Memorandum by The Royal Town Planning
Institute (PGP 52)
PLANNING: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
1. The House of Commons Select Committee
on Transport, Local Government and the Regions has resolved to
undertake an inquiry into the Government's proposals for the future
of planning set out in the Green Paper Planning: Delivering
a Fundamental Change and the accompanying papers on Major
Infrastructure Projects, Reforming Planning Obligations and
Compulsory Purchase and Compensation.
2. The Committee is particularly interested
the effectiveness of the system of
local plans and the Government's proposals to replace them;
the role of regional planning bodies;
the procedures for scrutinising major
business planning zones;
proposed changes to planning obligations,
CPOs and compensation, and use classes;
whether the Government's proposals
will simultaneously increase certainty, public participation and
faster decisions, particularly for business; and
planning's contribution to the urban
3. This submission seeks to comment briefly
on each of these topics. The Institute's full and considered views
on the proposals in the Green Paper were submitted to the Department
for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on 18 March. It
is understood that that response will be made available to assist
the Committee's inquiry if it so wishes.
4. The Institute has generally welcomed
the Green Paper. It represents the first comprehensive review
of the planning system in over 30 years. It has raised the profile
of planning, and engendered debate both within and outside the
5. Despite the assertion in the Green Paper
itself, the proposals relating to development control and processing
of planning applications fall far short of a fundamental change,
and many may feel that this represents a missed opportunity. This
is not true of the proposals for development plans, which see
the abolition of structure, unitary development and local plans,
in order to start with a fresh development plan system. There
is, however, much hard work ahead if we are to ensure that this
new system meets the Green Paper's aspirations for it. It would
be a pity if the opportunity to make a real change were to be
lost in the haste to get new legislation on the statute book.
6. The Institute identified two significant
omissions from the Green Paper:
the idea of a statutory definition
of the purpose and duty of planning; and
any proposal for the preparation
and maintenance of national spatial planning framework.
7. In the Institute's view, the forthcoming
legislation, needs to address purpose and duty in order to ensure
that the wider functions of spatial planning are properly sanctioned,
and to situate the public activity of planning in relation to
Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. It therefore needs to address
purpose in terms of:
promoting the economic, social and
environmental benefits of an area; and
addressing the spatial implications
of any proposals as they relate to economic, social and environmental
considerations, with regard to the United Kingdom as a whole,
as well as to the area concerned, and over the short, medium and
This should be given effect, as a duty, through
a requirement that these outcomes should be evaluated and pursued
by all relevant authorities unless material considerations indicate
8. The need for a national spatial planning
framework is returned to below (see paragraphs 18 and 21).
9. Despite identifying these particular
omissions, the Institute is not joining the ranks of those critical
of the absence of detail from the Green Paper. Rather, it sees
the Green Paper as a framework for a revitalised planning system,
fit for purpose in the twenty first century. It is happy to work
with the Department in putting flesh on the bones of the proposals.
The effectiveness of the present system of local
plans and the Government's proposals to replace them
10. The Green Paper proposes to replace
structure and local plans with a single planning documentthe
Local Development Framework (LDF). In reality, this will be a
portfolio of plans and will cover two distinct tiersthe
Statement of Core Policies operating at district-wide level, and
Action Plans for the detailed planning of smaller, local areas.
The Government's contention that it is removing a tier of plans
(ie structure plans) from the development plans hierarchy is not
strictly accurate. Moreover, the LDF is likely to prove a very
complex document, unless care is taken in detailing the Green
Paper's proposals. This is returned to in paragraph 14, below.
11. In the Institute's view, the Green Paper
is too quick to denigrate the existing system of development plans.
While much of the criticism can be supported, there are positive
aspects that go unrecognised by the Green Paper. A very large
proportion of England is now covered by development plan policies
and proposals. These may be too comprehensive, too detailed, have
cost too much to put in place, over too long a period, and may
now be nearing the end of their shelf life, but they do provide
a robust launch pad for the new Local Development Frameworks.
