Memorandum by the Local Government Information
unit (PGP 02)
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
This paper provides the LGIU's memorandum on
the Planning Green Paper and the "daughter" papers.
The Local Government Information Unit is an independent research
and information organisation. It is supported by over 150 local
authority affiliates in England and Wales.
The role of regional planning bodies
The LGIU supports proposals for statutory Regional
Spatial Strategies (RSS) but this must be developed by elected
representatives. We have argued in support of directly elected
regional assemblies and the proposals for statutory RSS make this
institutional reform more urgent. In the meantime we oppose the
proposal that the RSS cannot be prepared by regional associations
of local authorities but has to involve "Regional Development
Agencies and representatives of the public, business and voluntary
sector". This proposal will also rule out the regional chambers
preparing such strategies, since the scrutiny function of the
chamber over the RDA should preclude direct membership by the
RDA of a chamber working party.
The justification for the government's proposals
is that local authority associations in the South East have avoided
making "the hard strategic choices". But the problems
in the South East have been created because there are development
pressures, which raise key political issues. The decisions in
preparing RSS will be even more important if RSS has statutory
status. Giving more influence over such decisions to non-elected
individuals will not solve the difficulties. It is particularly
problematic when these non-elected individuals are weighted towards
those who represent the land and property interests and when they
are not bound by ethical standards in the same ways as elected
members, who have to abide by a strict code and are regulated
by the Standards Committee. It is noticeable that the Green Paper
does not call for a wider input from passenger transport groups,
those with public health interests or the regional round tables
responsible for producing the sustainability framework. Nor does
it call for a declaration of interests and compulsory training
for non-members involved on regional planning bodies. If RSS is
to be statutory, we believe it should be the clear responsibility
of regional associations of local authorities to prepare such
strategies until there are directly elected regional assemblies.
These associations should consult wider stakeholders, chambers
and RDAs and a better system of community involvement in regional
planning will need to be developed, but accountability should
A further point is that the new RSSs need to
be underpinned by a sustainability appraisal system agreed by
the regional chamber or directly elected assembly. The Green Paper
reveals some confusion about proposals to expand the scope of
regional planning. Current regional planning guidance (RPG) deals
with narrow land use issues. The proposal is to replace RPG with
a regional spatial strategy "which should provide the longer
term planning framework for the RDA strategies and those of other
stakeholders and assist in their implementation" (4.42).
Many planners have for some time called for spatial strategies.
These are commonly used on the European continent. However, the
RSS as outlined in the Green Paper, still shows a very limited
concept of "spatial".
The emphasis on RSS is on the "provision
of new housing, including setting a brown field target and the
growth of major urban areas" (paragraph 4.39). A more comprehensive
spatial policy would also cover:
issues around environmental managementflooding,
water provision, energy supply and demand management, bio-diversity,
issues around rural development and
major agriculture and forestry developments;
transport planningthis is
particularly difficult at the moment as the fragmentation of land
use and financial investment decision-making is leading to decisions
on transport being taken outside the RPG. There is no evidence
that this has been addressed in the Green Paper.
For regional planning to be successful it must
be based on a wider concept of "spatial" and there will
need to be clear objectives for sustainability to which outcome
targets can be attached. The regional development spatial frameworks
have begun this task but the targets, and ways of monitoring them,
need to be politically developed, non-technical and widely owned.
There is a job here for the democratic regional structures to
develop regional sustainability appraisal systems that are more
politically accountable. The chambers should also continue to
develop their role of linking the RSS to other regional strategies
and creating an integrated regional strategy. The East Midlands
is one example of a chamber that has done some interesting work
in this area. But real integrated regional strategies require
the ability to link investment in infrastructure to planning proposals.
This needs to be considered in the next stage of planning reform
and in the forthcoming White Paper on regional government.
Finally, some consideration is needed of joint
regional planning. This is particularly important in the South
East where the creation of three regions has led to weakening
of the spatial planning regime for the London labour market area.
The procedures for scrutinising major development
One of the main weaknesses in the Planning Green
Paper is the failure to put forward proposals for a national spatial
strategy. This would provide a context for scrutinising major
development projects and ultimately speed up the process. Proposals
for revised national planning guidance provide no substitute for
a national spatial strategy. It is now widely recognised that
there is an imbalance in development between the north and south
of the country, which has resulted in an acute housing and transport
problem in the South East, and London, while there are areas of
abandonment in the North. We still lack an overall spatial policy
to address these issues. Such a policy would need to be backed
by a national infrastructure investment plan (in transport, economic
development, housing and regeneration) which would provide a framework
both for the development of regional and local strategies and
for their implementation. The current Green Paper highlights the
problems over the planning application for a fifth terminal at
Heathrow. It would be easier to assess such an application if
there were a national airport development policy that was part
of a national spatial policy. We are now being promised the former
but still not the latter. It will be difficult to agree a national
airport policy unless it relates to a wider spatial strategy.
Should it just provide for current growth trends thereby reinforcing
them or should you try to develop infrastructure and economic
development opportunities more evenly across the country? The
LGIU would support the development of a national spatial strategy.
We would wish to see this developed with broad and thorough consultation
of regional and local interests.
The LGIU is not opposed to the proposal for
parliamentary decisions on major infrastructure projects rather
than these being taken by Secretary of State and we support attempts
to speed up decision making in this area. However, we strongly
oppose the procedures outlined in the consultation paper, in particular
the limiting of local and regional objections, on the principle
of whether the development should proceed, to six weeks.
We also believe that the categories of what
constitutes a national infrastructure project are far too wide.
A national spatial policy and elected regional government should
enable most of such applications to be dealt with at the regional
level. Finally we are not convinced that the procedures will speed
up such applications. It is worth looking back at the Sizewell
B Inquiry where the decision to proceed did not speed up the process.
