Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by the Corporation of London (PGP 26)

THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER

OVERVIEW

  1.  The Corporation strongly supports the principle of improving the effectiveness of the planning system, but queries whether all the proposals in the Green Paper will deliver a more responsive and streamlined system.

  2.  The Green Paper includes a range of measures which aim to speed up the planning system and give greater certainty to its users. However, at the same time, it aims to ensure greater public involvement in local decision-making. In the Corporation's view, the difficulty of reconciling these two objectives is not adequately addressed in the document. Many of the proposals for greater consultation would be difficult to deliver without extra resources being devoted to the planning system and the Green Paper is not explicit as to how the suggested reforms would fit within the Best Value regime.

  3.  Over recent months the Corporation of London has raised a series of concerns about the present planning system with the Government. Some of the Corporation's concerns are addressed in the Green Paper, but there are still a number of concerns outstanding. Points raised which are considered in the Green Paper include:

    (i)  giving greater certainty to developers through delivery contracts and certificates from the local authority setting out the parameters for a development site,

    (ii)  speeding up decision-making,

    (iii)  the Secretary of State giving reasons for calling in applications,

    (iv)  formallising planning gain to give greater certainty and reduce delays,

    (v)  greater emphasis on pre-application discussions,

    (vi)  tougher targets for the Planning Inspectorate in dealing with appeals,

    (vii)  clarification of national policy to make it easier to predict when central Government is likely to intervene,

    (viii)  the issue of certificates which give clear guidance from the local authority to a developer instead of an outline planning permission.

OUTSTANDING AREAS OF CONCERN TO THE CITY

  4.  There are a number of areas where the Corporation believes change is necessary. These are outlined in the following paragraphs.

  5.  The cost of submitting applications is substantial. For example, the application for the Corporation sponsored City Academy in Southwark is likely to cost around £500,000. The applicant in the Heron Inquiry estimates that he will have spent £3,000,000 before the end of that Inquiry; the redevelopment of Spitalfields has cost £4,000,000 since LIFFE dropped out with permission still to be granted. These problems are partly addressed by the Green Paper's proposal that a developer could seek a certificate from a local authority that the developer has the authority agreement for a defined period to work up a detailed scheme against parameters determined in agreement with the local authority. But to have a major impact the whole "masterplanning" process needs to establish the likely limits of development on a site. Such certificates would otherwise be of limited use to developers. The Corporation also believes there are issues of transparency—the procedure envisaged could lead to the public's exclusion from decisions on the main parameters for a development.

  6.  The planning system is not certain enough because too many bodies and organisations are involved in the process. In the City's case, there is a large number of bodies that can influence a City application ranging from the Mayor and the GLA to English Heritage and CABE. The Green Paper proposes that the number of statutory consultees should be reduced and that they should respond within statutory timescales. The Corporation would also argue that there should be greater control over bodies like English Heritage which have limited accountability, whose meetings take place in private and whose decisions are not challengeable except through a formal planning appeal.

  7.  The rules relating to the need for environmental assessments are not sufficiently clear. They caused problems for instance with the Swiss Re Tower. They are costly and take a substantial amount of time to produce; yet environmental aspects are taken into account in any event in deciding applications. The rules have been grafted onto the existing process and they are another source of challenge. The Corporation would like to see the rules on environmental assessments clarified and better targeted.

  8.  It is too easy to mount a judicial review. Hearings take too long to come to Court, sometimes between six and nine months, and the delay can often be used as a negotiating weapon. The legal aid system is abused and "poor" individuals are used by interest groups to mount challenges against major applications.

  9.  The Green Paper states that the Government is working with the Planning Inspectorate to consider ways in which its annual targets might be improved further. It also states that the Government will cut by half the time taken from the close of a call-in inquiry to the issue of the decision to the applicant. These proposals are welcome. The Corporation believes it should be more difficult to initiate legal challenges and that the rules by which challenges can be funded should be reviewed. Appeals should also be heard more quickly. Ministers as well as inspectors should be given clear targets to this end.

  10.  London compares unfavourably with other major international cities which seem to be able to give decisions much more rapidly than in the UK. These cities seem to have development plans, which give clearer guidance than London as to what is permissible and what is not.

