Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (PGP 46)


  We are pleased to be able to present you with comments from RICS in response to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions' inquiry into the current review of the planning system.

  RICS is the leading source of property advice on land, property and construction issues worldwide, representing over 100,000 members. RICS is regulated by its Royal Charter with the objective of promoting the public good. This allows RICS to comment independently on matters in which its members have expertise.


  We broadly welcome the Government's proposals for reform of the planning framework. RICS has long believed that the existing framework does not properly address a number of issues:

    —  The need for a flexible and up-to-date framework of local plans.

    —  The need for a framework able to properly and comprehensively deal with larger infrastructure developments, particularly transport.

    —  The need to streamline the plan and guidance system.

  The proposals go a long way towards achieving these objectives. Specific comments on the proposals are included below.

Replacing Structure Plans, Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans with a local Development Framework

  RICS supports the replacement of structure plans, local plans and unitary development plans with Local Development Frameworks. The more strategic nature of LDFs should enable them to be more easily updated, more responsive to differing local and regional needs and generally more flexible. However, we believe that the potential benefits of LDFs will be lost unless:

    —  The chronic under-resourcing of local authority planning departments is addressed.

    —  The temptation is avoided to compensate for the more strategic, slimmed down nature of LDFs by using untested Supplementary Planning Guidance as policy.

    —  There is a careful and coordinated approach to action plans so as to avoid the danger of a bewildering and overlapping patchwork of action plans, neighbourhood plans, village plans, area masterplans, etc.

    —  Local authorities are of a size sufficient to enable them to produce and update meaningful LDFs. We believe that in many cases it would be appropriate to produce LDFs across two or more local authorities.

    —  There is consistency between the various plans within LDFs and LDFs are themselves consistent with regional and national guidance. The majority of complaints about the existing framework centre on the perceived lack of consistency in the form and content of local plans, between different sets of guidance and in decision-making procedures. The potential complexity of the LDF proposals could lead to singular inconsistency unless local authorities are able to channel significant resources into preventing this.

Proposals to simplify the hierarchy of plans by strengthening regional planning and abolishing county structure plans

  RICS note the Government's proposals to abolish county structure plans. RICS believes that the county level is now no longer the appropriate spatial level for many planning decisions, and that these could be better addressed through strengthened regional and sub-regional guidance.

  RICS strongly supports the introduction of statutory regional planning and we back the introduction of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS). However, we would make the following points:

    —  We recognise the concern about the "democratic deficit" that may exist at the regional level and the forthcoming White Paper on the Regions will be very relevant in this context.

    —  RSS need to be developed within a national spatial planning context.

    —  The sub-regional tier will be crucial in many regions given the large gap that will exist in some regions between the regional and LDF tiers.

    —  There will need to be improved structures and procedures available for the production of regional strategies, if the regions are to successfully build on their current role within the system. Better consultation with a range of organisations and interests must be ensured. In addition, the weight given to the views of each of these interests must be assessed. In terms of regeneration, RDAs have tightly-focused economic development goals (regional GDP growth), which may not reflect the quality of life goals of government and the wider community. The interaction and relationship between the regional plans and the work of RDAs and Regional Government Offices should be clearly delineated by central government. This requires further and more detailed discussion.

    —  The proposed Regional Spatial Strategies will be a corner stone of the new planning system. Therefore, the appropriate level of resourcing must be made available to Regional Assemblies to ensure proper consultation, attention to detail and speed of plan review.

Increasing resources available to local authorities' planning departments

  The issue of resources is not sufficiently addressed in the Green Paper. This is a very major concern because the current under-resourcing of the system constitutes the most important factor holding back the performance of the current planning system. The Green Paper contains many laudable proposals for fundamental changes to the planning system. However, even if the apparatus and framework is fundamentally changed, an under-funded network of local planning departments will continue to be a brake on the system and prevent the highest standards from being achieved.

Interim Arrangements

  The government's proposals do not satisfactorily address the arrangements for transition between the current and proposed systems, nor the timescale for this to take place. Ensuring a smooth transition will inevitably require detailed consideration of interim arrangements.

  In the absence of a clear indication of the Government's plans regarding the restructuring of regional, county and local government, there is a strong likelihood that the period of transition will necessitate a continued role for existing county structure plans. The strengthening of the regional element in planning is supported by RICS. However, county structure plans could play a role as an interim measure, whilst the new regional tier is developed sufficiently to take on addition responsibilities.

