Memorandum by The National Trust (PGP
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
1. The National Trust welcomes the opportunity
to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into the Planning Green
Paper. We have a wide ranging interest in land use planning and
considerable experience of land use change and development to
bring to bear on the Government's proposals.
2. The Trust recognises the need for improvements
to the planning system to improve both the quality of its outputs
and the efficiency of the process for all concerned. We welcome
the Government's interest in reform but have serious concerns
about the rationale that lies behind the Green Paper and its daughter
documents, and the proposals relating to forward planning and
major infrastructure projects in particular. The Green Paper does
not do enough to acknowledge the massive contribution land use
planning has madeto countryside protection, regeneration,
community involvement, improved transport accessibility, resource
management and economic prosperityand our analysis of the
Green Paper suggests that despite a number of welcome proposals
Lacks a strong evidence base, especially
in relation to the proposals to abolish Structure Plans and the
underlying yet misguided assumption that land use planning is
a barrier to economic productivity.
Fails to recognise the importance
of the planning process in securing public acceptance of sometimes
controversial land use change and development and its role in
Lacks a clear purpose for planning
from which to develop proposals for reform.
Fails to recognise that public participation
and public rights go hand in handthe Green Paper recognises
the importance of effective public participation but removes or
fails to provide the rights needed for communities to ensure independent
and effective scrutiny of decision making, including through removal
of the right to be heard at local inquiry and resistance to a
carefully defined third party right of appeal.
3. A summary of our recommendations to the
Government is taking forward the Green Paper in provided in Annex
4. The rest of our evidence is structured
around the issues of particular interest to the Committee.
(1) LOCAL PLANS
5. The Trust is a strong supporter of the
plan-led system and universal coverage of development plans. We
recognise the effectiveness of the system introduced by the Planning
and Compensation Act 1991 has been seriously hampered by the unacceptably
slow rate of preparation and review of district-wide development
plans. This owes more to a lack of political priority, starvation
of resources and a declining skills base in local planning authorities
than a failure in the procedures.
6. Recent years have been notable for a
lack of strong political leadership on the importance of land
use planning. It has been bypassed in the development of Government's
proposals for local strategic partnerships, community strategies
and other regeneration and land use measures, and the main focus
of political discussion has been on the impact of planning on
business and productivity. This culminated in the Green Paper
being launched by the Chancellor shortly after the General Election
at an event where the Secretary of State for Transport, Local
Government and Regional Affairs was not present.
7. The Trust is concerned that the proposed
Local Development Frameworks will replace district-wide, map-based
policies with a potentially threadbare set of policy criteria.
This will fail to engage local communities, leave large areas
of the country with the flimsiest of planning policy frameworks
and promote greater uncertainty for developers. It will simply
be impossible to plan effectively in such circumstances. We commend
the proposals for more detailed Local Development Plans contained
in the National Assembly of Wales consultation paper which will
retain proposals maps and a right to be heard at a local inquiry.
This needs to be backed by clear policy guidance, a clear and
enforced timetable for preparation and review and additional statutory
requirements on the content of development plans. We believe that
such an approach strikes a better balance between content and
speed of preparation and review.
8. We are also concerned by the proposed
abolition of County Structure Plans. This leaves too large a gulf
between regional and local planning and risks disenfranchising
community interests from engaging in strategic policy development.
The new sub-regional framework needs to be both universal in its
coverage and as effective at engaging community interests as Structure
Plans if it is to provide a substitute. County councils also need
to retain a statutory role in forward planning, at a regional,
sub-regional and local level, if they are not to haemorrhage skilled
9. The Trust welcomes the proposals to place
regional planning on a statutory footing and the move towards
more integrated spatial strategies. The quality of the process
of preparing and implementing Regional Spatial Strategies will
be critical, especially given the long term lack of direct accountability.
The RSS should be a lead regional policy document with the Regional
Economic Strategy and other regional policies required to work
within the framework it provides. It is important, therefore that
the RSS is prepared by the Regional Assembly, and the Regional
Development Agency is identified as just one, albeit important,
(3) MAJOR DEVELOPMENT
10. The Trust remains unconvinced of the
merits of the Government's proposals to use Parliamentary procedures
as a means of scrutinising major development projects. These will
ultimately be self-defeating, as the lack of effective community
involvement in debates over the principle of major development
will cause friction and ultimate rejection of proposals by local
communities on the ground. The case for major change is unproven
and only a handful of public inquiries into major development
have lasted more than three months in the last few years.
11. We welcome other aspects of the Government's
proposals in this area, notably to improve the inquiry process
and to produce clear statements of national policy in areas where
development is of national significance. This should provide the
clear national lead on development projects of national significance,
establishing a national need (or otherwise) for development but
not specifying location. Parliament is singularly ill equipped
and insufficiently resourced to provide the kind of detailed scrutiny
required and the Government has already undermined public faith
in its proposals by admitting that decisions will be whipped.
It is also unclear that the Government has even considered the
implications of the proposals for the Trust's power to declare
12. We urge the Committee to consider the
following improvements to the Government's proposals, assuming
that some form of Parliamentary procedure is introduced:
A drastic reduction in the range
of development projects considered eligible under the new procedures
so that the number considered is no more than 2-3 per year.
