Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the County Surveyors Society (PGP 20)


  The Government's own evidence demonstrates that local plans are failing to be delivered. The Green Paper confirms that by November 2001 13 per cent of the 362 district and unitary plans have yet to put an adopted plan in place. Since the introduction of the requirement for comprehensive plan coverage, structure plans have achieved complete coverage, and in most instances have been through a review. It does not seem sensible therefore to revamp the system in such a way that it puts even more pressure on Districts by introducing a system based on comprehensive district-wide Local Development Frameworks.

  The Green Paper provides little evidence for its proposals, and in particular the abolition of structure plans, as only three years ago DETR's own research showed that structure plans were working well. Further Lord Falconer's assertion in a written response to Baroness Scott of Needham Market that 21 counties have taken more than five years or more to adopt revised structure plans is misleading. CSS believes that in most cases the authorities did complete their structure plan in under five years and as far as we can determine in those instances where it took longer, most of the delays were due to Government intervention, such as local government reorganisation, and delays in approving Regional Planning Guidance. However, at no time did this cause undue delay to the districts in the preparation of their local plans or mean the adoption of plans not in general conformity with a structure plan.

  It has to be said therefore that there is no guarantee that by transferring responsibility for strategic land use planning from the 34 County Councils to the 238 District Councils and eight Regional bodies in England plans will be produced any quicker. Requiring Districts to prepare both Local Development Frameworks (LDF's) and Action Area Plans will make the system more complex and less democratic.

  LDF's are expected to take into account the land-use implications of other policies and programmes, such as education, health, waste, economic development, transport and highways, all functions that in two-tier areas are provided by the county council. If the link the counties provide between strategic plan-making role and the infrastructure planning and land use is severed, it will have a serious impact on the effective implementation of planning policy.

  The Government's objective for a more effective system of plans below regional level would best be achieved by the preparation of Integrated Development Frameworks at a sub-regional scale rather than district level. The CCN's formal response to the Green Paper sets out the case for LDF's which is supported by the CSS.


  Until the Government publishes it's White Paper on Regional Government, the proposals for the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) will be applicable to a regional planning body which is unelected and democratically unaccountable, where the RSS will be approved by the Secretary of State.

  Until this situation is changed, decisions now taken by county councils in structure plans will be passed to a more remote regional capital, or, more likely, to Central Government. The level of detail needed in the RSS to accommodate sub-regional issues is not only likely to lead to delays in the regional planning process but is unlikely to be matched by the sub-regional knowledge of the regional planning body. It is worth noting that the Government's own research on structure plans (1999) expressed doubt that enhanced regional planning arrangements "could fulfil an effective role in providing an efficient, accountable and statutory system of sub-regional strategic planning within the medium term".

  On this basis CSS would suggest that some of the most challenging and difficult planning decisions arise at sub-regional level and some regions cover too extensive an area to have a universally relevant regional strategy. Therefore an accountable strategic planning framework at sub-regional level is a pre-requisite to an effective planning system and RSS prepared by the present regional planning bodies is not an acceptable substitute.


  Whilst CSS accepts that there may be a small number of developments that are of national importance and therefore require special consideration, it is not persuaded that the Parliamentary procedure offers any real advantage over the public inquiry approach.

  The proposed process is predicated on there being a clear distinction between issues of principle, to be examined and determined by Parliament and matters of detail to be investigated and settled through Public Inquiry. CSS does not believe that such a clear distinction exists in practice. Parliament will inevitably need to look at the detail in examining the principle. Further, CSS doubts that Parliament will have the ability to distinguish between the principle and detail, a difficulty that some Local Authority Members are currently experiencing in relation to multi-modal studies and RPG preparation.


  CSS considers that the introduction of business planning zones is unlikely to be of significant benefit to businesses. There is little credible evidence that the planning system has acted as a serious impediment to business growth other than in circumstances, which would generally command widespread public support. For example, planning restrictions have certainly stemmed the spread of large out of town retail outlets and house building in greenfield locations.

  Further, the certainty provided by knowing the planning status of land has helped businesses. Whilst the Green Paper proposals that business planning zones are likely to be few in number, CSS takes the view that they are likely to take a long time to deliver and offer only marginal advantages, if earlier experiments with Simplified Planning Zones are any guide. However, if BPZ's were linked to regeneration initiatives they may be worthy of further consideration.


Planning Obligations

  The proposal for a tariff-based approach to replace the present system(s) would be a fundamental change. It would provide more certainty, openness and transparency and could enable contributions to be sought from smaller developments than at present. There are however some practical concerns.

  While new sources of income are welcomed by local government it is not clear whether government sees the new tax as a net additional resource for local authorities. The areas of greatest development pressure could be expected to benefit significantly from the extension of developer contributions but there could be losers as well as winners and the distributional effects will have policy implications.

