Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the Town and Country Planning Association (PGP 36)


  1.1  The Town & Country Planning Association welcomes the opportunity to respond to the House of Commons Inquiry into the Planning Green Paper. The TCPA campaigns inter alia for the reform of the UK planning system to promote public participation and sustainable development and for environment and development policies which improve the living and working conditions of everyone.


  2.1  The Association does not think the Government's objectives of faster, more inclusive and better quality local plan-making will be achieved by the abolition of the existing system of statutory Local Plans (and Part two UDPs). The present system has much to merit it and the TCPA believes the objectives can be met by introducing a statutory timetable for plan production and review; by requiring that regard is given to Community Strategies; by making Local Plan Inspectors' recommendations binding on local planning authorities; by simplifying national planning policy guidance and properly resourcing Planning Aid (last two as proposed in the Green Paper).

  2.2  Further, abolition of the present statutory system for Local Plan-making will fatally undermine the "plan-led" system established by Parliament by the insertion of S54a into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

  2.3  Should the Government opt for the Green Paper proposals then LDFs should form part of the statutory development plan. This requires that they should be published for a statutory period of consultation, and be subject to Inquiry at which affected persons have the right to be heard. Statement of Core Policies should be performance related—specifying the beneficial effects to be achieved by development if it is to receive planning permission, rather than set out as a constructing or restrictive rule book.

  2.4  We also hold the view that such Statements of Core Policies are unlikely to vary in content from one District (or Unitary) to another, across broad swathes of a region. We therefore believe it would be appropriate for the Regional Planning Body (RPB) to identify sub-regional space where the Statement of Core Policies could be produced at that level (though the right to object and be heard would still need to be established).

  2.5  Action Plans are a seriously unwieldy feature of the proposed LDF system that they might take any form, and cover any subject matter. Our view is that they should be relatively few in number, and produced only for parts of an LDF area that require positive planning at a detailed level.

  2.6  We recommend that Action Plans should be required to be processed as Supplementary Planning Guidance as at present, and be given weight accordingly.


  3.1  The TCPA enthusiastically supports the proposed Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), and especially the closer integration of other regional strategies. The RSS should provide over-arching strategic guidance for the full range of other strategic policy exercises (especially including the RDA strategy). Given the increased weight to be given to planning at regional level, we propose that RSS should be statutory.

  3.2  The TCPA agrees with the Government that administrative boundaries are rarely relevant to the geographical areas that need strategic planning, and that strategic planning authorities too often present their plans as if they were blind to what lies beyond their boundaries. The Association does not however, believe that Structure Plans should be abolished since RSS cannot possibly handle every strategic planning issue arising in all parts of its region and would therefore, leave to large a gap between the regional and local levels.

  3.3  Therefore, the new arrangements should involve sub-regional planning in the form of Structure Plans, prepared by consortia of Counties and relevant Unitaries, or sub-regional RSSs, prepared by the RPB. Each region would decide the pattern that suited it best. In addition, given that the content of Statements of Core Policies proposed as part of LDFs are unlikely to vary across large areas of the regional space, we can see advantage in empowering the RPB to identify such areas. A Statement of Core Policies should then be prepared by a Joint Board of local and strategic planning authorities, and be subject to statutory rights of consultation and a hearing before an independent person. Such areas would not, of course, overlap with areas chosen by the RPB for sub-regional RSS.


  4.1  The TCPA believes that the proposed process will be no quicker (since it involves more stages) and risks excluding the public from decisions in principle about a development; It supports the need for MIPs in general and has itself applied for planning permission for an airport and supported those major infra structure proposals which it believed to be in the public interest.

  4.2  The Association supports the aim of involving Parliament in strategic planning decisions, but believes this should occur only at the first stage of debating proposed national planning policies and not at the later development control stage.

  4.3  Clear statements of national policy should be complemented by a national planning framework which is specific about MIPs and about the regions in which they will be needed. Clear national policies of this kind would stimulate active and lively debate in Parliament and in the nation as a whole.

