Local Development Frameworks should be prepared individually by NPAs and should be done on a Park-wide basis (paragraph 4.17). This will ensure a consistent policy approach to land-use planning across the National Park. Several Local Development Frameworks per Park would lead to an inconsistent approach and an unnecessarily complex and confusing land-use planning framework. Joint preparation could lead to public confusion and delay.

  17.  Park-wide LDFs would result in a more coherent and holistic approach being applied, which is vital for the consistent delivery of National Park purposes. This Park-wide approach was introduced for Local Plans in all National Parks because the previous system of joint local plans was found not to work satisfactorily for National Parks.

  18.  CNP is concerned about the discretionary nature of the proposed Action Plans. The Government has recently stated that:

    "The Government has announced measures to modernise the planning system. These include more explicit national policy statements on the need for projects of national importance such as airports and the criteria for site selection and changes in public inquiry procedures. The Government remains committed to the plan-led system of development. This provides the essential framework for rational and consistent planning decisions, and plays a vital role in promoting development and growth which respects the environment. But if the plan-led system is to work there must be plans which cover all parts of the country and an effective system to keep those plans up to date".[13]

  This reinforces the need for comprehensiveness of plan cover, which CNP is concerned would not be forthcoming unless stronger guidance is given to LPAs on the preparation of Action Plans. A loss of comprehensive plan cover would be likely to lead to greater delay in the system as there would be greater uncertainty about what development may be appropriate/acceptable in particular locations.


  19.  CNP welcomes the opportunity to improve pre-application discussions as a result of the Green Paper. This is important as influencing the nature and location of development at the earliest stage possible will generally result in higher quality development and consequently in a greater proportion of planning applications being approved. A good example of this is the work done by Vodafone's National Parks Project Group which is responsible for the company's telecommunications network development in National Parks. Guidance to developers on pre-application discussions should emphasise the need for a strategic approach in National Parks, which maximises the use of innovative designs and avoids the most sensitive sites.


  20.  Resources will need to be provided to ensure that whatever proposals are eventually decided upon, that NPAs are sufficiently resourced to deliver them, given the current range of pressures on NPA budgets.


  21.  CNP is concerned at the proposed reduction in the number of statutory consultees. It is essential that statutory bodies that are uniquely placed to offer specialist or technical advice on the fulfilment of National Park purposes retain their status as a statutory consultee (for example English Nature on wildlife and English Heritage on cultural heritage, both explicit parts of the first National Park statutory purpose). CNP is also concerned at the proposed severance of statutory consultation links with parish councils. These links are particularly important in nationally designated areas such as National Parks, as they help local people input their views into the decision-making process.


  22.  The proposed delegation of 90 per cent of all planning applications to officers is too high in National Parks. CNP has two principal concerns about this proposal:

    —  In National Parks, a greater number of applications are likely to be controversial because of the sensitivity of the environment. It is therefore more appropriate that NPA members make the most difficult judgements on such applications, which will often require application of complex policies, rather than technical officers. NPAs estimate that 70 per cent would be a more appropriate and achievable target.

    —  Delegation to officers inevitably reduces the public's ability to participate in the decision-making process. This proposal would therefore seem to conflict with the Department's desire to make the system more transparent and publicly accessible. For example, in paragraph 1.3 the consultation document states, "That is why we need a planning system that fully engages people in shaping the future of their communities and local economies". In paragraph 1.5 the consultation document states, "All parts of the community—individuals, organisations and business—must be able to make their voice heard".

  23.  CNP is concerned that the target of determining 60 per cent of major commercial and industrial planning applications in 13 weeks does not sufficiently take into account the complexities that will inevitably be encountered when determining a minerals application in a National Park, for example when complex legal agreements are necessary. This is particularly true for the majority of minerals applications received in the Peak District National Park and this needs to be borne in mind when assessing the achievement of any target set.


  24.  CNP considers that the concept of business planning zones would not be appropriate for National Parks because of the inevitable conflict that such an approach would have with National Park purposes.


