Memorandum by the London Borough of Camden
THE GREEN PAPER PLANNING: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL
LB Camden welcomes the Green Paper's commitment
to a successful planning system as "vital to our quality
of life". The Green Paper rightly identifies the need to
create a planning system which fully engages people, and which
at the same time promotes economic prosperity and urban regeneration.
It is of vital importance that the changes to the system are right.
Camden is well placed to contribute to this
process, from its experience of delivering planning services and
promoting high quality development in the heart of London, and
taking forward the Kings Cross Development, one of the largest
and most complex development sites in London. Camden would like
to cooperate with the Government towards delivering the aims set
out in the Green Paper.
Camden has submitted detailed comments to the
Government on the GP and its various daughter documents. This
memorandum draws on Camden's particular experience in commenting
on the proposals under the following broad headings:
Developing and implementing major
Urban renaissance and regeneration.
The purpose of the planning system
The planning system is said to be of vital importance
but it has to be acknowledged that it does not stand high in reputation,
nationally or locally, with local communities or the development
industry. Camden considers that at the heart of this problem is
a lack of consensus around the purpose of the planning system.
Camden would like to see the Government give
a clearer indication of the direction in which the planning system
should move, and provoke a debate which would begin to build a
consensus on what planning is for. Camden sees this as the main
objective and starting point of any fundamental reform. The GP
should have addressed more clearly the need to resolve the tension
between concerns of business for speed and predictability of planning
decisions, the aspirations of the community for greater involvement
in the planning process, and the desire to deliver ever more social,
economic and environmental benefits through planning.
The complexity of the system
The GP's criticisms of the complexity of the
system are accepted. Camden is concerned that the GP proposals
could result in a more complex and harder to access system, for
Proposals to simplify the hierarchy
of plans could make the processes and the opportunities for access
to them more understandable, but this could be offset by a proliferation
of action plans, topic plans, neighbourhood plans, Supplementary
Planning Guidance etc. The role of plans at each level must be
Proposals to make developers responsible
for some local consultation would bring more resources and developer
accountability to this important function, but roles and responsibilities
must be carefully defined and clear standards set to avoid the
need for duplicate consultations.
Proposals to achieve Parliamentary
scrutiny of national major schemes could reduce uncertainty and
the unacceptable delays of the current public inquiry system,
but to avoid confusion and alienation, opportunities for different
parties to influence outcomes must be carefully defined. It will
be difficult to retain the necessary flexibility in major complex
schemes while retaining appropriate levels of strategic and local
Proposals for planning obligation
tariffs could increase openness around planning negotiations generally
but involvement in specific negotiations on a particular scheme
could be made more complicated by the existence of a separate
tariff already agreed. It is unclear from the proposals how far
viability or the other particular circumstances of a site or development
would be taken into account in negotiations, based on the agreed
Conflicts within the system and in the proposals
The GP gives insufficient recognition to the
difficult conflicts inherent in the present system. The GP advocates,
in a number of ways, increased openness and public involvement.
To retain legitimacy and achieve positive results, these are essential.
The GP also underlines the need for greater speed and certainty
in various aspects of the system. The conflicts between these
two objectives, and the extent of resources needed to begin to
address them, are not clearly acknowledged.
Camden has been active in taking forward the
development of the Kings Cross site comprising 22 hectares around
the Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. Major rail infrastructure
investment is taking place to upgrade the underground station,
build the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the new international and
high speed domestic rail terminus and eventually, redevelop King's
Cross Station into a 21st Century terminus for a passenger throughput
that will equal Heathrow Airport's current numbers. The development
of the site beyond the rail works is expected to commence in 2006
and will involve major commercial and residential components,
possibly the largest inner city development in Europe this decade.
In relation to the Green Paper, Camden would
like to comment, based on its experience in dealing with Kings
Cross, on development plans, development control and planning
The present development plans process is, as
the GP says, slow and cumbersome. The simplification of the development
plans system is welcomed, but the objectives of greater community
involvement and increased speed are not easy to reconcile. The
aim of greater certainty is also not easily married with the proposal
for continuous review and updating.
The UDP production process could, however, be
simplified and speeded up by removing the need for a Public Inquiry.
Such inquiries are adversarial, fail to help establish understanding
and/or consensus on planning objectives in an area, are very time
consuming and resource hungry, and do not remove the possibility
of later legal challenge. For example, in Camden the public inquiry
into the UDP took 10 months with another nine months taken for
the production of inspector's 1000+ page report. However, after
this, the publication of the UDP was further delayed for another
year following formal adoption, due to a legal challenge (unsuccessful).
For Kings Cross, as with all major schemes,
it is vital that the strategic and local policy framework is up
to date. Camden has had to bring forward its review into the Kings
Cross Chapter, ahead of the review of the rest of the UDP, in
order to put that framework in place in time for the developers
to prepare their proposals for the site. This means that there
will shortly be a separate Public Inquiry into that chapter. This
is a difficult and very expensive route, but considered to be
the most effective given the presently prescribed plan making
process. Camden however decided to omit the 2nd draft Deposit
Stage in favour of accelerating the review.