Without the availability of all this earlier groundwork, preparation
of the first LDFs would be very hard work.
12. There is a view, held by many interests
in planning, that just as much could be achieved by a radical
review of the present system and process and that this, in providing
continuity, would be much less disruptive. On balance, the Institute
has concluded that a complete new development plan systemdevoid
of the baggage of the oldis the better way forward, but
it does not underestimate the work involved in ensuring that the
new system meets the Green Paper's expectations of it.
13. The Institute agrees that the underlying
principles of the Local Development Framework make a lot of sensebroad,
almost strategic policies for much of the district, which should
be robust enough to stand the test of time, and detailed plans
only for speedy implementation in areas of change. Overall, this
should be a much quicker and efficient process than the present
requirement to prepare, and keep under review, a detailed plan
for the whole of a district. The devil, as always is in the detail,
and the Institute has been invited to work with the Department
in addressing this detail and producing a system that is as efficient,
effective and comprehensible as the Green Paper seeks. There is
some way to go.
14. The biggest concern is the potential
complexity of LDFsand this against a background quest for
simplicity. At face value, the LDF, typically prepared by a single
district planning authority (though there is likely to be provision
for joint preparation) will consist of:
part district-wide policies;
a key diagram showing locationally-specific
an Ordnance Survey-based map showing
Action Plan boundaries and other site-specific designations and
a series of statutory Action Plansdetailed
development plans for small areas, or topic-based plans for larger
areasto the adopted as part of the development plan; and
a series of non-statutory Action
Plansdevelopment briefs, design briefs or conservation
area plansthat will not form part of the statutory development
plan, but will be material considerations in the determination
of planning applications.
As presently conceived, the LDF is likely to
be difficult for professionals to understand, let alone the community
at large, and attention must be focused on reducing this complexity.
15. The Green Paper makes much of greater
community involvement in plan making (and in the decisions on
major planning applications). The Institute believes that many
LPAs have a good track record in consulting their communities
and other stakeholders on local plan proposals. Certainly, consultation
and participative processes have much improved in recent years.
It is unclear at this stage how the Statement of Community Involvement
will work, and whether the Government's references to "community
engagement" mean anything different from current best practices.
16. In the context of community involvement,
the other major issue to be resolved is the means of testing the
various plans that will make up the LDF. The Green Paper stresses
the importance of plans remaining up to date and their continuous
review, but this is at odds with testing and certainty. The Institute
favours examination-type testing for all but the site-specific
proposals in Action Plans, where a more formal inquiry will be
required to protect property rights. This, in turn, returns to
the old issues of the right to be heard and whether the Inspector's
recommendations should be binding.
The role of regional planning bodies
17. The Institute welcomes the Green Paper's
proposals for strengthened regional planning through new Regional
Spatial Strategies (RSSs), which it sees as a major advance on
the present regional planning guidance (RPG). The aim to make
both regional planning bodies (RPBs) and the regional planning
process more inclusive, and more representative of the full range
of regional interests, is strongly supported. This is required
whether or not there are directly elected regional assemblies
since there are still questions of how effective consultation
can be engineered at the regional level, of how "difficult"
decisions will be approached in practice, of staffing for preparation
and, equally importantly, monitoring of the RSS, and of funding.
Inevitably, however, these proposals will have to be set in the
context of the forthcoming White Paper on regional governance,
having regard to the need for democratic accountability.
18. The Government has been critical of
RPG. In particular it has complained that RPBs have avoided the
difficult decisions on distributional issues, either between or
within regions, such as the balance between people and jobs. One
reason has been the parochial attitudes of the indirectly elected
members of the RPB, where there are few able or prepared to take
a genuinely regional view on the major issues. The second reason
has been the absence of any guidance from a national spatial framework.
It is impossible to determine inter-regional issues outwith a
national framework. Similarly, regional planning needs a national
context on major infrastructure proposalssuch as airport
and port development, the north-south high-speed rail route, or
the strategy for rail freight.
19. The current standard regions in England
are too bigmany of them could form three or four functional
regionsand do not form coherent areas for spatial planning.
