Memorandum by The County Councils Network
"PLANNING: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL
The County Councils Network (CCN) is a Special
Interest Group within the Local Government Association (LGA),
with all 35 English Shire Counties in membership. The County Councils
Network exists to promote the voice of counties within the LGA
and the values and interests of the English Counties. Together
these authorities represent 47 per cent of the population of England
and provide services across 84 per cent of its land area.
In preparing this evidence, the CCN has responded
to the seven questions which have been raised rather than repeat
the material which it has submitted to the DTLR in response to
the Green Paper. However, the CCN would wish to draw the attention
of the Select Committee to the fact that in its submission to
the DTLR it has affirmed its view that the proposals in the Green
Paper are significantly flawed and may not be workable in practice.
The CCN has used the consultation period to develop an alternative
approach which has been developed with the support of a range
of stakeholder bodies from the business, environment and community
sectors and which it considers meets all the criteria which have
been set by the Government to improve the planning system. The
CCN would commend this alternative approach to the Select Committee
and would encourage it to give consideration to these proposals
during the course of its inquiry.
1. THE LOCAL
1.1 The present system of district-wide
local plans prepared by 262 Councils (District and Unitary) has
not been effective. The Green Paper is right to portray this element
of the planning system as painfully slow. It is an indictment
that 20 years after the introduction of these plans and 10 years
after the plan-led system became mandatory 13 per cent of the
plans have still to be put in place. Because of the cumbersome
nature and turgid pace of the local plan process the intention
to set out a land use pattern looking 10 years ahead has not been
realised. At the stage of their final adoption, few plans provide
guidance beyond five years.
1.2 So the case for change in plan-making
is clearbut the Green Paper's proposals are not the right
answer. By transferring responsibility for strategic land use
planning from the 34 County Councils to the 238 District Councils
and eight Regional bodies in England and leaving Districts to
prepare both Local Development Frameworks (LDF's) and Action Area
Plans the system would become more complex and less democratic.
1.3 It is difficult to see how the Government's
aim of reducing the number of tiers of plans will be achieved
by these proposals. The system of Regional Planning GuidanceStructure
PlanLocal Plan will be replaced by Regional Spatial StrategySub-regional
PlanLocal Development FrameworkAction Plan. Given
the experience of district-wide local plans is no guarantee that
District-based LDF's would be prepared with sufficient speed to
make a real improvement to the planning system.
1.4 LDF's need to integrate land use with
other services. In two-tier areas county councils are the key
players in partnerships for economic development, lifelong learning,
AONB's waste and mineral extractions and land use, for exampleas
well as having responsibility for transport and highways. If counties
cease to have a statutory plan-making role the resultant weakening
of the link between infrastructure planning and land use would
have a serious impact on the effective implementation of planning
1.5 The Government's objective for a more effective
system of plans below regional level would best be achieved by
the preparation of Integrated Development Frameworks (IDF's) at
a sub-regional scale rather than district level. This would mean
that stakeholders would have to participate in fewer consultation
processes, there would be more joining-up with the Local Transport
Plan and economic partnerships, and district councils could concentrate
on action plans and development control in the context of binding
2. ROLE OF
2.1 The Government's position is that elected
regional assemblies would only be introduced with popular support
and where predominantly unitary local government is established.
Unless these tests are changed by the forthcoming White Paper
it is unlikely that such bodies will be achieved in most regions
in the foreseeable future. In that case, the new arrangements
for Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) would apply in the context
of a regional planning body which was unelected and democratically
unaccountable; with approval of RSS by the Secretary of State.
2.2 While this situation already exists,
the RSS would include sub-regional planning. Decisions now taken
by county councils in structure plans would be passed to a more
remote regional capital, or, more likely, to Central Government.
This is quite contrary to the assurances given by the Government
on regionalism and also conflicts with the spirit of the recent
White Paper on local government. The democratic deficit created
by this proposal is a point raised by many in response to the
2.3 The level of detail needed in the RSS
to accommodate sub-regional issues is not only likely to lead
to delays in the regional planning process but is unlikely to
be matched by the sub-regional knowledge of the regional planning
body. It is worth noting that the Government's own research on
structure plans (1999) expressed doubt that enhanced regional
planning arrangements "could fulfil an effective role in
providing an efficient, accountable and statutory system of sub-regional
strategic planning within the medium term".
