Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (PGP 22)



  1.  The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body, established by the Government in 1999 to promote high standards in the design of new buildings and the spaces between them. Its remit covers England.

  2.  CABE is a non-statutory consultee in the land use planning system. It is funded by grant-in-aid from the Department for Culture Media and Sport, with additional resources from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

  3.  Commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. They are drawn from a range of areas of expertise and include architects, planners, an engineer, a quantity surveyor and specialists in the field of housing design and built environment education.

  4.  This memorandum of evidence relates to the Planning Green Paper, and in particular the relationship between developing an efficient planning system and securing high quality development.


  5.  In presenting our submission on design and planning reform last autumn, CABE argued that the current statutory planning system was:

    —  increasingly unable to reflect changes in national, regional and local policy priorities within a reasonable timeframe;

    —  not an effective tool in positively promoting economic development and urban regeneration;

    —  a heavy-handed control mechanism which, in design terms, tends to apply the lowest common denominator between many vested interests, resulting in developments of mediocre quality;

    —  too complex to enjoy widespread understanding and support, and thereby to encourage effective public participation;

and that these systemic problems were compounded by a lack of relevant skills and resources within many local planning authorities, at both officer and member level.

  6.  Instead, we need a system that:

    —  is positive in securing change;

    —  is efficient and consistent in delivering consents;

    —  provides a level of control proportionate to impact;

    —  rewards quality;

    —  involves communities in setting the parameters for decisions without unduly encumbering the system with individual third party objections;

    —  is affordable.

  7.  To achieve this, we have consistently argued for the adoption of 10 key principles.

    —  Streamline the plan making process.

    —  Promote positive planning to regenerate neighbourhoods.

    —  Give priority to the most significant developments in the decision-making process.

    —  Reward investment in quality with quicker and less encumbered permissions.

    —  Replace the current system of outline planning consents with a more sophisticated system of "partial consents".

    —  Create a simpler and more transparent system of planning obligations, probably through the introduction of impact fees.

    —  Ensure that local planning authorities have access to design advisory expertise and relevant training.

    —  Create a single permission to develop by rationalising other consent requirements.

    —  Avoid the introduction of third party rights of appeal by providing more meaningful consultation mechanisms during the plan-making process.

    —  Resource the system generously by increasing planning application fees.


  8.  CABE supports the Planning Green Paper.

  9.  In particular, CABE supports, (albeit with some important conditions):

    —  the proposed new plan system;

    —  the expanded use of masterplanning as a positive planning tool;

    —  the possible abolition of outline planning consents;

    —  proposals to speed up development control;

    —  the new tariff system;

    —  rejection of third party rights of appeal;

    —  increased land assembly powers.

  10.  By contrast, we oppose only small parts of the Green Paper package:

    —  business planning zones, which, as currently defined, we regard as unnecessary and potentially detrimental to the objectives of the Green Paper;

    —  the lack of commitment to an improvement in the skills of planning committee members to make informed decisions.

  11.  There are, however, important elements missing from the Green Paper. In particular, we need a far clearer statement of the purpose of the planning system, which is to help create high quality environments that meet economic, social and environmental needs, and therefore improve our quality of life. At the end of the day, we could create the most efficient planning system in the world, but if it is not producing high quality development, there will be no net contribution either to our economy or society in general.

  12.  CABE therefore strongly considers that the Green Paper should have made clear to the development community that there is a deal on the table. Greater freedom, greater certainty and greater efficiency within the planning system should be offered in return for a commitment to higher quality of development. In the Green Paper, this is a sentiment that is at best implicit. In the final policy statement, CABE would expect this to be a non-negotiable requirement made explicit. This is crucial if the changes proposed to the planning system are going to further the cause of the Urban Renaissance.

  13.  The remainder of this submission now considers the specific issues raised by the Select Committee as they impact upon CABE's responsibilities in the areas of the plan framework, business planning zones, planning obligations and land assembly.


  14.  We agree with the conclusions of the Green Paper that the current plan-making system is overly complex, unresponsive, and slow and cumbersome to implement. This is having a direct impact on the speed and effectiveness of the renewal of the built environment. Planning departments' limited resources are too often focused on developing rather than implementing plans, while project proposers are uncertain about the relevance of local plans whose polices are often out of date.

  15.  We agree with the proposed new framework, including the abolition of county structure plans, subject to the creation of adequate and flexible sub-regional planning arrangements across local authority boundaries.

  16.  Where more detailed planning needs to be undertaken, it makes sense for relevant policies, including design policies, to be undertaken as part of the neighbourhood regeneration process. This includes the incorporation of spatial masterplans. The benefits of this approach include greater speed and flexibility in adopting and amending planning principles, and the opportunity for more meaningful community participation than that offered by the current plan inquiry process.