  4.4  It does not favour, therefore, a second involvement of Parliament at the development control stage and believes instead that Government should focus attention on improving existing public inquiry procedures for this purpose.

  4.5  The TCPA would like to see greater use made of the existing but barely used "Public Inquiry Commission" process for MIPs as an alternative to parliamentary decision making on individual developments.

  4.6  It also believes that the more Government is successful in establishing "clear" statements of national planning policy (including a framework as advocated here), the more likely it is that MPs will raise the policies in parliament provoking their widespread debate. This would obviate the need for Parliament to be involved later on in a development control role.

  4.7  Parliamentary procedures: The TCPA believes that MPs are unlikely to have sufficient time, inclination or training to take on decisions about MIPs except at the strategic policy level at which their contributions would be more appropriate, effective and timely.

  4.8  If Government decides to proceed with the proposed new Parliamentary procedures the TCPA recommends that:

    —  the new committee be empowered to hear evidence from members of the public who are affected by a development as well as other interested parties;

    —  Parliament should make resources available for one or more professional representatives of the public, who would otherwise be unable to afford representation (a form of "planning aid", which was first developed by the TCPA);

    —  the committee should have access to professional advice and a range of expertise on planning, development and the technical matters relevant to the proposed MIP; and

    —  the committee should meet in public (with all statements and evidence to be available at no charge to the public) and should meet in the locality of the development concerned.


  5.1  The Association considers the proposals for Business Planning Zones to be irrelevant. Planning control is not an obstruction to development in the way suggested by the Government, and does not need to be removed.


6.1  Planning Obligations

  6.1.1  The TCPA believes that the most equitable and effective way of capturing a reasonable proportion of, land value is through a betterment tax coupled with the availability of compulsory purchase powers to prevent unreasonable withholding of land from development. The Association is encouraged by the Government's acknowledgement of "the nature of the relationship between planning obligations and land betterment" and believe that the proposed reforms could, with some amendments, bring planning obligations somewhat closer to our ideal.

  6.1.2  The Government Consultation Paper places great emphasis on the use of planning obligations to secure affordable housing, however research on this subject indicates that planning obligations (in one sense a tax on developers) can only ever meet a small proportion of the nation's affordable housing needs (about 15,000 homes per year, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), it should not therefore be relied upon for this purpose nor should other important works become neglected as a result of such priorities. In short the proposals would be a useful addition to the range of instruments available for providing affordable housing but are not a magic wand.

  6.1.3  Tariffs fixed as a percentage of development value would come closest to a betterment tax and would be our preference. We appreciate that the Government has no wish at this time to plough the furrow that took us once to the Land Commission, and later to the Community Land Scheme. Therefore we hold the view that a unit cost based approach would be acceptable. The cost should relate to gross floorspace in the case of commercial development but to cost per dwelling in the case of housing so as not to add to the undesirable downward pressure on space standards in housing that has been a feature of recent years.

  6.1.4  There is a danger that tariffs, if considered excessive by landowners, will result in land being withheld from the market. However, assuming that tariffs are not excessive, the withholding of land should be countered by the use, or threatened use, of compulsory purchase powers. Additionally, 6.1.5 We do not believe that smaller developments should be exempt from the tariff. Exempting small developments would have some inequitable results, eg catching estates of starter homes but not individual detached houses, and could also lead to larger developments being carried out in penny packets.

  6.1.5  While the TCPA supports the proposal that revenue from planning obligations might be pooled by groups of local authorities in certain circumstances, such a device is unlikely to make more than a modest contribution to the financing needs in question and should be seen as only a supplement to more mainstream methods of public sector funding. Moreover, it may not be easy to secure inter-agency agreement on pooling or to persuade local people to accept the spending of funds generated locally, possibly from unpopular development, in other localities. These comments highlight the difficulties of using planning obligations to achieve wider strategic objectives.

6.2  CPOs and Compensation

  6.2.1  The Association broadly welcomes the proposals set out in the consultation paper and believe that it will make compulsory purchase a more attractive option for local authorities and for those who are the subject of a Compulsory Purchase Order. Changes to the existing system are necessary to the success of regeneration schemes and the creation new communities.