Camden would therefore like to see public inquiries
replaced by a non-adversarial system, and local decision-making
and ownership reinforced, and would support this aspect of the
Green Paper proposals. Possible options could include:
ability to adopt following examination
in public as per London Spatial Development Strategy or Regional
Planning Guidance; and
ability to adopt following local
consultations as per Community Strategy process.
The GP advocates integrating new development
plans with Community Strategies, and this would improve the effectiveness
of local plans, by ensuring they clearly reflect corporate objectives
and priorities, agreed following local consultations in partnership
with other major service providers The current UDP review underway
in Camden is already doing this. It is, however, also essential
that the new development plans in turn inform the further development
of Community Strategies.
Although the principles of simpler and quicker
plan production process are supported, the Green Paper proposals
for Local Development Frameworks are unlikely to be achievable.
They may in fact be more complicated, with the variety of plans
that may apply to an area, and may lead to greater uncertainty
through continuous change with short timescales for review and
production. In fact, it may be quite unrealistic to achieve such
timescales, without very substantial commitment of resources and,
ultimately, curtailing community involvement.
The GP makes a number of proposals in relation
to large, complex developments, including agreement on "delivery
contracts" for bigger applications.
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link development at
Kings Cross pioneered a form of delivery contract, which clearly
helped to focus resources and decision making, but it has been
very costly to Camden. In Camden's experience, having several
big sites concurrently raises significant resource issues, and
it is difficult to resource plan generally for major schemes as
their timing is in the hands of the applicants. Authorities can
increase their capacity in expectation of applications, to find
submissions suddenly delayed by many months.
The timescales involved in major schemes like
Kings Cross can also be a significant complicating factor in the
development control process, for example in consultation, and
in agreeing a standard tariff of planning obligations which would
be applicable over an extended period of development.
Action/masterplans and planning briefs offer
a good opportunity for specific guidance and connecting all Council
services/cross borough working at an early stage on a local basis.
They are again resource heavy, and tend therefore to be employed
only in exceptional circumstances. The relative roles and responsibilities
of authority and developer in these major cases are unclear in
the GP, particularly in relation to resourcing research, exploring
options, and consultation.
Camden has found Supplementary Planning Guidance
(SPG) an effective planning mechanism generally and will be looking
to make use of SPGs in taking forward the Kings Cross development.
Better use of SPGs could allow development plans to be shorter
and more focused, and SPGs could be the means of ensuring developers
have the most up to date advice. Government guidance could encourage
wider, better use of such guidance and place it clearly in the
hierarchy of policy.
Camden has promoted a wide consultative approach
to development impact at a very early stage in the development
of Kings Cross, and has established internal and external impact
steering groups with relevant partners. This is based on an assessment
that the impact of development goes beyond concerns traditionally
associated with planning negotiations, and, in the case of Kings
Cross, is greatly complicated by the extent of infrastructure
works and the timescales involved.
The GP proposal that developers themselves engage
local communities in advance of submitting a planning application
would impose new and broadly welcome accountabilities and could
help resources, but in practice could cause confusion, and conflict
with local strategies which seek to promote and value diversity.
LPAs would need to set standards and monitor the process, and
ultimately may need to duplicate consultation. On a site like
Kings Cross there are clear advantages in consulting in close
partnership with the developers at an early stage, but this can
sit uneasily with the LPA's role as the development control authority.
The GP is not explicit about these problems.
The powers under s106 of the Planning Act, in
conjunction with the powers to impose planning conditions, are
essential to ensure that developments fully address planning policies,
and local and wider relevant impact. With these mechanisms, LPAs
can ensure developments, as implemented, provide their anticipated
social, economic and environmental benefits to the community as
a whole, and are sustainable.
The GP's confirmation of the importance of these
powers is welcomed, but Camden is concerned that the proposals
would mark a very fundamental move away from the previous Central
Government policy (eg as set out in Circular 1/97) that Planning
Obligations should be specifically related to the site and development
in question. By breaking the direct link between, on the one hand,
the policy implications and the real impact of the particular
development, and, on the other hand, the conditions and Planning
Obligations attached to the permission, it introduces a wholly
new principle, with uncertain consequences. This is also the view
of representatives of private developers, who have made the point
that, if this direct link with the development is broken, a tariff
system would constitute a development tax through the planning
system. This inevitably raises the question of the effectiveness,
adequacy, fairness and appropriateness of a new taxation system,
and whether a general local tax would be better and more effective
mechanism to provide for infrastructure and local needs, and the
wider benefits that the proposals aim for.
The acceptance of tariffs (and a de facto development
tax) may be welcomed in certain circumstances, but would be almost
impossible to apply in practice as each site varies so significantly.
