Memorandum by the British Property Federation
"THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER"
The British Property Federation (BPF) is the
voice of the UK property industry. The detail of the BPF's membership
is contained in the DTLR submission to which you intend to refer
and therefore not reiterated now. Achieving positive reform of
the planning system is crucial to our members who are largely
dependent on the planning system in the operation of their activities.
Without exception, all our members are concerned
with the current operation of the planning system. The current
system is failing us all, not just the property industry. It is
plan led but too many local authorities have never implemented
a plan. Others are out of date, and therefore provide no certainty
to the developer, or anyone else, by being out of step with emerging
national policy guidance and or changing local circumstance. There
are too many tiers of plan, and too much confliction between plans,
supplementary planning guidance and national planning policy guidance.
The planning system depends on those serving within it, yet local
authority planning departments are facing serious recruitment
and retention difficulties. Lack of funding is another major problem.
The Government's own recently published research suggests that
planning departments are 40 per cent under funded. The private
sector cannot meet the shortfall, nor should it, as planning is
a public service.
We are therefore pleased that the Government
has decided to grasp the nettle of planning reform. It should
be commended for doing so. In terms of delivering the Government's
objectives for planning reform, one of which is to support the
regeneration of our towns and cities, the Report of the Urban
Task Force stated that the Government's vision in this area would
never leave the draftsman's board unless it possessed the commitment
and support of the commercial property industry. We agree with
this analysis, and our belief is that the Urban White Paper's
aim of improving the physical, economic and social environment
will not succeed unless the Government addresses the failings
of the planning system.
The property industry therefore fully supports
the Government in conducting reform to the planning system that
delivers the necessary certainty, clarity and consistency required
of it by developers and investors.
The present system is overly plan-hierarchical,
bureaucratic, unnecessarily complex, slow and inconsistent. The
Government's proposal to abolish Structure Plans and the replacement
of Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans with Local Development
Frameworks will simplify the process whilst providing greater
clarity. The proposal to regularly update the core policies contained
in Local Development Frameworks is helpful, particularly if the
emphasis on such frequent revision is innovation. In other words
adapting core policies to allow appropriate development to take
place that capitalises on changing circumstance, (which may be
local or global), rather than merely as a further mechanism to
Community Strategies are not opposed in principle
but must be carefully framed to avoid importing anti-development
attitudes into local action plans and delaying preparation of
the Local Development Framework. The status of Community Strategies
needs to be clarified. Any implication that the Local Development
Framework should be subordinate to the Community Strategy should
be ruled out as wholly misplaced. Such an approach would fail
to give adequate weighting to national or regional objectives.
It would also fail to provide any certainty.
The role of regional planning bodies is to champion
wider interests. In this role they lack sufficient involvement
with the business community and are ineffectual at delivering
their aims. The current system of regional planning bodies has
not succeeded in tackling the difficult decisions in respect of
location of major development. If the Government is to remove
Structure Plans then the ability of the new Regional Spatial Strategies
to properly allocate for the correct forms of development will
take on even greater importance. The role of regional planning
bodies should be strengthened providing it is achieved in conjunction
with greater business participation in their affairs. The replacement
of Regional Planning Guidance by statutory Regional Spatial Strategies
in which RDAs are fully integrated is seen as a positive step.
We welcome the Government's commitment to streamline
the planning process for major projects. In our view it is essential
if our infrastructure needs are to be realised. Greater central
decision making for major national projects will help deliver
an appropriate degree of strategic direction to their implementation.
In terms of the parliamentary procedures to
be applied, it is essential that sufficient parliamentary time
is granted to consider each application and that decisions in
principle can be processed quickly through Parliament.
Business planning zones would have application
in business parks, the completion of development and occupancy
of which can take a number of years. In these circumstances it
would be very helpful not to be tied to a vision for the overall
development that had become out of step with occupier preference
or other issues. However one problem associated with their application
in this area is the requirement to conduct a detailed environmental
impact assessment of the development which presents practical
difficulty, as for the reasons mentioned it can be difficult to
strictly define at the outset.
They would also have merit in bringing forward
large regeneration sites. The biggest issue with business planning
zones is to encourage councils to actually experiment with them.
We are aware of only two Simplified Planning Zones ever being
The current manner in which planning obligations
are addressed is unsatisfactory and open to abuse. There is uncertainty
relating to both the quantum of expenditure and the timing of
agreement. For these reasons we believe that reform is necessary
and welcome the Government's commitment to conduct it. You will
note from our submission to DTLR that our preferred option would
be to correct the current system. We agree with the Department's
assessment as to the deficiencies of the current system, as set
out on page six of their consultation document, but consider that
none are irresolvable.
The current tariff proposals are unacceptable
to our members. We are concerned that the inference in the consultation
document is that all proposed developments, (above very low thresholds),
should attract a tariff other than where there are "strong
and specific reasons" for it to be negotiated away in order
to encourage a potentially difficult development. Such expectations
are unrealistic, they do not reflect current practice and have
been arrived at before any measure has been made of the market's
ability or willingness to pay them as opposed to moving elsewhere
(either geographically or in terms of weighting to investment
The Green Paper envisages contributions to a
wide range of social, economic and environmental uses. This reinforces
a fundamental weakness of the tariff proposal, namely that it
effectively breaks the link between planning obligation and the
development which gives rise to it. The tariff, therefore, becomes
a general development tax. We are also concerned that such an
approach would come at the expense of addressing important issues
that the development industry does impact upon such as infrastructure
improvement. Either that or the tariff level would be completely
The Green Paper offers no assurance that payments
made under the proposed tariff system would remain outside the
system for calculating central Government funding for local authorities.
