Memorandum by The Association of London
Government (PGP 37)
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
2. The Association of London Government
(ALG) represents the 33 London boroughs. It is committed to fighting
for more resources for London and getting the best possible deal
for London's 33 councils. As well as providing its member authorities
with a single powerful voice, the ALG lobbies for proper resources
for the capital and leads the debate on key issues affecting Londoners.
3. This submission outlines the position
of the Association of London Government in respect of the Planning
Green Paper and its associated documents.
4. The ALG is supportive of the aims of
the Green Paper for a better, simpler, faster, more accessible
system. Many of the proposals coming forward meet these objectives
and are welcomed.
5. The problems of the current planning
system are identified in the Green Paper as complexity, slow and
unpredictable decision-making, lack of engagement with the community
and a lack of customer focus. This criticism is accepted in part
but many aspects of the current planning system remain innovative
and positive. The Green Paper proposals to resolve these problems
are driven by the need, as identified by the business sector,
for a speedier system and the need for people to be involved in
the decisions that affect their lives.
6. The emphasis on "business"
and "speed of decision" is not always compatible with
effective engagement with communities. Community involvement in
planning should be measured not by its length but by the quality
of involvement. This point is promoted in the Green Paper and
is accepted. The problem is that decisions made on the use of
land, now and in future, will remain complex. "Quality"
engagement with the public over complex issues takes time. A system
is required that gives all parties certainty of outcome and a
good quality environment. Many businesses support the view that
certainty is more important than speed of decision making.
7. There is a welcome acknowledgement that
planning should be seen as a positive tool rather than merely
a negative brake on development and that is has a critical part
to play in achieving the Government's commitment to sustainable
development. The ALG would like to see the need to build on existing
best practice emphasised further in the proposals.
8. The planning system attempts to balance
competing interestslocal/national, economic/environmental,
business/community, individual/community etc. As a representative
body for London councillors, the ALG is concerned to see the need
for democratic accountability more explicitly recognised in the
proposals. The emphasis throughout the Green Paper documents on
the need to provide for affordable housing is laudable but planning
is about all land uses, not just affordable housing. Competing
interests such as transport infrastructure, open space provision,
educational and health requirements need to also be fully recognised
9. The Green Paper is predicated on the
belief that the present system needs substantial change. The ALG
endorses this. The proposals put forward will result in improvements
to the system's ability to deliver effective planning. Getting
the detail right will be paramount and the ALG will seek to be
involved with the DTLR, LGA and others to steer proposals through
that are beneficial to the interests of London boroughs and Londoners.
10. Lord Falconer, when addressing the 13
February ALG conference on the Green Paper, noted that, "much
of the regional machinery identified in the Green Paper for other
regions is already in place in London." The Green Paper is
written with the national planning position in mind. The ALG is
concerned that the London context, taking into account the GLA
and London Plan, is not fully reflected. The ALG is well placed
to translate the experience of boroughs working within this regional
machinery into developing, with government, a planning system
that will fit the London context.
11. The ALG welcomes in principle the proposed
tariff system but recognises that considerable work is needed
on the detail of proposals before it fully meets the government
objectives of providing a consistent, fair, transparent and speedy
system. The proposal to specify the tariff at borough level and
indicate how tariffs will be used though the Local Development
Framework is also welcomed.
12. Tariffs will widen the scope of planning
objectives that can be contributed to when compared to the current
Section 106 obligations system. This approach is warmly supported.
The move to expect commercial developments to provide affordable
housing in recognition of the demands for housing that commercial
development can result in is also supported. However there is
a concern that the emphasis of the tariff system, as set out in
the consultation paper, is that the planning system should take
on a much more significant role in meeting housing and particularly
affordable housing needs. The ALG believes that there is a limit
to how much the planning system can be used to deliver affordable
housing. There is a concern that the introduction of the tariff
system should not result in the loss of mainstream funding for
housing provision. The planning system sets out to balance land
use needs and the over emphasis on one use, in this case affordable
housing, can mean that other planning needs, such as transport
provision, travel plans, education provision, health provision,
open space and so forth, is overlooked. Local tariff setting must
recognise affordable housing as a key issue for London, but not
at the expense of all other land uses.
13. The tariff system should give greater
certainty to what will be achieved from schemes but it will restrict
the flexibility of committees to negotiate planning benefits from
a scheme. A tariff implies expecting developers to pay a sum of
money to the local authority rather than directly providing facilities.
There will be many instances where direct provision of facilities,
including on site affordable housing, will be preferable. The
tariff system should be designed to allow for the direct provision
of planning benefits such as open space creation and environmental
14. There are proposals that tariffs may
be pooled on a sub-regional basis, such as for the provision of
affordable housing. This should be on a voluntary rather that
compulsory basis and the mechanism for dealing with these should
be carefully thought through. The ALG would welcome the opportunity
to discuss with DTLR and GoL how this mechanism would work in
the London context. The ALG would like to explore with the boroughs
and partners sub-regional pooling mechanisms to ensure that borough
interests are enhanced and not diminished.
