Memorandum from the Garden History Society
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
The Garden History Society is the national amenity
society for the study and protection of historic parks and gardens,
and since 1995 has been a statutory consultee on planning applications
affecting sites on the English Heritage Register of parks and
gardens of special historic interest. We will refer to the subjects
you set out in the press notice, although we are also particularly
keen to raise some questions on the subject of statutory and non-statutory
Statutory and non-statutory consultees
We would like Ministers to explain on what basis
the Green Paper asserts that consultees are "a major source
of delay". We are not aware of any survey or research data
to back up this assertion. The only research we have taken part
in (David Tyldesley Associates for English Heritage, "Historic
Parks and Gardens: a Review of Consultation Procedures in the
Planning System", March 1998) indicates no such delay.
Consulting amenity societies does not contribute
to delay for the simple reason that authorities do not have to
await their comments before making decisions. The majority of
consultation-letters make quite clear that if no response is forthcoming
within a stated time (between 14 and 28 days) the authority will
proceed to make a decision on the basis that we have no comment
to make. It may be true in the case of statutory consultees who
advise on health and safety or who operate a parallel consent
scheme, but in our case it is quite untrue that "most planning
authorities will not take a decision in the absence of advice
from a statutory consultee" (5.30). To us, this reads like
buck-passing by an over-stretched and demoralised planning profession.
Where consultee comments lead to delay is where
they represent convincing, planning arguments about the shortcomings
of an application which then need to be addressed. While we are
quite prepared to acknowledge that our performance could improve,
we would like to retort that delay is frequently caused by inadequately
prepared applications from developers or by bureaucratic delays
within planning authorities.
We have no idea where Government came up with
the assertion that "these bodies do not currently prioritise
such work" (5.31)it certainly was not from any national
amenity society we know. In fact the opposite is true: the bulk
of our professional efforts are directed precisely at dealing
with statutory casework, as required by English Heritage in giving
us a grant.
It is far from clear who the statutory and non-statutory
consultees referred to in the Green Paper actually are, but from
discussions with DTLR officials, it seems likely that they include
the national amenity societies, along with other local and national
civic societies and conservation bodies. We are shocked by the
attack on the local and national amenity sector in this part of
the Green Paper, a sector which for well over a hundred years
has pioneered the protection of the historic environment and the
cherished local scene. We suspect that it is based on nothing
more than the prejudices of developers and the excuses of planners,
and is unwarranted and ill-founded.
We would ask the Committee to note the irrational
and aggressive nature of these paragraphs, and recommend that
further research is needed to justify them and any subsequent
action. A full public consultation should precede any final proposals.
The case for the Garden History Society
We appreciate the Government's desire to speed
up the planning decision-making process but we are concerned that
the suggestion in the Green Paper that statutory consultees be
cut back to those whose advice relates to health and safety or
who operate a parallel consent system is too sweeping. In particular,
we are concerned that the role of the GHS has not been fully understood.
The GHS is a statutory consultee under the terms
of a 1995 Direction, which for ease of reference is reproduced
in DoE Circular 9/95. This was introduced by the Government in
recognition of several facts:
In the wake of the completion of
the English Heritage Register of parks and gardens as a purely
advisory document, there was little or no monitoring about subsequent
development proposals which might harm those parks and gardens.
As an interest of acknowledged importance
it was desirable that registered parks and gardens be monitored.
English Heritage did not have the
capacity to monitor Grade II sites, representing some 60 per cent
of registered sites.
There is no statutory protection
of parks and gardens, so that expert scrutiny and advice is particularly
Because the Register contains only
some 1,450 sites, consultation would not be an onerous burden
on local authorities.
In considering the importance of the Society's
statutory role, we have asked DTLR to consider the following issues:
EH resources for its work on statutory
consultation on the Register remains limited: five regional landscape
architects cover the nine regions, and combine casework with other
EH does not wish to take on Grade
II casework: if the GHS did not do it, no one would.
Apart from EH and GHS both having
the opportunity to respond on Grade I and II* sites, there is
no duplication with either other consultees, or with advice within
local authorities, or in many places with other non-statutory
There is a continuing lack of guidance
on how the planning officers should deal with parks and gardens.
EH has issued none since a note on golf courses in 1991; the GHS
has produced an advice note on development plan policies and also
There is little sign of increasing
expertise at a local level. Only two county authorities have specialist
historic landscape officers. While listed buildings and monuments
benefit from a great deal of local expertise, parks and gardens
The GHS works closely in partnership
with EH on casework.
The GHS offers good value for money
by virtue of its use of volunteers, its tapping into the county
gardens trust network, its low overheads and the dedication of
its staff and members.
