Memorandum by Suffolk County Council (PGP
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
1. Suffolk County Council has made comments
to the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions
on the Planning Green Paper and its "daughter documents".
This paper is consistent with those representations but focuses
on the issues highlighted by the Committee in its Press Notice
of 31 January 2002. In addition, by way of example it looks at
what would be the practical consequences for the strategic planning
of one part of Suffolk if the Government's current proposals were
2. It is recognised that the process by
which local plans have to be prepared, and in particular the form
of the local plan inquiry, means that they can consume a considerable
amount of a council's staff and financial resources and take an
excessive amount of time before they are completed. However, the
Green Paper's proposed replacement, the Local Development Framework,
while intended to be "succinct", will not have the comprehensive
coverage and level of detail currently in local plans, especially
in areas not covered by Action Plans. Additional detail and coverage
is essential to increase the speed and predictability of decision
making on planning applications, which the Green Paper is trying
to achieve. On the basis of current details, LDFs will not add
certainty for businesses, investors and the public.
3. Despite the Government's intention of
providing "shorter, better focused, plans at the local level",
the Green Paper identifies at least eight different types of action
plan, virtually all of which would be required in any district
experiencing development pressure. With multiples of certain types
of these action plans (eg area master plans, village plans), the
planning framework for a district could become complicated for
the public to understand and the council to prepare and implement.
In addition, there is the danger that the important inter-relationships
between different elements of land use will be lost in a series
of plans prepared over a period of time.
4. The vast majority of the strategic planning
work currently undertaken by County Councils would in future rest
with regional planning bodies and the Secretary of State. By making
the process more remote from the communities it affects, it will
make adequate involvement and consultation more difficult and
increase the sense of policy being imposed. This is not consistent
with the principles of local leadership expressed in the White
Paper on Local Government.
5. The gap between the two levels of planning
at regional and district level would be substantial. To prepare
an assessment of regional and sub-regional issues, and in particular
to distribute housing provision to, for example, the nearly 50
Districts in the East of England, will require a high level of
knowledge, analysis and local involvement. County Councils have
historically fulfilled this role and have provided the main support
for the Regional Planning Body. Without a statutory plan-making
role, it is unlikely that County Councils would retain the level
of information and expertise to support the regional planning
bodies in the preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies or to
contribute to Local Development Frameworks. A limited number of
sub-regional strategies are expected. However, these would not
cover most of the region and it is not clear how they would be
managed and progressed.
6. As a practical example of the difficulties
that may follow the implementation of the Planning Green Paper
proposals and of the uncertainties that it still leaves, we have
drawn on the situation in the Ipswich area.
7. Ipswich is the most populous town in
Suffolk and one of the largest in East Anglia. In its administrative
geography it is typical of many such towns across the whole of
England. The physical extent of the built-up area stretches beyond
Ipswich Borough itself and into three surrounding Districts (Babergh,
Suffolk Coastal and Mid Suffolk). Its commuting and retailing
hinterland runs much further than the built-up area, into the
surrounding rural area.
8. Planning for the Ipswich area is undertaken
by the County Structure Plan, which provides a strategic overview,
and by four separate district local plans. In line with its sustainable
development strategy the Structure Plan identifies Ipswich as
the prime location for growth in Suffolk. Considerable attention
was given within the Structure Plan to the distribution of new
housing growth between the four different districts which share
Ipswich's built-up area, and a single location was selected for
major development which was considered to offer the greatest opportunities
to meet housing needs in a sustainable way. The Members involved
in this process were all from Suffolk, including from the Ipswich
area, while the officers knew the area well, many having worked
on this subject for a considerable number of years.
9. The future means by which this area may
be dealt with is far from clear in the Planning Green Paper. This
proposes a "small number" of sub-regional strategies
within each region. By way of example, the Green Paper already
quotes within the East of England Region, the Thames Gateway and
the Cambridge Sub-Region. Whether this allows others to come forward
within the Region or not is still to be revealed but looking at
both eventualities, the following conclusions can be drawn:
10. Ipswich Without a Sub-Regional Strategy
Without a specific study of the area, the four districts in the
Ipswich area would have their housing provision and other spatial
elements derived as part of a region-wide exercise covering nearly
50 different districts. It is far from clear what staff and information
resources would be available to the team preparing this element
of the regional plan, but it is unlikely that they would match
that currently available locally from the County Council. Furthermore
any decision at present is taken by Members elected to serve the
county. In the future, the regional strategy would be prepared
by a panel of nominated elected representatives from across the
region (the majority without any detailed knowledge of the Ipswich
area) and stakeholders from various organisations. Ultimately
the strategy would be adopted by the Secretary of State.
