Memorandum by North Yorkshire County Council
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
North Yorkshire County Council is pleased to
assist this Inquiry into the proposals in the Planning Green Paper
and invites the Committee to consider its evidence which is based
on long experience in the preparation, review and adoption of
development plans and in the process of preparing regional planning
Evidence is given on three of the matters highlighted
by the Committee as follows.
1. THE EFFECTIVENESS
The following comments assume that the term
"local plans" refers to all parts of the current statutory
development planie structure plans, districtwide local
plans, unitary development plans and minerals and waste plans.
The Current System
The speed and effectiveness of the present system
is constrained by virtue of the raft of regulation proscribing
the preparation and adoption of the development plan in respect
of all its component parts. It is impossible to adopt plans quickly
under the present system because legislation and the democratic
process simply do not allow it. However quickly a local authority
is able to prepare its plan, including carrying out appropriate
consultation, an equivalent or greater amount of time is likely
to be expended going through the complicated and extensive statutory
processes leading to adoption.
Structure plans are generally capable of being
progressed more quickly than local plans due as much to the streamlined
examination in public procedures as to the fact that they address
essentially strategic issues.
There appears to be no criticism of the structure
plan process in the Green Paper. The Government's own research
into the effectiveness of structure plans carried out in 1999
concluded that they have proved capable providers of strategic
policy and direction for district authorities in respect of land
use issues such as housing and employment land requirements and
environmental protection. It also concluded that weaknesses identified
in the research related more to the under-performance of structure
plans as a wider strategic vehicle than to any damming condemnation
of their land use policy content.
Crucially the authors commented that while it
might be easy to abandon the structure plan as an instrument of
planning policy it is likely to prove less easy to develop, legislate
for and implement an effective alternative statutory instrument
that can offer strategic land-use and other appropriate policy
detail that might be lacking in RPG but which could also offer
the clear strategic vision that is so often absent in land-use
Counties have a creditable track record of producing
structure plans. There is national coverage of plans and many
have been reviewed or substantially altered/updated on several
The position on local plans is very different.
There are numerous district councils that have yet to deliver
even their first Districtwide Local Plan and many more where adoption
of plans has occurred only in the last year or so.
The efficiency and effectiveness of the local
plan system is hugely compromised by the amount of detail they
tend to contain and the fact that they provide policy guidance
for every part of the district. It has long been the view of the
County Council that there is no real need for such a comprehensive
approach. National, regional and structure plan policy guidance
is capable of providing a more than adequate policy context for
development control decisions in many areas, particularly rural
areas, where little or no change in circumstances is likely over
the period of the plan.
It is also the case that individual local plans
tend to include policies, which essentially seek to achieve the
same ends, as local plans prepared for neighbouring areas with
the same characteristics and/or problems. These could be addressed
more than adequately by a single policy in the structure plan
or in some cases by national or regional policy guidance.
An unnecessarily comprehensive approach runs
the risk of hugely inflating the number of objections needing
to be addressed at the local plan inquiry (LPI) and the overall
time taken to progress a plan to adoption. At the very least it
requires time and effort to be put into trying to resolve objections
prior to the LPI.
The Green Paper Proposals
The County Council has accepted that significant
change is needed to many aspects of the planning system but does
not consider the Green Paper proposals relating to the development
plan system to represent a simpler or better focused model than
the existing one.
The Green Paper has been prepared in haste.
While it is judgemental the analysis of the problems is shallow
and flawed and there is no consideration of the potential for
the current system and its processes to be modified and streamlined
in order to achieve the objectives being sought. In short the
Green Paper provides little to get to grips with at this stage.
No evidence is advanced that counties have failed
to deliver in their role as strategic planning authorities. The
Green Paper is in fact silent on this issue. It is not however
the County Council's purpose to defend the retention of structure
plans but to ensure that any replacement system represents is
better and more responsive than the one it replaces. This does
not appear to be the case with the Green Paper proposals.
There is a need to get away from the philosophy
that one size fits all situations and to recognise that different
areas and different combinations of problems and opportunities
require different solutions. In the County Council's view the
proposals constitute a serious erosion of strategic planning and
leave a sizeable void between regional and local plan making.
The County Council accepts the proposal to make
Regional Guidance statutory and to change its name to Regional
Spatial Strategy (RSS). It does not accept that the RSS should
contain an increased level of sub-regional prescription in two-tier
areas or deal with site-specific matters. To do so would seriously
undermine the principle of subsidiarity and result in greatly
diminished accountability. County councils are currently accountable
to their local population for strategic decisions taken sub-regionally.
People very often find it difficult/impossible to identify with
remote "regional bodies". This is particularly important
given that regional bodies are likely to remain non-elected bodies
in many regions. The RSS should be constrained to those issues
needing to be addressed at regional level.