The proposed abolition of structure plans (and unitary development
plan part Is) leaves an enormous gap between these large regions
and the district-based LDFs. In the Institute's view, this makes
sub-regional strategies an essential, not an add-on as implied
in the Green Paper. For example, it is unrealistic to expect the
RPB to make allocations of the new housing requirement direct
to individual districts.
20. The Institute has identified two possible
forms for sub-regional planning:
sub-regional spatial strategies (SRSSs),
prepared alongside the RSS by the regional planning body, and
providing a strategic framework at a more appropriate scaleeg
for the metropolitan areas; or
joint LDFs, prepared by two or more
district LPAs, or in combination with the county, preferably through
a statutory joint committee.
Either arrangement could be adopted, side by
side, as might be dictated by local circumstances. It would be
a requirement for the RPB to identify and specify the proposed
arrangement(s) for the preparation of sub-regional strategies
in its RSS.
The procedures for scrutinising major development
21. The Institute is in the process of responding
to the separate consultation paper on procedures for processing
major infrastructure projects. It believes that a national spatial
planning framework is an essential pre-requisite for speedier
and more acceptable decisions. It is the absence of a spatial,
and scrutinised, national policy base that is the single greatest
defect of both the current and the proposed arrangements. Its
absence assists neither applicants nor objectors, and leaves too
many issues open to the ultimate decision-makerordinarily
the Secretary of State.
Business planning zones
22. The Institute is unenthusiastic about
the Green Paper's proposals for business planning zones (BPZs).
Their object appears to be to provide more certainty for business,
but the concept is difficult to handle and is unlikely to be capable
of widespread application. The required certainty would be available
to all prospective applicants for planning permissionnot
only to high-tech businessesif the site-specific land use
allocations of Action Plans carried with them an "off the
shelf" outline planning permission for the specified use,
or range of uses. This would take the plan-led system a step further,
and simplify consultation on the subsequent detailed planning
application by allowing this to concentrate on the detail rather
than the principle of the development.
Planning obligations, CPOs and compensation, and
23. The Government's proposals for modernisation
of compulsory purchase and compensation procedures are strongly
supported. They should greatly facilitate the process of site
assembly for regeneration projects, especially in inner cities,
where fragmented ownerships have proved to be one of the most
24. The Institute has submitted its detailed
comments on the proposed changes to planning obligations, in response
to the Department's consultation paper. The approach to improving
the process, particularly the requirements of transparency and
openness, is strongly supported. The process should ensure that
the whole package of application and obligations is before the
public before a decision is made. The Institute is delighted that
the Department has not only embraced a tariff approach, but has
also recognised the Institute as its origin. It is clear, however,
that considerable further detailed work is required before the
tariff approach can be implemented.
25. The Institute is still considering its
response to the current consultation on use classes. However,
as with the GPDO, it is clear that a fundamental review is required.
Marginal changes will be insufficient to overcome the inherent
complexity and incomprehensibility to most users of the current
Use Classes Order.
Certainty, public participation, and faster decisions
26. The Institute has drawn to the Department's
attention the inherent tensions in the quests for greater community
involvement and faster decisions. It is inevitable that increased
consultation and participation will slow the decision-making process.
Moving the main consultation input to the pre-application stage
may massage the figures for determination rates, but will not
reduce the overall time required. The Government must decide where
the greater priority lies, though ensuring that local planning
authorities are properly resourced for the job they have to do
may allow a bit of the best of both worlds.
Planning's contribution to the urban renaissance
27. As far as the Institute can assess,
there is little in the Green Paper that will have any direct bearing
on delivery of the urban renaissance. Implementation of the proposals
in the associated "daughter document" on CPOs should
facilitate site assembly for urban regeneration schemes.
28. In the space allowed, it is difficult
to do justice to all aspects of the Committee's wide-ranging enquiry,
and this submission is little more than a summary of the Institute's
views. The Institute would be happy to amplify its comments in
oral evidence, if this would assist the Committee's inquiry.