The LGIU would suggest that such applications
should be considered by a joint regional/local body in the first
instance. Such a body could test the developer's case and put
the developer's environmental assessment under scrutiny. This
should not be a legalistic procedure but could be more like a
citizen's jury or environmental round table with access to independent
expert research and witnesses. An alternative would be an independent
Planning Inquiry Commission, taking evidence from regional and
national interests on the questions of principle/need. Either
procedure could be strictly time-limited and tasked to produce
a report for Parliament within, say, six months. Parliament should
consider establishing a joint standing committee of the two Houses
with appropriate expertise to fully scrutinise any proposals.
The reform of the House of Lords should offer an opportunity for
such a committee to have some regional representation. This type
of procedure is absolutely essential if decisions are to have
any local legitimacy and it could help build a consensus between
community and business interests. There is a real danger that
the procedures in the Green Paper will allow decisions to be speedily
whipped through Parliament without thorough scrutiny and full
consideration of local views. Local interests will be left feeling
deeply alienated from the process.
There have been numerous attempts to introduce
speedy planning consent areas for business and all have failed
for good reason. Developers require certainty and guarantees of
quality development around them if they are going to invest. Such
regimes are therefore time consuming to set up. The Green Paper
states such zones should have a low impact on the surrounding
area and "not add significantly to high local housing demand,
have large infrastructure requirements or require special environmental
precautions to be taken" (paragraph 5.37). This reveals the
contradictions in the policy, as only developments with minimal
labour demands would have such low impacts. There have been major
problems around green belt proposals in over developed areas like
Reading and Cambridge and certainly any business zone in these
areas would not be low impact. The LGIU cannot see the need for
this proposal. A DETR report by ECOTEC in June 2000 found the
current system does not constrain cluster development.
Proposed changes to planning obligations, CPOs
The LGIU supports the proposals for a tariff
based planning obligation system with the Local Development Frameworks
(LDFs) specifying the tariff and indicating how it will be used.
We have some concerns that the planning obligations
system is seen as solving the social housing problem. It will
never be possible to deliver enough social housing through the
planning system. In 1999-2000 only 13,773 units of social housing
were built as a result of Section 106 agreements. The "Shelter
Housing Investment Project" (2000) said that "current
evidence suggests that 85,000 additional affordable homes will
be required every year over the next decade to meet newly arising
housing needs . . . . If the backlog of unmet needs is to be effectively
addressed, a further 15-20,000 homes will be needed each year".
An improved planning obligations system might double or triple
the figure achieved through planning gain but would still provide
a small proportion of the social housing that is needed.
There is also a danger that the focus on social
housing will be at the expense of other important community gains.
One of our affiliates is keen to encourage more energy-efficient
construction; some local authorities have looked for a 1 per cent
contribution for the arts; others look to employers and retailers
to provide child care facilities. In new communities, health and
education facilities are required. It is important that planning
obligations are considered widely. If the LDF flows from the community
strategy, the planning obligations specified should deliver the
economic, social and environmental well-being of the community
as prioritised in the community strategy and agreed through the
community planning process. We have argued for some time that
the well-being power should be able to be used by a regulatory
committee (the planning committee) and not just the executive
in a local authority. We would appreciate the Select Committee
looking at this anomaly.
There is some concern about the setting of priorities
for planning obligations in two-tier areas. Some infrastructure
(some roads, new schools etc) will be required from the county
level and in some cases the tariff will need to be shared. These
complex issues will need to be recognised in guidance.
A further issue that needs clarification is
the timing of payment of the tariff. As stated above, some up-front
funding of major infrastructure, that can subsequently be repaid
through the tariff, would facilitate proactive planning.
Planning obligations represent a tax on the
developer rather than the landowner and therefore mean that only
a small proportion of the increase in value is received by the
community. An additional system is needed that captures for the
community a fair share of the income from the increase in land
values resulting from that community deciding to proceed with
major infrastructure investment and/or grant planning permission.
The LGIU supports the proposals for compulsory
purchase and compensation. However, we do have some concerns.
Firstly, funding must be made available for the loss payments.
The government has still not implemented fully the recommendations
of the Urban Task Force on funding the urban renaissance. Secondly
we are concerned that the proposals may involve more CPOs unless
the payments are made available to those who settle without the
need for a CPO. The Town and Country Planning association has
suggested a sliding scale to reward those who settle early and
this would seem a sensible suggestion.
Planning's contribution to the urban renaissance
We would agree with the CPRE that: "We
undervalue the benefits of good planning and stifle its potential
at our peril . . . It is a system that brings communities together,
provides a sense of certainty and direction, adeptly handles conflict
and gives public legitimacy to development and change which is
central to improving our quality of life".
This is a need for a more proactive planning
system that provides clarity for applicants; that is seen as a
legitimate and fair system in which all interests have a voice;
and that promotes sustainability and enhances the quality of life.
Reform of the system is welcome but it needs to be underpinned
by a clearer national spatial strategy that ties infrastructure
investment decisions into holistic land use plans that focus on
sustainability. This will enable regional and local plans to be
proactive and to be implemented and enable us to move forward
on the urban renaissance agenda. It is essential for the urban
renaissance agenda that infrastructure investment is tied into
land use planning and the current green paper fails to look at
this issue. Without this wider reform, planning will continue
to be seen as a system that stops development, rather than one
which enhances the quality of life. It is also essential that
there are more resources. It will be impossible to achieve the
urban renaissance without the resources specified in the Rogers'
Urban Task Force report, which have only partially been allocated.
It will also be necessary to increase the planning resources to
enable pro-active planning to take place. The CBI has argued for
more planning resources and the LGIU supports this view.