  11.  The current process takes too long to complete. This increases development costs and makes it more difficult to hit the development cycle. In the City the supply of buildings lagged behind the last boom. A typical City site for a building of 100,000 square feet would cost some £200,000 per month to hold in interest charges (based on 7.5 per cent) and could take some five years to deliver. The Corporation welcomes the measures in the Green Paper, which attempt to tackle this by setting new targets for planning applications and by proposing the new delivery contracts between the developer and the local authority.

  12.  Human Rights has not really caused problems as yet, but the issue feeds the current uncertainty surrounding the planning process. The challenge to the Secretary of State's right to call in and determine was an example of this uncertainty. This can lead to local planning authorities taking a precautionary approach. Furthermore, the UK system is based upon the right of an individual to do anything on his land, which is not unlawful. European legislation works from the other direction by prescribing what is permissible. The Corporation believes that more care and attention needs to be taken in working through the implications of European legislation on UK procedures.

  13.  The current informal arrangement by which planning gain is extracted causes further uncertainty and delay. The Planning Obligations consultation paper proposes formalising the arrangements by replacing planning gain by a national system of tariffs. The Corporation remains concerned and has raised the issue with DTLR.

  14.  Speed in dealing with major applications is not a true measure of success if the number of rejected applications is high. Greater emphasis should be placed on initial discussion to ease the difficulties, which an application might face. The Green Paper puts greater emphasis on and encourages pre-application discussions. The Corporation supports this proposal and already holds these discussions with developers.

  15.  There should be greater emphasis on decisions at local level. One of the proposals for speeding up the adoption of the new Local Development Frameworks to replace UDPs is to do away with public inquiries and leave consultation and decisions to the local planning authority. The new arrangements are crucial to speeding up the process but are left vague. The proposals aim to speed up the process, but at the same time aim to involve the community more. The replacement of the current public inquiry system which allows everyone a hearing is contentious and the document fails to resolve the fundamental conflict between enabling community participation and speeding up the planning process.

MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

  16.  The Corporation believes that changes to proposals for major infrastructure schemes must be made without delay to avoid a repeat of Terminal five. It could be argued, however, that the proposals contained in the consultation document reduce local democracy by removing the consideration of policy issues from the scope of public inquiries. On a more positive note, the new procedures do make alternative provision for objectors to make their case to Parliament and therefore should result in a significant reduction in the delays and uncertainty that have frustrated the implementation of major infrastructure projects by focusing the debate. The City is highly dependent on accessibility (both national and internationally) and measures to speed up decision-making on rail and airport projects in particular, are likely to be beneficial.

  17.  The major infrastructure document outlines proposals for Parliament to approve projects "in principle". The term "in principle" is open to widely varying interpretations and the Corporation believes that it should be better defined.

  18.  The proposed procedures necessitate clearly defined policy from Government. Until now there has been a lack of coherent national policy covering issues such as airport expansion and this has led to delays and ad hoc decision making. This consultation document, however, does not list any specific measures or timetable for improving the policy making process.

  19.  The decision as to whether or not the new proposals apply to any project is left to the Secretary of State's discretion. The consultation paper asks whether this should be left open, or whether a list of project types should be included. Although the list approach still leaves scope for the application of discretion, it is a helpful guideline as to which projects are likely to come under the new parliamentary procedures.

  20.  The timescale for the introduction of the necessary legislation is vague. The Corporation believes this is a matter that needs clarification. The new procedures rely on there being sufficient parliamentary time available to examine an adequate number of projects. It is not clear how the availability of time might be arranged.

CONSIDERATIONS OF THE DISABLED COMMUNITY

  21.  The Corporation's strong commitment to better access for disabled people is reflected in its response to the DTLR Green Paper. The Corporation has an Access Group composed of disabled people from the local community who advise on the access implications of new development schemes and the environment. This approach might be recommended as best practice to all local planning authorities as a means of ensuring routine consultation with disabled people. It also presents an opportunity for developers to discuss schemes at an early stage to identify likely access issues and a mechanism for feedback to the planning authority on the success or otherwise completed schemes. The consultation should aim to embrace a range of disabilities and also ages and interests—they tend to be weak in representation of young people, for example. Discussing development proposals with a local access group should be included in the statement of consultation.



 
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