Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by BURA Steering & Development Forum (SDF) (PGP 48)

FUTURE OF PLANNING SET OUT IN THE GREEN PAPER

A.  INTRODUCTION

  The Select Committee has announced that it to hold an inquiry into the recent Green Paper on the future of the Planning System. It is particularly interested in:

    —  the effectiveness of the system of local plans and the Government's proposals to replace them;

    —  the role of regional planning bodies;

    —  the procedures for scrutinising major development projects;

    —  business planning zones;

    —  proposed changes to planning obligations, CPOs and compensation and use classes;

    —  whether the Government's proposals will simultaneously increase certainty, public participation and faster decisions, particularly for business;

    —  planning's contribution to the urban renaissance.

  The evidence presented below does not follow these points in sequence, but does address most of them at some stage.

B.  BACKGROUND

  The Steering and Development Forum (SDF) of BURA is a broadly based group of business, public sector and not-for-profit/community organisations, drawn together within BURA by a common interest in, and experience of, Urban Regeneration. The Forum made a submission to the DTLR prior to the publication of the Green Paper, and has responded to the Green Paper. Our focus is naturally on the impact that the Green Paper is likely to have on regeneration. The list of SDF members is attached as an annex.

  This document represents the shared views of members of the Forum, without representing the formal policy of any individual member organisation.

C.  SUMMARY

  We welcome general tone and intent, and the very fact that this debate is taking place. We also welcome much of the content of the Green Paper and associated documents, which reflect many of the aspirations in BURA's SDF submission made last October.

  The Green Paper attempts to bring about radical change: to turn a system which has become perceived as essentially negative into one which is positive in its support for and of sustainable communities, and seen to be central to their wellbeing. We welcome this aspiration and believe it will require strong connections to be drawn between Economic, Environmental and Social issues and objectives at national, regional and local levels. These connections will need to be complemented by substantial resources and training if the new planning system is to result in efficient and effective delivery at each spatial level of authority.

1.  Transition Plan

  Despite our enthusiasm for the general aspirations described in the Green Paper we are very concerned that it will prove counterproductive if its delivery is not thought through in greater detail before implementation begins. We understand the need to maintain the momentum created by the Green Paper, but our concern is highlighted by various reports of local authorities believing that the system has already been changed, which of course it has not, in any statutory sense. We would like the Government to produce a Transition Plan as its next step, to show how the new system would be brought in, allowing time and encouraging contributions for each part to be properly thought through in detail. The fine and courageous aspirations need to be translated into robust mechanisms if their delivery is to stand a good change of success. Without detailed thought the new proposals will become bogged down in unresolved conflicts, some of which are inherent in the Planning System, whilst the existing system will falter and fail to deliver, even at its current level. This would produce decay, not regeneration.

  It is not clear to us to what extent this detailed consideration has already happened or is happening. The members of BURA's SDF are willing, and feel able, to support the process of detailed consideration and would welcome a commitment from Government to work in partnership with BURA and other relevant interest groups when taking forward the various actions which will be defined in its Transition Plan.

2.  Commitment and Resources

  The other "must have" for success is a deep-rooted long-term and consistent support for the new proposals from Government at national and local levels, plus the resources necessary to enable the new approach to deliver. A change of culture is called for, accompanied by a substantial increase in the skill needed. Only then will we see real changes in behaviour that are needed in many local authorities; though not in all, since some have been able to exhibit much of the desired behaviour already. (This shows that this is not simply a problem of changing "the system".)

  The following comments reflect some of our main areas of concern. We would be happy to expand on these in direct and open dialogue with Government and other stakeholders.

D.  MAJOR AREAS WHERE MORE DETAIL IS NEEDED BEFORE IMPLEMENTATION

  Major Issues arising from the Green Paper include:

  1.  The National/Regional/Sub Regional/Local spheres of responsibility need to be clearer, and links between them defined so that they embrace and carry through the commitment to holistic planning, incorporating economic, environmental and social aspirations at each level. Relevant stakeholders need to be identified and involved in each level of plan making.

    —  National infrastructure development, such as national aviation, national freight and waste policies must be steered by co-ordinated planning and investment decisions by national government. Moreover there needs to be a recognised inter regional element to planning policy and practice if the north-south disparity is to be alleviated and regeneration is to proceed in some of the most deprived parts of the country.

    —  We agree that the volume and complexity of national planning guidance should be reduced, and suggest that there should be a clear distinction drawn between, on the one hand "fundamental national planning policy" which should be followed, and on the other hand "good practice guidance" which can be interpreted more flexibly.

    —  National and Regional Plans need to tackle—not duck-the difficult issues which have typically been avoided by collections of more locally-based bodies. In the absence of directly elected regional bodies it is essential that local elected authorities are represented on regional planning bodies, but also that such bodies are expected to tackle the difficult issues such as overall housing requirements and distribution. In the past regional planning produced by collections of Local Authorities has too frequently fudged such issues.

    —  Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies need thorough integration. Economic targets must fit with and help drive forward planning objectives. RDAs need to be given a formal role in relation to RSS approval and to be statutory consultees on major development applications.

    —  Sub Regional plans should be required in areas where major change is called for, and where regional bodies wish to see clear sub-regional frameworks, either within or across regional boundaries.

  2.  At the Local level, we need the effective engagement of communities whilst promoting efficient and effective delivery of necessary change. This is a crucial issue, and needs to be resolved. Government should produce firmer and clearer guidance about how this process can work, and what constitutes "community". We need terms of engagement and easy access to brokering systems. There are now several models available of good practice (eg Urban Villages, New Deal etc), which should be examined, summarised, codified and recommendations produced. It would be immensely helpful if the adopted approach were common to all aspect of Government work with communities, representing a consistent attitude, enabling wider understanding of what the term "community engagement" means.