This is an area of particular weakness in the
Government's proposals. At the moment and for the foreseeable
future, structure plans offer policy guidance at a level between
the regional and the local. The Green Paper gives examples of
the sorts of areas that may require sub-regional planseg
cross-boundary problems of planning in major conurbations and
areas of major growth or change. It envisages that this highly
selective approach to sub-regional planning would become the responsibility
of the regional planning bodies and be taken out of the hands
of local government. On the basis of the criteria set out in the
Green Paper it is to be expected that there would be no need for
sub-regional plans to be identified in North Yorkshire.
Cross boundary issues arise at all levels but
it is obvious that the smaller and more local the planning unit
becomes the greater the probability that such issues will arise,
each requiring joint inter-authority solutions. In shire counties
the abolition of the role of county councils in this sort of work
could lead to a multiplication of separate, and perhaps rival,
arrangements and remove a level of overview and co-ordination
what is still needed.
Major issues such as determining the inter-district
distribution of housing and employment land, integrated planning
in river catchment areas and planning for areas such as Greater
York all require the sort of planning co-ordination that county
councils have been able to deliver successfully for many years
and which the Green Paper singularly fails to recognise.
Local Development Frameworks
The Green Paper asks whether the counties should
have a role in assisting regional and district authorities in
preparing plans and should continue to have a central role in
preparing and reviewing development plans. The County Council
is prepared in principle to accept the abolition of structure
plans but would wish such acceptance to be clearly linked to recognition
that county councils have statutory responsibility for preparing
Integrated Development Frameworksas opposed to Local Development
Frameworksas the sole tier of development plan below the
regional level and that they should have a duty to develop working
arrangements with district councils for the purpose.
Concentrating spatial development decision making
at county level would have significant benefits. It would:
retain inputs to regional planning
at the level best able to negotiate on behalf of the whole county;
release district councils to concentrate
on Action Plans;
avoid the confusion of having a multiplicity
of strategies for small areas;
limit "nimbyism" in dealing
with big planning issues;
build on the county role as lead
authority for RPG; and
maximise potential for county/district
In finding a successor to structure plans and
local plans the emphasis needs to be less on whether counties
or districts should prepare LDF's to the exclusion of the other
and more on using the resources of both to the best advantage.
This approach reflects the position of the County
Councils Network within the Local Government Association. It makes
proposals to address the "void" in the Green Paper between
the regional and district levels and attempts to promote better
integration between land-use and other key strategic planning
processes such as transport at the county level. For many parts
of large, primarily rural, counties this would be the only level
of planning required.
2. THE ROLE
Regional Spatial Strategies will establish the
context within which Local Development Frameworks or, as the County
Council would prefer, Integrated Development Frameworks drawn
up at county level are to be prepared. It will be important therefore
that the RSS is properly integrated with other regional strategies
such as the Regional Economic Strategy prepared by the Regional
Development Agency. It should not however seek to establish control
over the actions and decisions of other agencies by being too
prescriptive, detailed or site-specific.
Particular attention will need to be given to
overcoming the potentially very large democratic deficit in the
preparation and adoption of the RSS. As already noted regional
planning bodies are and will remain non-elected bodies in many
regions. Local people currently feel distanced from the regional
body and unable to contribute in any effective way to the process
of preparing the RSS. Sub-regional strategies should be owned
by the responsible local authorities. There is also concern about
the potential lack of knowledge at regional level of the particular
problems and issues arising in discrete sub-regional areas. Local
authorities have their finger on the local pulse and are in a
much better position to respond to local problems and concerns.
3. WHETHER THE
The emphasis placed on regional plans and "criteria
based" Local Development Frameworks in the Green Paper could
make real community participation in plan preparation more rather
than less difficult to achieve. Increased plan making responsibility
for regional bodies is likely to reduce the sense of local ownership
of strategic planning and increase remoteness from decision-making.
Thus one half of the proposed new development plan system would
become more distant from local communities which would be expected
to concentrate mainly on detailed local matters after the important
major spatial decisions have been taken at the higher level.
The enhanced community participation sought
by the Green Paper is particularly applicable to site-specific
Action Area plans. Structure plan experience suggests that it
will be more difficult to apply some techniques in dispersed rural
areas, particularly when preparing the more general criteria based
LDF's. In such areas more traditional methods might be most appropriate
including area committees, focus groups, exhibitions and consultative
documentation and meetings.
There is a conflict between the Government's
wish to encourage more and better community engagement while at
the same time speeding up the processes of plan preparation and
adoption and reducing rights in respect of major infrastructure
projects. There is no explanation in the Green Paper of how this
will be resolved. Although the two strands are not irreconcilable
a great deal more thought needs to be given to establishing where
the balance should be struck.
Everybody, and not just the business community,
needs access to a system and processes that command public confidence
and are fair open and accountable. The system needs to understand
the needs of businesses and to respond efficiently to their reasonable
demands. However it also needs to protect communities and the
natural and built environment and to champion sustainable development
and sustainable development practices. As in all things it is
a matter of balance.
North Yorkshire County Council