The relevance of viability is unclear as is the relationship with
other elements necessary to ensure satisfactory impact or a mixed
development. Although the paper is vague, it does seem to envisage
tariffs as a starting point, to be supplemented where appropriate
by further obligations. This could distort the policy priorities
in individual cases. In the case of affordable housing, the position
appears confused. The GP states that it would encourage authorities
to seek on-site provision as a first choice. In such a case, there
could be a need for both a written obligation to provide certain
housing and an obligation to pay a tariff. In Camden however the
provision of affordable housing is a key policy objective which
has to be taken into account at the outset in proposals for many
development sites. It is a priority use for Kings Cross, where
we are looking for 50 per cent of housing to be affordable within
a mixed and sustainable community. Consigning affordable housing
to a tariff could transform this vital element to the status of
an "add-on", for discussion after the main elements
of a development have been considered. This would discourage mixed
use/mixed community developments, which are at the heart of urban
renaissance, and devalue affordable housing as a planning objective.
Development proposals also frequently raise
many issues that cannot be addressed through planning conditions
or the tariff system, such as Green Travel Plans, regulatory clauses,
mitigation measures, phasing provisions, necessary local infrastructure
and facilities, training, access etc. All of these other aspects
will be a part of s106 negotiations on Kings Cross. Camden's view
is that even if a tariff system were adopted it would be necessary
to retain the S106 powers for these other purposes. This dual
approach would at least not achieve a less complex planning system.
Camden believes that the existing powers in
fact offer adequate and appropriate mechanisms to achieve the
agreed aims, and that the problems identified with those powers
are more to do with illegitimate use and poor practice. Camden
currently operates a system which is a transparent and accountable
version of Option B as set out in the GP, and would therefore
favour this option which gives greater Local Authority flexibility
to negotiate a wide range of local facilities/services within
the law. Mechanisms to promote and share good practice would overcome
many of the perceived problems.
Quality of life is perceived as under great
pressure in large cities, as evidenced by levels of out-migration,
skills shortages, high housing costs, problems in retaining or
reinforcing sustainable communities.
Quality of life can be seen as directly threatened
by many changes associated with the urban renaissance agenda,
especially higher densities and mixed uses. These are supported
and promoted as essential to the creation of vital and viable
urban areas, but are also seen as bringing more noise, pollution,
litter, congestion and crime, as threatening urban open spaces,
eroding familiar townscapes and turning their backs on the public
realm. Developments are seen as led by viability, not quality
or good design, and thought to be poorly related to the provision
of essential infrastructure, eg public transport. In concern over
speed and certainty for developers it is important that these
quality of life concerns and especially quality of design are
The GP talks in general terms about the development
control process in relation to householder and major applications.
It does not sufficiently recognise that small applications (householder
and other), especially in dense urban areas, and not just in conservation
areas, can raise a range of complex issues, and involve extensive
Small applications can be of vital importance
to many people, affecting their quality of life, and can involve
cumulative erosion of environmental quality over a period of time.
Such applications can be householder applications in densely developed
areas, where small developments can have a very significant impact
on a lot of other residents, present and future. In intensively
used commercial or mixed urban areas, small developments coming
on top of quite rapid lifestyle changes, for example the development
of the night-time economy in town centres, can have a significant
impact on the daily lives of many people, particularly residents.
It cannot be assumed therefore that small applications can always
be dealt with rapidly, and it is important not to underestimate
the resources needed for such applications.
The use classes order is a very significant
tool in the protection of amenity, and in the provision of support
to business, in mixed use areas. Camden has submitted detailed
comments on the proposals for the Order, and considers that the
Green Paper gives insufficient emphasis to such controls in the
management of urban areas. The current A3 Food and Drink Class,
nightclubs, sex establishments and gambling premises can be of
significant concern even in major town centres, where increased
residential use is being encouraged.
Many of the GP proposals address less important
elements of the development control process, rather than the central
issues referred to above. The failure to put forward detailed
proposals for enforcement is particularly disappointing. Enforcement
is the Achilles heel of the system, comprehensively derided by
local communities and frequently ignored by parts of the development
industry. If the planning system matters, planning enforcement
matters. It clearly isn't working but this appears an unimportant
issue for the Green Paper.
The GP do not fully address one factor that
would make a very significant impact on achieving its aims. As
already indicated, Camden considers that resources are a more
significant factor in the achievement of the above aims than changes
to the legislation. In relation to the set fees for planning applications,
the "one size fits all" approach, on the basis of an
average authority, is wholly inappropriate. In urban areas generally,
and in areas like Camden, with responsibility for high density
and sensitive areas and for large daytime working and tourist
populations, development pressures and costs are out of the norm.
We have calculated that an increase in fees of at least 45 per
cent would be required in Camden, if we are to continue with our
struggle to balance quality of service and performance for all
our customers. The current ceiling of £9,500 fee on schemes
as large as Kings Cross is plainly indefensible. The resources
required for good effective and inclusive consultation have to
be recognized. The skills shortage, which is particularly affecting
areas like London, would be a serious constraint on many of the
proposals in the GP to improve the planning system and will in
particular increasingly impact on the urban renaissance and quality
of life agenda.
The planning system is in danger of reaching
a new level of disrepute. The key elements for a better system
A consensus around its purpose.
Clear differentiation of roles from
national through strategic to local levels.
Openness through all processes.
Adequate resources and skills.
Clear democratic mechanisms by which
local communities and their local Councils can work with developers
to agree a positive way forward.
An absence of legalistic adversarial