2.4 Some of the most challenging and difficult
planning decisions arise at sub-regional level and some regions
cover too extensive an area to have a universally relevant regional
strategy. So an accountable strategic planning framework at sub-regional
level is a pre-requisite for an effective planning system. RSS
prepared by the present regional planning bodies is not an acceptable
3. MAJOR DEVELOPMENT
3.1 The new procedures would enable the
Secretary of State to impose a fast-track timetable on the assessment
of these projects. If applied rigidly the procedures would be
likely to speed up decision-making. However, the probability of
the public becoming involved in a process as complex as the Parliamentary
system is minimal. So the price of greater speed may be less public
involvement and discussionwith the key debate on approval
of the principle of a development moving to Parliament from a
local Public Inquiry.
3.2 Since the subsequent Inquiry would only
consider matters of detail the local perception is likely to be
that debate has been stifled and curtailed. Some of the concerns
over local consultation could be mitigated by allowing for a longer
period of representations to Parliament and by consulting on the
terms of reference etc for the local inquiries.
3.3 Whilst the procedures should be welcomed
in principle, what is missing from the Green Paper is a commitment
from Government to produce some form of national spatial strategy.
The plethora of Planning Guidance notes should be replaced by
clear and consistent national spatial policies on the key policy
issues, including housing, economic development and transport.
4. BUSINESS PLANNING
4.1 There is little evidence that the planning
system has acted as an impediment to competitiveness or that the
earlier deregulated approaches embodied in Enterprise Zones and
Simplified Planning Zones delivered significant benefits.
4.2 The intention is to apply the BPZ concept
to "low impact" development with Zones identified in
regional strategies. Despite the assertion that hi-tech companies
do not need much infrastructure, any development of regional significance
is certain to have transport impacts that a developer would be
expected to address. But if no planning permission is needed,
this infrastructure would have to be paid for from the public
purse. Moreover, it is in the economically buoyant areas that
the development market can most readily fund highways and transport
improvements (as well as community facilities).
4.3 Modern companies are also likely to
want some guarantees that the planning process would ensure that
adjoining developments are compatible with their own activities.
On this basis very tight parameters would need to be drawn up
for BPZ's. This could create as much inflexibility as conventional
4.4 We believe that it is important to spread
the benefit of economic growth. Local authorities are in the best
position to judge the location of BPZ's. These should be located
in a manner to ensure and promote the rippling out of economic
4.5 If BPZ's were linked to regeneration
initiatives they may be worthy of further consideration, but they
are likely to be few in number and offer only marginal advantages
over the mainstream planning process.
5. PLANNING OBLIGATIONS,
5.1 The proposal for a tariff-based approach
to replace the present system(s) would be a fundamental change.
It would provide more certainty, openness and transparency and
could enable contributions to be sought from smaller developments
than at present. There are however some practical concerns.
5.2 Whilst new sources of income are welcomed
by local government it is not clear whether government sees the
new tax as a net additional resource for local authorities. The
areas of greatest development pressure could be expected to benefit
significantly from the extension of developer contributions but
there could be losers as well as winners and the distributional
effects will have policy implications.
5.3 The Green Paper recognises that there
may be circumstances where contributions could be reduced or waived,
particularly if a tariff on brownfield land made a scheme unviable.
However, this raises the issue of who pays for the necessary services
and the risk that development could proceed without those facilities.
Government grant aid policy should therefore be linked to these
5.4 Whilst the priority to be given to affordable
housing is understandable, it could be at the expense of requirements
for highways and transportation or education provision. In two-tier
areas the tariff proposed would pose most problems. To avoid undermining
the delivery of such infrastructure and to provide a degree of
consistency at the sub-regional level it would be appropriate
for tariffs to be set by County Councils. This would be consistent
with the suggestion in the CCN response to the Green paper of
a County lead on Development Frameworks.
5.5 The provision for site specific variations
would certainly be essential with regard to transport where each
development will require different solutions. This will not be
an exception, since individual accesses onto the highway network
will need to be negotiated on a site-by-site basis with the highway
5.6 The overall taxation effects on the
public and private sector and on sustainable economic development
clearly require further discussion along with the practical arrangements.
Compulsory Purchase and Compensation
5.7 The proposed changes would enable authorities
to acquire land compulsorily for planning and regeneration, with
greater flexibility in the "public interest" justification
of proposals including reference to the Development Framework.
Since full planning permission would not be a pre-requisite this
should speed up the process.
5.8 The proposals to clarify the basis of
compensation should provide a more acceptable package to those
whose land is acquired and are to be welcomed.