  All participants in the local planning process need to acquire a shared understanding of what is and is not required or considered good practice. Mediation should be used as much as possible to achieve final agreement to a Local Development Framework, with the ultimate process being through examination before an independent chair. It needs however to be acknowledged that the proposed process is very likely to increase front end costs for regeneration.

  The Local Development Framework and the Community Strategy should be formally linked together. The process and timetable for the production of these two vital cornerstones of regeneration should be unified, leading to the publication of separate but clearly linked and consistent documents. This process should take on the roles of both interpreting "top down" policies from National and Regional levels, and providing "bottom up" input to regional and national policy making. The points in the process and the communication lines for doing both of these need to be spelt out in a clear and unambiguous manner.

  Local Action Plans, including the more widespread and positive use of Planning Briefs will need a more pro-active approach from Local Authorities. This is recognised in the Green Paper, but in many places it will need LPAs to be better resourced and in many cases to undergo cultural and behavioural change. There is a real anxiety that the necessary resources, both financial and human, will not be available for the task in sufficient quantity or quality. The other anxiety is that Local Authorities will not have the confidence to engage in positive planning. Whilst there will always be a need for proper scrutiny and objective appraisal of plans and applications at the point of approval, this must and need not inhibit a proactive approach by LPAs to create realistic, deliverable development plans in those areas which need substantial regeneration. LPAs will need to discuss and engage in processes with potential developers and investors, as part of plan making as well as through pre-application discussions. This should not be seen as prejudicing LPAs' ultimate responsibilities to judge the suitability of plans or applications, as long as such activity is transparent, is complemented by wider community involvement, and takes place within a set of objectives, which have been established in the Local Development Framework and Community Strategy. Government must take action to encourage and empower LPAs to engage in these positive processes and overcome a deep-rooted anxiety felt by many, by guidance, by supporting existing best practice and possibly through legislation. (There are good examples and precedents already in some more enlightened planning authorities and in former public bodies—such as New Town and Urban Development Corporations—where radical and beneficial change has been stimulated through a pro-active approach without falling foul of legal responsibilities to act properly.)

  For large regeneration schemes, which may often have a delivery timescale of 10 plus years, the replacement of Outline Planning Permission with a Certificate raises serious concerns. It needs careful attention if the effect is to avoid damaging their viability. The planning permission has the effect of fixing the value to the site, and often it is essential to secure this as soon as practicable in the regeneration process to enable a flow of further funding. There are completely acceptable techniques for aligning the environmental assessment process with the outline planning application format. To abolish it will create the potential for very significant new up front costs for regeneration as schemes have to be produced in more detailed form. It is not at all clear that the proposed certificate system would provide the necessary flexibility economy and speed.

  3.  The need for legislation, and the extent to which much can be achieved without waiting for it is another area needing careful attention. The SDF is fully supportive of making progress as quickly as possible, subject to our opening caveat that the resolution of conflicting parts needs thinking through in some detail first in the form of a Transition Plan. To encourage change without this detailed thought would be courting disappointment through failure and ultimately would set back the causes to which the Green Paper rightly aspires. However, some objectives cannot be fully achieved without legislation, even though a start may be possible in advance. Below we give an initial list of those areas, which we believe need legislation:

    —  National Framework

    —  Regional Spatial Strategies

    —  Planning Certificates

    —  Compulsory Purchase and Compensation

    —  Planning Obligations

  We believe that most other objectives embraced in the Green Paper would better be achieved through guidance and orders.

4.  PLANNING OBLIGATIONS

  Our concerns about premature implementation apply very strongly in the area of Planning Obligations. In general we support the use of tariffs, but foresee many dangers in their applications.

    —  Some national control is imperative, but needs to recognise local circumstances, to reflect local development values and allow some flexibility.

    —  Tariffs should not regularly be supplemented by additional negotiated payments, but there will be circumstances where such supplementary payments are justified. These circumstances need to be defined and easily understood.

    —  Tariffs could be a regressive form of taxation unless there is sufficient flexibility to transfer funds across boundaries from richer to poorer areas.

    —  The tariff system should be used to support good quality sustainable development, not simply to encourage brown field reclamation.

  The question of tariffs is of particular concern to some members of the Forum. The nature of these concerns are described in a fuller note on this subject which is appended to this report.

5.  OTHER POINTS

    —  Targets are generally welcomed, especially their application to Government Departments.

    —  More delegation to officers in LPAs needs to be balanced by adequate community safeguards.

    —  Limiting Planning Consents to three years is not supported, because it would undermine investor/developer appetite for larger and more difficult regeneration schemes.

    —  LPAs will need more resources if the aspirations are to have any chance of success.

    —  Support for nominated officers for each application.

    —  Support for a "one stop shop" approach for planning, listed building and other consents.

    —  Higher planning fees supported as long as they are used to resource the positive planning service.

    —  Lack of flexibility in the Use Classes Order could discourage investors in projects such as "research parks" in marginal areas where agencies are trying to use such developments as drivers of regeneration.

E.  TO CONCLUDE

  Finally, we repeat our wish to see a Transition Plan, through which BURA and other interested parties can engage with Government to agree the detailed operation of the proposals, through which the shared aspirations of the Green Paper can be effectively delivered.

John Walker

Chief Executive of BURA

18 March 2002



 
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