There is little prospect of EH having
the resources to act as a post box, and farming out applications
to the GHSthis was specifically ruled out at the time of
the 1995 Direction.
There are other ways to speed up the decision-making
A requirement covering what material
should be sent to a consultee to ensure that a consultee is in
possession of all relevant information.
A requirement that consultations
are issued on the date of the application's being registered by
the authority, to allow the maximum 28-day period for a response.
Increasing (as proposed) the number
of pre-application consultations.
Allowing consultees (as proposed)
to charge for their responses, although we are uncertain how this
would work in practice.
Tying consultees (as proposed) into
a decision-making timetable on major applications.
A statutory deadline for consultation,
after which decisions can be made regardlessa practice
increasingly being followed already by local authorities as mentioned
We agree that the current system of local and
county development plans or of lengthy UDPs, is creaking under
the weight of detail contained in them, and that the current state
of endless rounds of revision is confusing and inefficient. We
can see the attraction of Local Development Frameworks containing
core policies with detailed action plans for certain areas, but
we are very concerned about the risk of gaps in coverage. We would
welcome more detailed proposals on this idea but in the meantime
we would ask the Committee to probe Ministers on the risk of ad
hoc development in those areas not covered by action plans.
Major development projects
We must object very strongly to the proposal
to determine the principle of major development projects in Parliament.
In place of an impartial Inspectorate, the Green Paper is proposing
that development which by definition has an impact on a large
number of people, will be determined in a party-political arena.
The whole point of public inquiries is to remove major development
from that arena (ie in a local authority) and allow for the fairest
possible treatment of the issues and of public concerns. Determining
such schemes "in principle" is also filled with danger:
as the outline application system has frequently demonstrated,
many matters of "detail" are fundamental to understanding
and assessing a development proposal. The only possible means
by which this could be dealt with fairly in Parliament is via
the Select Committee system, but we suspect that if Select Committees
were seriously to examine major infrastructure projects and their
desirability, their programme of inquiries would rapidly become
Business Planning Zones
We are alarmed at the proposal to introduce
Business Planning Zones (5.36-8). Simplified planning zones of
one sort or of another have been tried out repeatedly in the last
25 years, most notoriously in the Development Corporations set
up by Mrs Thatcher. While they encouraged development, balancing
their priorities with those of the local development plan (which
represented public interest) was a constant problem. The same
would apply to BPZ's and Local Development Frameworks.
Your Committee's inquiry into PPG:17 highlighted
the potential role of planning obligations in delivering enhancements
to open spaceboth in terms of provision and of management.
We thoroughly support your view that a sustainable approach means
addressing not just the provision of new open space, but the maintenance
of existing. Provision of new, without the means to maintain it,
is not sustainable. Rather than adding to the stock of open space,
we need to ensure enhancement to much of the existing which at
present has a neutral or even negative impact on the urban environment
and its liveability.
The Green Paper daughter document, "Reforming
Planning Obligations", gives considerable attention to the
use of obligations to deliver on affordable housing but no specific
reference to open space. We believe this must be rectified if
we are to see the different government agendas properly joined
up. We see no reason, provided the sum is agreed, why planning
gain in terms of open space should be restricted, as currently
advised in Circular 1/97 to works "directly related to the
proposed development". Moreover, we see no reason why contributions
should not be used further afield within the borough or district:
in the interests of social inclusion and sustainability, funds
should be used where need is greatest, which may not always be
in the vicinity of an attractive new development.
It is essential that strong endorsement and
clear guidance is given on the use of obligations for:
Creation of new on-site open space.
Maintenance (via one off commuted-sum
payments) of new on-site open space.
Creation of new off-site open space.
Maintenance (via one-off commuted
sum payments) of new off-site open space.
Enhancement of existing off-site
open space via new capital works.
Enhanced maintenance of existing
off-site open space via one-off commuted sum payments to be spent
by the local authority over a number of years.
Certainty, public participation and faster decisions
We have no objection to the principle of revising
Planning Policy Guidance and separating broad policy statements
from advice on implementation (4.60). However, it does seem to
us a course that risks creating uncertainty. The former in order
to be brief will be general, and therefore in practice will be
open to interpretation, and the latter is avowedly to be interpreted
flexibly. It seems to us that there is a danger of losing any
kind of consistency or clarity in a welter of flexible guidance.
This will be bad news for developers as well as planners and the
public. In our field there is actually not enough national guidance:
we have paragraph 2.24 of PPG:15 and little else. That paragraph
raises several questions with which planners have made us very
familiar over the years: it gives no guidance on the level of
protection which authorities ought to seek in preparing development
plans, no guidance on how registered parks should be protected
in determining planning applications; no guidance on what weight
to give to their settings; no guidance on good management or conservation.