11. Ipswich with a Sub-Regional Strategy
It is not clear how the sub-regional strategy would work under
the Government's proposals. It is assumed that a housing provision
figure would be allocated to the area by the regional spatial
strategy. Its division into districts would then be the subject
of a separate study where more detailed analysis of the local
situation would be undertaken. Decision-making would presumably
still be at regional panel and Secretary of State level.
12. In both cases, decision making is far
more remote from the local electorate than it is at the moment.
Local members can currently directly influence strategic planning.
Ultimately, important issues around the structure plan can affect
the outcome of local elections, allowing genuine democratic control
over major strategic decisions. It is difficult to see that this
would be possible in the future under either approach that may
come from the Green Paper.
13. As a consequence of these concerns the
County Council considers that it is important to retain strategic
planning at a level where it can be the responsibility of democratically
elected councils, possibly dealt with jointly by counties and
districts in two-tier areas, for an area which the general public
can relate to. One way of doing this would be to prepare sub-regional
strategies along the lines proposed by the Local Government Association.
14. The County Council's concerns over the
proposals set out in this daughter paper, New Parliamentary Procedures
for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects, focus on the adequacy
of the procedures for public consultation. Whilst it is in the
national interest to have modern infrastructure, it is essential
that those affected by proposed major infrastructure projects
have adequate opportunities to make their case in favour or against
such proposals and for such representations to be fully considered.
15. The period for representations to be
made after designation of a project is not generous, and if Parliament
is to make a decision in principle on the basis of full information
and the fair representation of consultees' views, a longer period
would be appropriate, at least 56 days.
16. Projects should not be designated by
the Secretary of State unless there is a prior statement of national
policy which has been subject to prior public consultation.
17. The Terms of Reference and timetable
for local inquiries should take account of the objections and
representations received on a project and be subject to a short
period of public consultation.
18. The proposals should recognise that
for some categories of development, other authorisations are required
which could override Parliament's decision to approve in principle,
eg for nuclear power stations, or installations for the reprocessing
of irradiated nuclear fuel.
19. It is suggested that, notwithstanding
Parliament's approval in principle, there may be matters, including
local environmental considerations, which could cast doubt on
the wisdom of proceeding with any project as proposed. In areas
of special designation (eg Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)
such matters should be recognised in the Terms of Reference, which
the Secretary of State sets for local inquiries.
20. Existing arrangements for negotiating
Section 106 Obligations could be improved. Within Suffolk, the
Local Planning Authorities have all adopted Supplementary Planning
Guidance relating to Section 106 Obligations which sets out how
they will conduct themselves in negotiations and gives advice
on the circumstances where contributions will be sought for social
or environmental improvements or facilities.
21. Despite this, success in achieving developer
contributions is variable and depends, amongst other things, on
the willingness of the developer to negotiate, the state of the
property market and the basis upon which a developer has acquired,
or taken an option on, land and whether there are any "extraordinary"
costs associated with the development of the site.
22. The LPA is usually negotiating with
imperfect knowledge and therefore often in a position of weakness.
A tariff based approach would assist in this respect.
23. Of particular importance to the County
Council is the process for achieving contributions towards the
cost of providing county council services, especially school places.
A detailed procedure for assessing the need for and level of developer
contributions towards the cost of school places in Suffolk has
been in operation for about two years. Whilst imperfect, it has
been increasingly successful in obtaining contributions towards
the provision of school places.
24. It would be important to ensure that
the tariffs set by District Councils adequately reflected the
needs of the County Council. It is not clear how this tariff would
be devised, for example, would the tariff cover all elements of
infrastructure required or would each element have a separate
25. At present contributions towards the
cost of County Council services are sought where justified, and
where there is a geographical relationship between the development
and, say, the school which needs to be expanded to cater for children
from that development. The proposed tariff system suggests that
money could be sought towards the overall needs within an area,
rather than being so geographically linked, which would be welcomed.
26. It will be essential for the County
Council to be consulted on the setting of tariffs, the exemptions
that might apply and how those tariffs may be spent. The Government
suggests that the local authority will decide the priority to
be attached to the services that will be funded through the tariff
27. This mirrors the current situation because
District Councils have the final say on the level and use of contributions
obtained. This can sometimes frustrate the ability of the County
Council to obtain sufficient contributions to cover the costs
of the extra demands placed upon it by new development. County
Councils should have a statutory part to play in this process.
28. It is acknowledged that certainty, participation
and speed are laudable objectives to have for the planning system,
but there are inherent tensions between them, particularly in
attempting to obtain faster decisions while increasing public
participation. For instance it is difficult to see how LDFs can
be produced in a matter of months, as sought by the Green Paper,
while at the same time public participation is increased. Paragraph
two of this paper suggests that the complex nature proposed for
LDFs, but without a comprehensive coverage, will mean that certainty
for all stakeholders will be reduced. In addition, the move of
strategic planning functions from counties to the more remote
regional level (as noted in paragraph four) will discourage public
participation in this part of the planning process.
Director of Environment and Transport