A step change in the capacity of
Parliament to scrutinise major developments along the lines proposed
by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
A Parliamentary debate over the national
policy statement (eg White Paper) regarding the need for development
as an alternative to Parliamentary scrutiny of the location of
Scope for a local inquiry Inspector
to require the Government/Parliament to reconsider the need for
development if local scrutiny raises issues of more than local
13. The Trust views the proposals for Business
Planning Zones as a non-starter. The proposition is based on a
false perception that land use planning policies are an obstacle
to necessary growth and development. The proposals stand out as
the most blatant example of distortion of the planning process
in the Green Paper and could establish a precedent for further
weakening its integrity elsewhere. The crude nature of the proposal
is reflected in the assertion that every region should have a
Business Planning Zone prior to any assessment of need or merit.
We also see an inconsistency in the proposals that require qualifying
business to be "low impact" in terms of housing demand,
infrastructure requirement or environmental impact. By definition
this would exclude precisely the kind of development it appears
the Government would have in mind, such as the development of
high technology industries around Cambridge, which have fuelled
both housing demand and traffic growth.
14. We urge the Committee instead to address
the economic benefits of the planning system for business. We
are disappointed by the assumption underlying the Green Paper
that the process of planning is having a significantly negative
impact on economic productivity. This lacks any convincing evidence-base
and fails to recognise the economic benefits of managing land
use change and protecting a high quality environment. Developing
the nation's competitive advantage in the future will "focus
on increasing and realising the potential of all localities"
and regions "building on their own indigenous strengths"
(Gordon Brown MP and Patricia Hewitt MP writing in the Foreword
to Productivity in the UK: 3The Regional Dimension HM Treasury
2001). Maintaining and enhancing environmental quality and regional
and local distinctiveness is central to this and the land use
planning system plays a vital role in safeguarding such resources
for economic as well as social and environmental benefit.
15. The Trust welcomes the proposed refocusing
of planning obligations around the objective of sustainable development
and the proposals to increase both transparency of process and
access to information. We have serious reservations, however,
about the move to a tariff based system and the intention to break
the link between the use of planning obligations and the direct
impact of the development. This could have the effect of significantly
distorting the consideration of development proposals, with local
planning authorities becoming as interested in the potential income
to be derived from the tariff as the planning merits. In the absence
of any safeguard such as a third party right of appeal against
departure applications this could result in damaging development
and land use change driven by a concern to provide funding for
local authority services which bear no relation to the development
and which should be resourced in other ways. In a worst case scenario
a cash strapped local authority would become reliant on development
to fund local service provision at the expense of longer term
planning policy considerations.
16. An alternative approach, which would
allow planning obligations to be used to help achieve strategic
as well as local policy objectives, would be to strengthen the
policy base for obligations in development plans and use this
as the starting point for negotiation. This would allow for open
discussion during policy development and clearly set out the local
planning authority's expectations in advance of a planning application
being submitted. A policy based approach would have the advantages
of Alternative Option B as set out in the consultation paper in
terms of flexibility while providing necessary certainty and the
transparency needed to ensure consistency between authorities.
17. The Trust broadly welcomes the approach
to making compulsory purchase a more positive and practical instrument
in managing land use change and promoting regeneration.
18. In the Trust's view, the planning system
is one of our key public policy mechanisms for mediating land
use change and development in the public interest and for moving
toward more sustainable patterns of development and living. It
provides not only a means of regulating "development"
in the public interest but also of integrating public policy objectives
within a long term land use framework and for engaging communities
in the process of change and development. The Green Paper does
not effectively recognise these different roles and, as a result,
we believe it will not meet its own objectives of "a better,
simpler, faster, more accessible system that serves both business
and the community" (Forward, Planning: delivering a fundamental
19. The Green Paper appears confused over
the difference between providing for public participation in the
planning process and ensuring that the public has the necessary
rights to ensure effective scrutiny. Both are necessary. There
appears to be a concern that public rights will result in unnecessary
delay when the evidence suggests most delay in planning decisions
results from development interests competing among themselves
and/or decision making within local and central government. The
Green Paper also underestimates the benefits of community rights
that need only be rarely exercised to have a beneficial impact
on the quality of decision making.
20. When the loss of strategic planning
at a sub-regional/county level across the country is combined
with the risk of threadbare policy criteria at the local level
and the risk of major development being imposed on local communities
there is also a great risk of provoking public unrest about change
and development which can only heighten uncertainty for all concerned.
(7) THE URBAN
21. The Planning Green Paper lacks virtually
any substantive discussion of the purpose of planning or its policy
objectives. The role of planning in promoting an urban renaissance
depends upon a combination of:
Effective national guidancesuch
as the development of an Urban PPG in the review of the PPG seriesand
a supportive strategic policy frameworkwhere the demise
of Structure Plans would be damaging.
Integrating other public policy and
expenditure processes with the land use objectives established
in development plans.
Establishing stretching targets for
making better use of urban land in housing, industrial and other
development and reversing the urban exodus, and ensuring distribution
of housing and other numerically defined land use requirements
in development plans works with the grain of an urban renaissance.
Effective support, monitoring and
enforcement, especially by Government Regional Offices.
Availability of skills and resources.
22. The Green Paper is weak on these issues
and it is unclear how it will contribute directly to an urban
renaissance as distinct from other policy objectives.