  6.2.2  The Association supports the introduction of loss payments to property owners above the market value to reflect the compulsory nature of the acquisition. We also welcome the promise of speedier decisions by the Secretary of State.

  6.2.3  Local authorities have long needed to find ways of making land assembly a more effective and attractive option if they are going to play a role in creating new and regenerated communities and we therefore support the notion of compensation. We would, however, encourage similar levels of compensation to be offered by authorities in cases settled without the need to go through statutory processes, and would wish to see consideration given to a sliding scale over time, so that the earlier people settle the greater the payment.

  6.2.4  It is clear that not all LPAs have found that the current legislation hinders development. Birmingham is a pertinent example, however Birmingham City Council had the benefit of being in the position of being able to mortgage the National Exhibition Centre, a luxury not available to many. Therefore, any proposals to simplify the system should help to speed up project delivery, but must be coupled with adequate funding.


  7.1  While the TCPA is pleased to note that the Government seems to be taking the issue of community involvement seriously, there is a serious risk of "consultation fatigue" at community level, due to the proposals to continuously update aspects of the LDFs. In addition, it is likely that while constantly changing plans can make the system more responsive, the new system will provide less certainty than exists currently.

  7.2  The prominence of those voices opposed to development (traditionally the well housed and comfortably employed) must be balanced by efforts to hear the voices of those in need of development. The TCPA recommends that an "equal opportunity to be heard" policy become a stated objective of community involvement in planning.

  7.3  The TCPA is sensitive to the "democratic deficit" at regional level, pending the establishment of elected regional assemblies. The Government is encouraged to take what steps it can to spur the creation of such Assemblies. Until they are created, stakeholders must be even more fully involved than in RPG processes at present, and the process for producing and testing RSS must be as open as possible if it is to be credible and if its content is to stick.

  7.4  The Association recognises that the planning system can often be very slow and that this is not good for business, but we would also point out that quality decisions do take time. We therefore believe that the emphasis must be placed on making decisions that are right rather than regarding speed as a panacea. Adequate resources and training must be available if this is to be achieved.


  8.1  The Government's proposals are designed to achieve speed in the planning system which presumably would deliver urban renaissance sooner. We make our case for how this aspect of the proposals will perform above, but are concerned about the lack of detail in relation to the adoption of Local Development Frameworks etc. If property owners are to have a say at this stage, as stated in the Planning Green Paper, then there is as much scope for delays in Inquiries as there would be under the present arrangements. The TCPA believes all those with an interest should have a right to be heard before an Inspector and therefore that efforts should be focussed on reforming the existing Inquiry systems. This would be to the benefit of all policy objectives including Urban Renaissance.

  8.2  More focussed masterplanning and Action Plans should assist regeneration areas provided local authorities have the ability and the funding to act upon the proposals. It is advisable that other public sector spending agencies (eg health services) bring their investment plans to bear upon Action Plan proposals. The proposals to support Community Strategies as one way of doing this are welcome, however greater clarity is needed on the exact relationship between LDFs and Community Strategies.

  8.3  Levels of involvement in the development of Community Strategies are currently some way behind traditional planning systems. This might be another reason why reforming the existing system would be preferable to re-inventing it.

  8.4  The abolition of the current plan system is also likely to cause "decay" of existing Plans. Agreed sites for development within those Plans may become subject to fresh reviews (as occurred with the introduction of PPG3) therefore delaying major schemes to the detriment of Urban Renaissance.

  8.5  Masterplans sometimes fall victim to "trophy architecture" where the agreed masterplanner is cast aside once planning permission is obtained. Making agreed masterplans a condition of planning permission could improve the quality of regeneration schemes.

  8.6  Proposals for reform of planning obligations which will enable clearer minimum contributions through a tariff should assist the aim of urban renaissance, particularly if tariffs are set in ways which favour the development of brownfield sites.

March 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 2 May 2002