  17.  CABE therefore welcomes the introduction of action plans. It is, however, important that these action plans have sufficient legal status. We hope that they will be stronger in their standing as a material consideration than the current status of supplementary planning guidance. It is also important that these action plans are kept up-to-date, or there could be a proliferation of out-of-date local policy statements. We would suggest that where action plan policies depart from national or regional planning guidance, then they should not be regarded as having the status of a material consideration. This will concentrate local planning authority minds in withdrawing action plans on a timely basis.


  18.  CABE considers that developers committed to high quality developments should be rewarded with quicker and less encumbered permissions. Nevertheless, we do not consider that the concept of Business Planning Zones, as currently defined in the Green Paper, is likely to achieve that objective. There is a danger that, as presented in the Green Paper, the Business Planning Zones could become a successor to Enterprise Zones and Simplified Planning Zones, where the dearth of quality of development actually detracted not only from the physical environment but also the ability to attract blue-chip investors to the areas. They also suggest that the Government does not have sufficient confidence that the rest of the Green Paper package will work, because if it does work, the Business Planning Zone concept should be unnecessary.

  19.  If they are adopted, we would suggest that the Business Zones should resemble the US "as of right" system. An action plan would be drawn up setting out criteria for development on the site, including design standards. Any potential developer would need to demonstrate to the local authorities satisfaction that those standards had been met in which case the need for consent would be waived. If, however, at any stage, the local authority considered that the standards had not been met, it should be able to demand a full planning application.

  20.  We would further suggest that Business Planning Zones should be restricted to brownfield sites to help further the urban renaissance.


  21.  The current system of section 106 agreements tends to add to developer uncertainty over timing of development and the scale of obligations. There are instances of the agreements alone taking over a year to negotiate.

  22.  The case for reforming the system of planning obligations is therefore clear and CABE is broadly supportive of the proposed approach to reform based upon a standardised tariff set locally through the local plan, supported by national guidance.

  23.  We agree that local authorities should set tariff levels through Local Development Frameworks and Action Plans. We support the level of devolution proposed in the Green Paper to local planning authorities in defining how tariffs will apply, at what level, and for what purposes, with the one clear limitation that the resources should be linked to the impact of physical development.

  24.  CABE understands that there will be criticism that high development demand areas will be able to demand greater contributions. However, that is no different than the current obligations system. In addition, these areas are usually also those in most need of more affordable housing. While low demand areas will undoubtedly be able to demand less through the tariff system, this can be reflected in public expenditure provision, particularly through special programmes such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.

  25.  CABE does have concerns about the options for setting tariffs, some of which would seem to act in the opposite direction to the Government's policies on promoting high density development, and would therefore detract from the progress towards an urban renaissance. We would suggest that any tariff should be based on the amount and type of land consumed by the development, not the floor area.

  26.  CABE would warn the Government to tread warily in terms of the retention of other elements of a planning obligation other than the tariff. There is a danger that a dual set of negotiated obligations plus tariff will be regarded as a double whammy. CABE would question whether some or all of the residual issues would not better be dealt with by extending the scope of planning conditions. Or at least, the introduction of the tariff should be used to enable section 106 to be reinstated for its original much narrower intentions before it got hijacked as a mechanism for bypassing public expenditure controls.

  27.  CABE considers that while a local authority should have the right to reduce or waive a tariff, the circumstances and proportions by which this should occur should be clearly set out in the local development framework and should not be subject to case-by-case negotiation, which would simply undermine the proposed transparency and consistency of the new system. An important example might be contribution to public space. The basic guidelines are that it should be possible for a developer to calculate the tariff in any local authority area at the time of submitting the planning application using only the local development framework. That is the required certainty.

  28.  CABE supports the "community chest" proposal to legislate to enable local authorities to pool contributions from tariffs as they choose, to be put to pre-defined purposes. However, this should not be a free-for-all and there should be some clear connection with the improvement of the physical environment.


  29.  CABE's limited interest in this consultation process is the urgent need to allow public authorities to create meaningful development sites within urban locations to foster urban regeneration against masterplanning principles agreed with the local community. The availability of strengthened CPO powers is essential to achieving this objective. CABE therefore welcomes the general direction of the consultation paper.

  30.  We fully agree that section 226 of the TCPA 1990 is unduly restrictive, placing as it does a burden on acquiring authorities to have fully worked-up schemes. We welcome the approach of introducing new legislation to replace section 226 with a new provision for CPOs for a range of planning and regeneration purposes, including halting the physical economic and/or social deterioration of an area. We believe that any wording should also recognise the need for CPOs to contribute towards the delivery of a co-ordinated, sustainable renewal of an area, against an agreed masterplan and set of adopted design principles.

March 2002

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