  Whilst CSS supports the proposals for an extension of the types of development that would contribute to affordable housing, it has some reservations as to appropriateness of this as a means of securing improved affordable housing. In some locations the local economy is fragile and the imposition of such a burden on business could cause them to either relocate, or face financial difficulties. Additionally, CSS is concerned that Government will see the proposed tariff as a substitute in policy and financial terms for a comprehensive affordable housing strategy.

  The provision for site specific variations would certainly be essential with regard to transport where each development will require different solutions. It is important that this is not seen as an exception, since individual accesses onto the highway network will need to be negotiated on a site-by-site basis with the highway authority.

  The overall taxation effects on the public and private sector and on sustainable economic development clearly require further discussion along with the practical arrangements.

Compulsory Purchase and Compensation

  The proposed changes would enable authorities to acquire land compulsorily for planning and regeneration, with greater flexibility in the "public interest" justification of proposals including reference to the Development Framework. The proposals to clarify the basis of compensation should provide a more acceptable package to those whose land is acquired and are to be welcomed. However, CSS is not convinced that the proposals will speed up the process, except in those cases where the proposals are unopposed.

Use Classes Order (UCO)

  The aim of making the General Development Order more comprehensible is certainly supported. On balance the suggestion that permitted development rights could be varied locally is not supported as it could give rise to confusion between different local authority areas.

  The idea of revising the UCO to enable more flexibility to move between Classes without planning permission is welcomed provided that these changes are consistent with sustainable development principles.


Increasing Certainty

  The gap that will result from the proposals between regional and local level plan-making is not conducive to certainty about long-term policy. Housing issues which are usually the most controversial issue in structure plan preparation are left to be resolved in unspecified ways.

  The proposed plan-making system, which CSS contends adds more tiers and does not reduce them as the Green Paper suggests, will not provide a clear plan-led system as at present. Business benefit from the certainty provided by Section 54A, and the easy identification of what constitutes the development plan.

Public Participation

  It is essential that the community is fully engaged in the planning process. However, people usually get involved because they have concerns over specific development proposals. The Green Paper proposals that in the first instance will operate under an unelected regional planning body, taking decisions remotely, cannot be seen as assisting in increasing public participation.

  The regional bodies will suffer from remoteness when compared to county planning authorities. This will affect businesses as well as residents. The removal of structure plans will not only reduce bottom-up influence into strategic thinking at regional level but also removes the possibility of taking on board public views on strategic issues to which they can relate at the local level. Local Development Frameworks and Action Plans are also likely to limit the number and range of issues to be raised at the public inquiry compared to existing Local Plans.

Faster Decisions

  From a business point of view the speed of development control decision-making is perhaps the most important issue. Most of the proposals for processing planning applications, many of which are already best practice, should help speed up the process. In this respect, the differentiation between the type of applications and their respective targets, the proposal of the introduction of delivery contracts setting out a timetable for a decision, the suggestion that business carry out pre-application consultation with the public and undertake statutory consultations before submitting their application may well give business some assurance of faster decisions. However, approximately only three per cent of the applications made in 2000-01 were for major applications (ie; over 10 dwellings or 0.5 hectares), the majority 73 per cent were for householder applications and minor applications, which are unlikely to benefit from the proposals outlined above, and which will continue to stretch already limited resources in their determination.

  A further concern in relation to delivery contracts is that they could be seen as a timetable to deliver a refusal, in instances where currently a local planning authority would work with the applicant to deliver an approval, albeit in a longer timescale.


  Lord Rogers in the introduction to the Urban Task Force Report, Towards an Urban Renaissance is quoted as saying that "Urban renaissance is not only about numbers and percentages, it is about creating the quality of life and vitality that makes urban living desirable. To stem a long period of decline and decay, pessimism and under-investment, we must bring about a change in urban attitudes so that towns and cities once again become attractive places in which to live, work and socialise."

  Planning alone cannot deliver all of this. Planning does involve the management of competing uses for space and making of places that are valued and have identity. Both are fundamental to enhancing towns and cities.

  Concentrating house-building in urban areas and the brownfield land target is central to Government policy for urban regeneration. However, this requires both clear strategies for new housing allocations and the ability to deliver those targets. Ensuring that urban sites are developed before release of further greenfield land is already providing problematic and under the Green Paper this sub-regional dilemma will be even more difficult, since many housing land issues cross district boundaries.

  Similar issues arise in relation to economic development. The influence of eight regional strategies on 238 districts is unlikely to be sufficiently robust to deliver renaissance objectives—particularly if the economic hotspots have the advantage of Business Planning Zone status.

  Finally, infrastructure investment as much as planning control will determine the attractiveness of urban sites to developers. By separating strategic landuse planning from the transport planning undertaken by county highway authorities the proposals will frustrate the integration of services which is vital urban renaissance.

John Deegan

Director of Planning, Transport & Economic Strategy, Warwickshire County Council

Chairman of the County Surveyors' Society Strategic Planning and Regeneration Committee.

15 March 2002

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