We remain concerned that any tariff-type payment would end up
being used to fund normal local authority expenditure provided
for through the Rate Support Grant.
There is no clear mechanism for a local authority
to determine, and without the ensuing delay accompanied with public
consultation, to waive a tariff, or discount it, if it believes
that for whatever reason failure to do so would stifle development.
In order to bring certainty to the process the
tariff payment to be calculated for each development would have
to be seen as a maximum payment. There should not be any "top-up"
for specific infrastructure needs related to the development.
Local authorities should be able to negotiate a reduced tariff
for individual developments depending on any number of difficulties
associated with that development. For example if the site in question
posed a particularly difficult regeneration challenge.
In order to preserve the all-important link
between payments made by a landowner/developer and the specific
needs generated by the development, the first call on any tariff
payment should be the infrastructural requirements of that developmenteg
a new cycle way, landscaping or new roads.
A local authority should be able to use the
balance of any tariff payment towards a prioritised list of economic,
social or environmental benefits for the community as a whole.
This could include affordable housing as one of, or indeed the
most important of the priorities. But the list would have to be
based on local circumstance, and with an emphasis on commercial
realism agreed through the Local Development Framework, and once
agreed not deviated from.
CPO AND COMPENSATION
We are broadly supportive of the Government's
proposals in this area. The procedural improvements are greatly
needed if the duration of a CPO procedure is to become realistic.
A CPO procedure that takes five or 10 or more years to complete
extends the anxiety that inevitably some face when facing the
prospect of having their homes compulsorily acquired. The other
issue that causes avoidable anxiety is the concern that an individual
will not be properly compensated for the loss of their home. We
believe that the best way to avoid this, and in addition reduce
the instance of objection to a scheme, is to move away from the
principle of equivalence (the principle that an individual will
be no better or worse off as a consequence of loosing their home),
by providing for a more generous element of overage or compensation
to those confronted with the loss of their home or land.
The Government's proposed changes are broadly
supported. They are designed to allow the building stock, a factor
of production, to adapt quickly to broadly similar but changing
demands upon it without burdening the planning system further.
There are one or two elements of detail that cause our members
concern as they are likely to give rise to unintended consequence
and we will therefore be advising the DTLR of these in due course.
We have referred to Community Strategies earlier
but it is appropriate to do so again now. If the Government's
proposals in terms of Community Strategies are to increase community
involvement, which we fully support, without delaying implementation
of the Local Development Framework, or, equally importantly the
certainty imparted from it, then clear guidelines need to be produced
on the interaction between the two. A Community Strategy should
influence a Local Development Framework, but not to any extent
govern it, otherwise economic or infrastructure imperatives would
rarely receive sufficient weight in the determination of local
It would be regrettable if greater community
involvement came at the expense of clear, focussed and strategic
plans that reflect the views not only of local activists and pressure
groups in shaping the development of areas, but also the wider
priorities of society. It would also result in failure to meet
the Government's stated objectives in enacting reform.
Planning has the potential to make a contribution
to the urban renaissance if used as a positive tool to encourage
the right kind of development in the right areas. In this regard
a proper balance needs to be struck between expectation and realism.
The focus on planning being used positively is important because
the planning system will rarely, if ever, succeed in forcing development
simply by opposing it elsewhere, instead it can only encourage
it in the right places. The emphasis therefore needs to be on
creating a planning system that does all it can to offset the
inevitable risk associated with development, particularly that
associated with urban sites. It can do this by providing certainty
and consistency to the developer in the determination of an application.
One way that certainty and confidence can be
achieved is through the granting of outline planning permission
consent. We are therefore very concerned by the Government's proposal
to abolish outline consent which would have a serious negative
impact on planning's contribution to the urban renaissance. Development
is a high-risk activity often involving very large investments
of capital over a significant period of time. Risk is contained
and the way opened up for further investment through the granting
of outline planning consent. The integrity of the development
can be assured through accompanying conditions to the outline
consent and monitoring. If outline planning permission is withdrawn
it will impact most heavily on the areas that the Government most
wants to secure the involvement of the industry.
As well as not being able to force development
in certain areas, the planning system cannot force people to occupy
certain types of development. Not everyone will wish to live in
the form of new high-density housing development that accords
with revised national planning policy guidance on housing (PPG3).
In these circumstances they may chose instead to live outside
urban areas and commute. Presenting a less sustainable outcome
than providing for a mix of dwelling types in urban areas and
not one that would support an urban renaissance. Similarly, in
the absence of a good local public transport service, businesses
may chose to go elsewhere if confronted with restrictive parking
provision for their employees or customers as provided for in
For these reasons the extent of the contribution
of planning to an the delivery of an urban renaissance will depend
on the extent to which it is used as one of a package of policy
measures including greater investment in public services, infrastructure
improvement and fiscal incentives to the property industry's engagement
in brownfield land redevelopment.