Rationalising the Structure of Local Government

  The Government's proposed LDF could simply lead to greater complexity if it was applied to the very large number of local authorities, varying widely in size and nature, that currently exist. Many local authorities, particularly in rural areas, are currently insufficient in size to effectively devise and maintain a local development framework. Therefore, serious consideration should be given to producing LDFs, in many cases, across existing local authority boundaries.

Community Participation

  Community participation is fundamental to the planning system. Planning must be, and must be seen to be, an inclusive process. However, public consultation should not result in unnecessary delay.

  It is important that increased community involvement does not give people unrealistic expectations as to the weight that will be accorded to their views. Early involvement through pre-application discussion, greater transparency and availability of information will help to ensure that community participation is balanced and constructive.


  We generally support the approach taken by the Government in its proposed reform of the planning system. RICS does, however, regard the proposals as less than the radical review that was possible. There has long been a consensus that a fundamental overhaul is required if the English planning system is to ensure good quality development and proper levels of environmental protection that meet the needs of both the general public and the business sector.

  Where there appears to be broad support for measures that do not require a change in legislation, we would urge the Government to implement change as soon as possible. On issues requiring primary legislative changes, we would further urge the Government to seek parliamentary time for the required legislation at the earliest possible date.


The Current System

  The current system of planning obligations is often a barrier to successful development and, therefore, is in need of modification. Changes are needed to introduce greater consistency between authorities in the use of their powers, to provide for greater transparency to the process and to give developers greater certainty about the contributions that they may be called on to make. There is currently excessive variation in the level of planning obligations sought by different local authorities as well as excessive demands, sometimes unrelated to the development in question, which act as a barrier to development and regeneration in some areas.

RICS Approach to Reforming Planning Obligations

  RICS considers the current proposals to introduce a system of tariffs lack the level of detail necessary to enable an informed judgement to be made as to how such a system could successfully operate.

  To implement a system of nationally determined tariffs would equate to the imposition of impact fees. Such a system would be inflexible, could not respond to particular regional or local circumstances, and would be opposed by RICS. These issues are expanded below.

  A locally determined tariff-based system, as proposed in the consultation, would allow greater flexibility than tariffs set at the national level. However, the proposals outlined in the paper are too simplistic. A more sophisticated system would be required, better able to take into account areas where there are low property values, where development is economically marginal, and where there is a need to maximise the use of brownfield sites and promote regeneration schemes. This would be a complex system requiring a great deal further and more detailed consideration.

  The option preferred by RICS, but disregarded in the consultation, would be to retain the current system, suitably modified to enable greater certainty, transparency and speed. The Government's current proposals to increase transparency and accountability could be applied to the current system, and would result in significant improvements. RICS has highlighted changes below that could be made without primary legislation, in order to achieve greater certainty and speed.

Enforcing the "Necessity Test"

  Section 106 Agreements should rightly address obligations resulting from development, but should not be used as an impromptu land tax or as a barrier to development. The continued use of some form of "necessity test", as included in circular 1/97, is essential. To move away from an assessment linking contributions directly to the scheme would constitute a "development tax" and would be opposed by RICS.

  RICS believes that Section 106 contributions should be required only for directly related and clearly defined obligations and requirements. This would not prevent their use to secure affordable housing, at a level related to the size and type of the development in question.


  RICS welcomes the Government's consultation and strongly supports a great many of the proposals contained in the paper. The current fundamental review of compulsory purchase, as part of the wider planning review, is likely to represent the best opportunity to speed up and improve the process for many years. It is welcome to note that the Government is taking this opportunity to demonstrate a positive approach that, RICS believes, will result in a number of wide-ranging improvements to the current system.

  The proposals outlined in the current consultation will make the system much fairer to claimants. The proposals will also simplify the process and increase transparency. This in turn should speed up the process, which will help to reduce the costs to authorities due to the length of time taken to bring compulsory purchase schemes to fruition.

  Proposals that are particularly welcomed by RICS include:

    —  The introduction of "loss payments" for occupiers of all types of property.

    —  The commitment to ensure more clearly defined compensation rules.

    —  The extension of proper compensation to affected parties even if they do not lose land to the scheme.

    —  Simplifying access to the Land Tribunal.

    —  A stronger requirement for acquiring authorities to inform those affected of their rights.

    —  The abolition of Ryde's Scale, ensuring that surveyors' fees are to be calculated on the same basis as other professional advisors.

Ewan Willars

Policy Officer

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