  25.  CNP welcomes the proposed measures to improve the effectiveness of the system, particularly the proposals for refusing repeated applications, preventing twin tracking and introducing time limited consents.


  26.  CNP supports the introduction of a limited third party right of appeal.


  27.  CNP welcomes the commitment in paragraph 6.5 of the consultation document to removing Crown immunity from planning control, which CNP considers is particularly important for National Parks in relation to developments by the Ministry of Defence. CNP recently raised this matter with the Defence Minister, Lewis Moonie MP, who reassured us that the Ministry of Defence supported the removal of Crown immunity. This approach is consistent with the Secretary of State for Defence's policy statement on the environment and Ministry of Defence current practice. The following is extracted from Counsel's advice to CNP in February 2002. The full advice can be provided on request.

          "Voluntary application of the civilian controls is no substitute for statutory control: the AS90/MLRS Notice of Proposed Development at the Otterburn Training Area is a good example. The MOD took a `twin track' approach throughout the process (ie on the one hand, it behaved as if the application etc were a normal application, including producing a `civilian' Environmental Statement; but, every time it appeared to run into difficulties, the MOD retreated into reminding the other stakeholders that it was not required to comply with the regime at all).

      That has two effects:

    I.  It has a psychological approach on the other stakeholders, particularly the planning authority (which is thus much less likely to take a firm stance against the MOD).

    II.  At OTA (as an example) there was at least one significant way in which the MOD has `got away' with something which a civilian applicant would not (specifically: the MOD can use a replacement for the M28 rocket without subjecting that new rocket to formal environmental assessment or the process of planning control; a civilian developer could not lawfully obtain an open ended planning permission for an activity on this scale the long term environmental impacts of which were unknown.) And, to that extent, the MOD is not acting in accordance with the SofS for Defence's policy statement of 7 July 2000 (which promised to only depart from the rigours of civilian regulation `when such action is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of operational capability').

          If, on the other hand (and as some people argue), there is little practical difference between the way in which the MOD acts now, and the way it would act if subject to normal planning control, then there can be no real justification for maintaining the `crown immunity' regime (particularly if the 7 July 2000 statement is to be meaningful). For completeness, I should note that there is no reason why the application of civilian planning control would restrict the MOD's freedom in a genuine emergency. Thus, for example, the General Development Order specifically allows uses (which would be a `change of use' otherwise requiring planning permission) to take place on any land for 28 days a year without express planning permission. So, if a crisis required, say, particular new training to take place at short notice, that would not require planning permission."


  28.  Major infrastructure projects in National Parks should be exempted from any new Parliamentary procedures. CNP is concerned about:

    —  the Secretary of State's unfettered discretion regarding the definition of "major projects";

    —  the potential undermining of the major development test as set out in government guidance (PPG7) which requires a rigorous public examination of all major development proposals in National Parks;

    —  Parliament's structural difficulty in effectively being able to do what is being asked of it (lack of time and appropriate technical expertise);

    —  the diminished opportunities for public participation that would result from the proposed procedures.

  CNP hopes that the above submission is of interest. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require clarification of any of the above or any further information.

Ruth Chambers

Deputy Director

March 2002

1   31 January 2002, Column 446W. Back

2   Section 61, Environment Act 1995. Back

3   Section 62, Environment Act 1995. Back

4   Paragraph 22, Circular 12/96. Back

5   Valuing our Environment, 2001. Back

6   Section 61, Environment Act 1995. Back

7   Paragraph 4.2, PPG7. Back

8   National Park statutory purposes are conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage and promotion of opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park (Section 61, Environment Act 1995). Back

9   Paragraph 47, Circular 12/96. Back

10   Report of the 1991 National Parks Review Panel, the "Edwards Report". Back

11   Paragraph 52, Circular 12/96. Back

12   Section 62, Environment Act 1995. Back

13   Paragraph 98, Government's Response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 20th Report. Back

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