Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by the Council for the Protection of Rural England

  1.  CPRE welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry by the Joint Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons into the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill. Our main interest in the Bill concerns the impact of its provisions on the way in which local government discharges its planning and transport functions.

  2.  Land use planning is an important environmental policy tool and, as such, has an increasingly significant role to play in delivering the Government's objectives for an urban renaissance and protection of the countryside. The planning system also provides a valuable means of engaging the public in, and generating public support for, decisions about future development. It is vital, therefore, that proposed reforms to the organisation of local authorities do not damage the ability of the planning system to deliver these important objectives. Similar considerations also apply to transport policy where local authorities have been given prime responsibility for delivering the objectives established in the Government's Transport White Paper.

  3.  CPRE is not convinced that the implications of the proposed split between executive and scrutiny functions of local authorities have been properly thought through in relation to their land use planning and transport functions. While these functions are specifically addressed in the White Paper Local Leadership, Local Choice, we do not believe they are convincingly dealt with.

  4.  Planning and transport are widely recognised as a highly sensitive and potentially controversial local authority function. Planning was an important focus of the Nolan Committee inquiry in 1996 on Aspects of Conduct in Local Government to which CPRE made a detailed contribution. There is a real danger, we believe, that the new structures could reduce the quality of and public confidence in local planning. This would run counter to the Government's broad agenda for modernising local government which places great emphasis on promoting public involvement in local decisions.

  5.  CPRE is concerned that the new structures will make it less easy for interested members of the public and third parties to contribute to planning decisions by reducing the transparency of the decision-making process and hindering access to decision-makers. This could also seriously reduce standards of propriety in the planning process.

  6.  We have three particular areas of concern as follows:

    the link between plan making and implementation—CPRE fears that the crucial link between forward planning and individual decisions on planning applications, and between preparation of Local Transport Plans and their implementation, may be weakened by a separation of these functions between an executive and a planning/transport committee. There is also a risk that any preparation of a development plan or Local Transport Plan by a mayor or executive cabinet could reduce the extent of public involvement and consultation. Another potential outcome could be an increase in the number of "departure" applications (that is planning applications which do not accord with the relevant development plan) approved. This will frustrate the growing emphasis being placed by the Government on the plan-led system;

    the procedures whereby local planning authorities grant themselves planning permission (deemed planning consent)—CPRE has been concerned for many years about the potential for abuse where local authorities are able to grant planning consent for development on their own land or where they have a financial interest. This potential has been increased recently with the introduction of new regulations which allow certain authorities to sell on its own land with planning permission. The provisions in the draft Bill could significantly increase the prospect of abuse of such "deemed consent" procedures unless stronger legislative safeguards are put in place; and

    discharge of other planning functions by an executive—CPRE is also concerned about the potential for abuse if powers to designate conservation areas, prepare supplementary planning guidance and remove permitted development rights are given to a mayor or executive cabinet. The White Paper has little to say on how such powers may be effectively scrutinised. We do not believe that the proposed local authority standards committees will be an adequate response to this threat to the integrity of the planning system and other decisions.

  7.  These concerns suggest there is a need for considerably improved safeguards if the main provisions of the Bill are to be pursued in relation to land use planning. These safeguards need to be addressed in the Bill itself, although the detail should come forward in secondary legislation and statutory guidance. For example, new structures would increase the need for a more consistent and transparent use of call-in powers to reduce the likelihood of suspect or perverse planning decisions. This would require amendment to DoE Circular 19/92 The Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1992. This issue is addressed in CPRE's recent campaign briefing Departure Applications and Call-ins.

  8.  CPRE would be pleased to provide further information to the Joint Committee on these issues if that would be appropriate.

July 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 11 August 1999