15. There is a concern that "tariff
rich" authorities will face being a target for Central government
cutbacks in grants too in the future. Will safeguards be built
into legislation to ensure that locally raised tariffs are retained,
in addition to, and not as a substitute for, future local government
16. The proposal for Parliament to take
"in principle" decisions on projects of national importance
is accepted in broad terms. However there is a significant concern
that the terms used in the consultation document revolve around
"major" infrastructure and not "national"
projects. There is a risk that unless there is a set of criteria
by which "national" schemes could be identified a future
Secretary of State could designate, and push through parliament,
projects that are locally contentious, but not of national importance.
There are serious concerns that this would undermine democratic
processes by taking decision making away from the local level.
For this reason it is considered that there must be a clearly
defined set of criteria for projects that can be designated by
the Secretary of State, and this should not be left to his/her
17. The ALG welcomes the production of national
policy statements which should speed the process up.
However, the legitimacy of such policy statements will be improved
with greater public involvement. The ALG would welcome the opportunity
to be involved in production of these national policy statements
to ensure that the legitimate interests of London and London boroughs
are reflected. Co-ordination between national policy statements,
regional strategies and local development frameworks will need
to be carefully thought through to ensure that national statements
do not override any recently agreed regional or local proposals.
This would only serve to bring the planning system into disrepute.
18. There is a severe shortage of the skills
necessary to implement CPOs. Much has been lost over the years.
However, over the past few years there has been an emergence of
regeneration proposals that involve compulsory land acquisition
and many council property professionals are acquiring new skills.
A dedicated DTLR unit to determine cases and the provision of
clear guidelines should mean that the skills required for the
redevelopment of areas subject to decline are maximised. However,
the ALG urges the government to make a commitment to resource
the education and training of planners and regeneration staff
in the CPO skills required. The ALG would welcome the opportunity
of working with the DTLR unit to share the experience gained across
London from regeneration schemes.
19. The ALG welcomes the proposals for more
generous compensation when CPOs are made. Will the government
ensure that the money, or commitment to underwrite scheme costs,
is made available to local government and LDA when CPOs are required?
20. ResourcesBetter resourcing is
essential for an effective planning system. The Green Paper proposals
will have significant resource implications for Local Planning
Authorities. The timescales for production of Local Development
Frameworks, preparing action plans, the processing targets for
planning applications, the increased emphasis on consultation,
the greater use of IT will all present a challenge to local planners
and will need, if they are to be effectively delivered proper
resourcing. The recently published "Resourcing of Local Authorities"
by Arups Economics on behalf of the DTLR concludes that, "the
overwhelming finding is that resources have declined significantly
over the past five years and performance has generally worsened."
The increase in planning fees by 14 per cent from April 2002 is
welcomed and a full review of the system is supported. The ALG
believes there is a case to be examined for local fee setting
particularly in London where the cost of planning with London
weighting, compared to the rest of the country, is higher. Ambitious
changes to the planning system will not succeed in delivering
the government's agenda unless the issue of resources is adequately
21. Transitional ArrangementsProlonged
uncertainty could damage the planning system. It is important
that Ministers make decisions in principle at the earliest opportunity
whilst leaving options for detailed further discussion. The ALG
would like to see a firm timetable for implementation. The ALG
is concerned that there is a danger that, particularly if legislation
is required for changes and that this is delayed, there could
be a hiatus in the system, which will be of benefit to no one.
As soon as the consultation period is over, firm guidance to local
authorities on the way forward should be produced. The ALG is
keen to work with DTLR, the GLA and GoL to ensure that the specific
circumstances of London are reflected in any such transitional
22. TargetsTargets must be carefully
devised and acknowledge the context in which they are set but
still be challenging. The ALG has concerns regarding the target
that 90 per cent of decisions should be delegated to officers.
There needs to be some flexibility around targets. Elected members
must have the right to refer decisions to committee. Many local
authorities take planning decisions on a neighbourhood area basis
and encourage community involvement. A framework of targets needs
to be flexible enough to allow for democratic processes and accountability.
Many boroughs delegate as much as they can to officers to speed
up the process. This is done within clearly defined parameters
and normally recognises that elected members have the right to
refer certain classes of development to a committee for decision.
23. Retention and recruitment of staffthe
ALG, in conjunction with the Association of London Borough Planning
Officers, has a working party examining these issues in the London
context where problems are particularly acute. We welcome the
government's commitment to create a more dynamic and confident
planning profession, which will attract people back to the planning
profession. The work undertaken by the working party could positively
contribute to this debate and we have already offered to share
this work with the DTLR, RTPI, LGA IdeA and others to help deliver
an action plan to deliver major improvements in the recruitment,
retention and training of planners in local authorities.
24. Diversity in planningWithin London
there is a wealth of practical experience that has built up within
local planning authorities of planning for diversity. The ALG
considers that there should be national planning guidance on this
important area and would welcome working closely with DTLR and
others to see this to fruition. Research in this area is also
required to identify best practice and to build on work undertaken
in the past by the CRE, RTPI and others.