Use Classes Order (UCO)
5.9 The aim of making the General Development
Order more comprehendible is certainly supported. On balance the
suggestion that permitted development rights could be varied locally
is not supported as it could give rise to confusion between different
local authority areas.
5.10 The idea of revising the UCO to enable
more flexibility to move between Classes without planning permission
is welcomed, provided that these changes are consistent with sustainable
6.1 The Green Paper envisages a gap between
Regional and District level plan-making which is not conducive
to certainty about long-term policy. Although acknowledging the
need for a sub-regional process, no proposals are made. It leaves
housing, frequently the single most controversial issue, to be
resolved in unspecified ways.
6.2 To give business the certainty it needs
requires a planning system with the capacity to take tough (and
often locally unpopular) decisions. This requirement is more likely
to be met by the CCN's proposal for Integrated Development Frameworks,
which would allocate firm housing totals and by linking directly
with other sub-regional strategic functions, including transport,
minerals, waste and education and would offer more certainty about
future policies for development and investment. The preparation
of only 50 sub-regional strategies, compared to more than 250
as proposed in the Green Paper should also provide a more predictable
response to development proposals.
6.3 The replacement of Local Plans with
"not overly prescriptive" criteria-based Development
Frameworks and specific land use allocations in Action Plans may
also add to uncertaintyat least until sufficient Action
Area plans are prepared.
6.4 At national level, while there is a
strong case for nationally important projects to be scrutinised
in a different way, the lack of an independent inquiry into the
principle of development and which is open to the general public
must reduce the scope for public participation. Unlike the Green
Paper, local communities may not see Parliament as a substitute
for public consultation.
6.5 The regional bodies suffer from remoteness
compared to county planning authorities. That affects businesses
as well as residents, though the inclusion of business stakeholders
in regional groupings may encourage greater private sector involvement
in the formulation of planning policy.
6.6 Removal of structure plans will not
only reduce bottom-up influence into strategic thinking at regional
level but removes the possibility of commenting on proposals at
this stage. Development Frameworks are also be likely to limit
the number and range of issues to be raised at the public inquiry
compared to existing Local Plans.
6.7 The Government's timetable for Regional
Planning Guidance is already ambitious and the widened scope of
RSS (especially if sub-regional policies are incorporated) means
that speedy approval of regional strategies is improbable. A realistic
assessment of the RSS programme needs to be undertaken.
6.8 Development Frameworks should be prepared
and updated more quickly than Local Plans. But there are three
caveats. First, the Green Paper acknowledges lack of capacity
in district councils to deliver local plans and then compounds
these problems by adding to the slowest component of the current
system. We are concerned that the proposals will further stretch
the capacity of district councils which are already overburdened.
Second, much depends on the number of new Action Area Plans which
it is proposed should form part of the Development Framework.
Third, the Public Local Plan Inquiry is extremely laborious and
the Green Paper does not make clear what form of Inquiry the Government
has in mind for Development Frameworks.
6.9 From a business point of view it is
undoubtedly the speed of development control decision-making which
is most important. In this respect it is paradoxical that the
key proposals in the Green Paper involve changes in the development
plan system. Most of the proposals for processing planning applicationsmany
of which are already best practiceshould speed up the process.
7.1 Planning involves (a) the management
of competing uses for space and (b) the making of places that
are valued and have identity. Both are fundamental to enhancing
towns and cities. This is the context for assessing the Green
Paper's proposalsthough it is only concerned with processes
and not planning policy.
7.2 Concentrating housebuilding in urban
areas and/or on brownfield land is central to Government policy
for urban regeneration. This requires both clear strategies for
new housing allocations and the ability to deliver those targets.
This will be more difficult in the absence of structure planssince
many housing land issues cross district boundaries. Ensuring that
urban sites are developed before release of further greenfield
land is already proving problematic, and under the Green Paper
this sub-regional dilemma is thrown into sharp relief.
7.3 Influencing housing density (and quality)
are also important and, again, the negotiating strength of an
urban authority will partly reflect the ability of the surrounding
rural planning authorities to apply the sequential test before
granting permission in more commercially attractive locations.
7.4 Similar issues arise in relation to
economic development. The influence of eight regional strategies
on 250 districts is unlikely to be sufficiently robust to deliver
renaissance objectivesparticularly if the economic hotspots
have the advantage of Business Planning Zone status.
7.5 Finally, infrastructure investment as
much as planning control will determine the attractiveness of
urban sites to developers. By separating strategic land use planning
from the transport planning undertaken by county highway authorities
the proposals will frustrate the integration of services which
are vital to urban renaissance.