The last piece of guidance on planning for parks and gardens published
by English Heritage was on golf course developments in 1992. Our
guidance note on development plan policies (1992, revised several
times up to 2000), and our handbook on parks and gardens in the
planning system (1996), remains the only source of such guidance.
We welcome the idea of a Statement of Community
Involvement in the Local Development Framework (4.22), although
we are wary of consultative exercises which although more widespread,
do not allow for a fundamental and decisive input such as can
be achieved by local groups via the examination in public of development
plans. Meaningless consultation is leeching out the lifeblood
of democracy, leaving people disillusioned, sceptical and at worst,
disengaged from the democratic process. The proposals in paragraph
4.26 on options for real participation therefore are very welcome,
and we particularly welcome the idea of an inspector's decision
being binding on the local authority rather than merely advisory
as at present.
We welcome the idea of Planning Portals (5.12),
although we are concerned about how genuine consultation can be
based on the computer screen, when a 1:500 plan showing the kind
of detail necessary to understand the development proposal will
often be on sheets up to A1 in size.
We very much regret the decision in the Green
Paper not to introduce a third-party right of appeal, which seems
to us a progressive and democratic move which would have befitted
a liberal Government. We would commend to you the report "Third
Party Rights of Appeal in Planning" prepared by CPRE, RSPB,
Friends of the Earth, Civic Trust and others (January 2002). This
sets out suitable safeguards against frivolous third-party appeals,
and we are dismayed at the dismissal of the rigorous case, which
has been made.
Repeatedly in the Green Paper, we see a Government,
under the regrettable influence of business lobbying and market-forces,
turning away from a democratically accountable planning system,
in favour of the single goal of speed. This seems an entirely
false goal: what is needed is quality. If quality is lacking,
delay will naturally ensue but it is not in itself the problem.
Delay has been made into a paper tiger much as consultees have:
what is wrong with delay if a proposal is objectionable or controversial?
Delay is the space in which public accountability and public participation
take place: why is the Government so set on attacking that rather
than the poor quality of far too many development proposals?
The urban renaissance
Good planning should be completely bound up
with good architecture and good landscape design. The three are
complementary arts. Planning has a key role in the urban renaissance:
its fundamental role is to represent the public interest against
the ad hoc forces of the free-market. We agree that the
system has become clogged and that planning often fails to have
this constructive, partnership role. However, we disagree with
the Green Paper's targeting of delayit is a symptom not
the cause of planning's problems.
We are concerned that the Green Paper does not
acknowledge the enormous problems being caused in the planning
system by a lack of proper resources. Planning is a service to
the community and ought to be funded as such. Like all public
services it has been run down as a matter of successive Governments'
policy, determined to ease the burden of taxation, to lift constraints
on the market and to centralise power in Whitehall.
The Green Paper fails to recognise that most
of the problems in the planning system are to do with insufficient
staffing, inadequate training opportunities, demoralisation and
low esteem. In only two county authorities are there historic
landscape officers, and there are none in any district or unitary
authorities. The opportunities for officers to train up in this
field are extremely limited by training budgets. Specialist knowledge
on the historic environment tends to reside at county level (many
district and unitary authorities do not employ a conservation
officer at all) and with the abolition of structure plans we are
concerned that this resource may also come under threat.
The absence of any recognition of the enormous
achievements of the planning system in protecting the environment
and improving quality of life in this Green Paper is particularly
mean-spirited and unfair. Despite some valid points and some good
proposals, it is over all a shocking betrayal of a democratic
and essential public service, albeit one suffering from acute
and chronic problems of under-funding, to the vested interests
The Green Paper contains an unwarranted and
ill-founded attack on statutory and non-statutory consultees:
we suspect there is no rational basis for the proposal to cut
them, only prejudice and an easy target.
A new system of development planning must address
the risk of planning free zones, whether those outside Action
Plans areas, or inside Business Planning Zones.
The proposal to determine the "principle"
of major development projects in Parliament is retrograde and
undemocratic and should be firmly dismissed.
Proposals for reform of planning obligations
must include open space, and its management in their focus, as
well as affordable housing.
We have doubts whether the new system of PPG's
will result in greater clarity.
We deplore the simplistic emphasis on tackling
delay (a business perspective) when the real problem is poor quality
Much of the Green Paper will militate against
real public involvement and fail to protect the public interest
against ad hoc market forces. The need for strong, well-resourced
planning is as urgent now as it has ever been.