25. Replacement of Unitary Development Plans
with Local Development FrameworksThe move towards Local
Development Frameworks (LDF) and the closer links between Community
Strategies and planning is welcomed. Clarification is needed about
whether the LDF and associated plans will have statutory status
and be subject to an examination in public. If the LDF is to have
"plan led" status so that "decisions have to be
taken in accordance with the development plan, unless material
considerations indicate otherwise" then an examination in
public or public hearing before an inspector would be the preferred
approach. A public examination of key policies would add legitimacy
to the process and help avoid challenges to decisions made on
the basis of adopted policies. The relationship of LDFs to the
London Plan also needs to be clarified along with whether there
will need to be a certificate of conformity with the London Plan
for each LDF.
26. Action Plans and community involvementThe
production of action plans, either "local" or topic
based are to be identified in Local Development Frameworks. These
more detailed plans would focus on areas of change where site-specific
policies are needed to guide development. The Green Paper notes
that, "people whose property rights are directly affected
should be allowed to make representations and be heard if they
wish to." (para 4.27). The ALG recognises the need for community
involvement but there is a danger that a series of smaller inquiries
on individual action plans could result. This would be extremely
resource intensive. The ALG would wish to be closely involved
with drawing up proposed guidance for action plans particularly
in the London context where the role of the GLA in the process
would need to be clearly established.
27. Business Planning ZonesThe ALG
does not support this proposal. The Business Planning Zones are
meant to have a "low impact" on the surrounding area
and are aimed at high technology companies. The ALG believes that
in order to ensure good quality design etc. a significant amount
of time and effort will have to be expended developing the scheme.
The ALG proposes that it would be more effective to identify areas
where high technology companies should cluster, through regional
Strategies (in the case of London this would be "the London
Plan") and Local Development Frameworks (and Action Plans)
and deal with applications through the normal planning process.
A DETR report by ECOTEC in June 2000 found that the current system
does not constrain this type of cluster development. There is
a danger that introducing a Business Planning Zone will add delay.
Significant time will be spent on getting a BPZ scheme right in
terms of design, layout and infrastructure to ensure a good quality
development will result.
28. Third party rights of appealThe
ALG support the government's decision not to support the introduction
of third party appeals. Whilst there is a logic to the principle
of third party rights of appeal in certain instances, the introduction
of such a process could prove time consuming, costly and could
create greater uncertainty as many developments both minor and
major would be open to challenge. It would also have a significant
impact on resources required by local authorities to deal with
the increasing number of appeals.
29. Local Planning Advisory ServiceEstablishment
of this service, which is aimed to help implement changes on the
ground, is welcomed. Issues within London, given differing governance
structures, mean that a London dimension will be required for
such a service and the ALG would welcome working with DTLR, GoL,
GLA, LGA and business partners, some of whom already offer planning
advice, to develop this service so that it meets the requirements
of planning in London.
30. National Planning Policy Guidance notesThe
ALG welcomes proposals to reduce the volume of national planning
policy guidance. (PPGs) We support the timetabling of a review
of the number of key PPGs over the next two years. It is important
to note that given the structure of London government, the planning
system as it operates in London and the specific policy issues
London faces there is often a "London" dimension in
any policy guidance. The ALG would welcome discussions with DTLR,
the GLA and GoL ensure that these are appropriately reflected
in national planning policy guidance.
31. Planning checklistThe proposal
for a planning checklist is supported and the ALG would welcome
close working with the DTLR and LGA to ensure that it reflects
the planning dimension in London. However, the ALG believes that
one list will not fit all. The householder or small business will
find the system daunting and flexibility to reflect the type of
application and possibly local requirements will need to be built
32. MasterplanningThe masterplanning
approach is a promising idea. It should provide the basis for
a better designed and community orientated developments. It would
enable the local authority to establish its aims and appropriate
land uses on a site by site basis, similar to the current system
of using planning briefs. However this approach would have significant
resource implications for local authorities. There would need
to be substantial negotiation, supervision and consultation to
ensure that an acceptable plan is produced. There is a concern,
particularly in areas of regeneration, that the masterplanning
approach could stifle innovation. Flexibility is required to allow
new and creative ideas to flourish. Outline planning permissions
can serve a useful purpose on some sites where the masterplanning
approach may not be appropriate. The ALG is seeking reassurance
that all circumstances and issues are addressed before outline
permissions are fully replaced with the masterplanning approach.
Good practice guidance should be produced on the masterplanning
approach and the ALG would welcome the opportunity of sharing
the experience of London boroughs on this issue.
33. OmissionsAlthough the Green Paper
promises that planning should have a "new strategic focus"
the ALG would like to see further debate on the areas subject
to planning control. A complex system of controls has developed
over the last 50 years and the ALG would wish to see a more radical
review of this complex system, particularly by revision of permitted
development rights. This complexity has led to an increasing workload
for planning departments. Some examples of changes that could
be introduced include:
The ability to allow part of an application
and refuse part would be a useful tool for local authorities.
The prior notification system should
The introduction of a time limit
within which development should be completed needs to be examined.
If a development is not completed
within the defined timescale financial penalties should be imposed.
26 A major part of the Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry
was taken up trying to establish what a national airports policy
was since the last document produced in 1985. Back