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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1526-iv
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE
NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK
WEDNESDAY 9 NOVEMBER 2011
TRUDI ELLIOTT CBE, ADRIAN PENFOLD, NICK REEVES OBE and RICHARD SUMMERS
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 266 - 349
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee
on Wednesday 9 November 2011
Mr Clive Betts (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Trudi Elliott CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Town Planning Institute, Richard Summers, President, Royal Town Planning Institute, Adrian Penfold, author of the Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents, and Nick Reeves OBE, Executive Director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, gave evidence.
Q266 Chair: Good afternoon, and welcome to our fourth and final evidence session in our inquiry into the draft-"draft" is an important word-national planning policy framework. You are all most welcome. Thank you for the evidence you have submitted in writing so far, and for coming this afternoon. For the sake of our records, may I begin by asking you to tell us who you are and what organisation you represent?
Richard Summers: Good afternoon. I am Richard Summers; I am President of the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Trudi Elliott: Good afternoon. I am Trudi Elliot, and I am the Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute.
Adrian Penfold: Good afternoon. I am Adrian Penfold; I work for British Land, but I am not here representing British Land.
Nick Reeves: Good afternoon. I am Nick Reeves, Executive Director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.
Q267 Chair: Thank you very much. This is a national framework, and therefore, obviously, it deals with matters that affect all areas of the country, but do you think that it should have a spatial dimension to it, to reflect the fact that different parts of the country are, by their nature, very different? There has certainly been some evidence given to us that the framework assumes that you can have a common approach everywhere, and not reflect these differences in your approach.
Richard Summers: May I start on that, Chairman? The RTPI believes strongly that the national planning policy framework should have a spatial dimension. It should have a vision for areas across the country generally where housing development and business development will be proposed, and where infrastructure is required to support that development. We have argued for a decade or more for a national spatial strategy, and we hope that this will become the first signs of that.
Nick Reeves: I agree with that. Let us not forget that there are four pillars of sustainable development. The fourth one, which is often forgotten, is the local cultural dimension and heritage. That is really very important, and the framework ought to take account of it. Indeed, any future proposal for the planning framework ought to be very mindful of the local dimension and the aspirations of local people and local communities going forward.
Adrian Penfold: I do not have strong views on this, but there is a bit of a dichotomy in a world where one is trying to achieve a less centralised, more local system, and less prescription from the centre. It is perhaps not surprising that more is left to the local, and that those sorts of policies would emerge more within a local authority, or a combination of local authorities working together. City regions might be one example of that.
Trudi Elliott: One area with which we could assist local communities was if, in terms of spatial, we simply brought together all the spatial priorities that Departments already have. They exist, and bringing them together and making them more transparent will help locally.
Q268 Chair: Will you explain that a little bit further, please?
Trudi Elliott: Most Departments have at least some policies that have a spatial dimension-a geographic footprint. That might be where there is land of highest agricultural value, or big transport priorities at the Department for Transport, for example. If you put brought all those together in a spatial document, it would be very helpful to local communities, in terms of the transparency that it gives about where the Government think priorities should be. We are about to embark on a piece of work trying to do that, to see if that would assist.
Q269 Chair: This would be in addition to the NPPF?
Trudi Elliott: Yes, it would be another aspect of it.
Q270 George Hollingbery: On that issue, there is evidence out there, I think. In my area of Hampshire, we have the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire, which has made very considerable progress in showing that as a region, at a spatial level, local councils are more than capable of pooling sovereignty to make things happen. Is that a model that you can see working across the country, or will it need something grabbable?
Richard Summers: Something like that could work. Indeed, there has been experience in the past with standing conferences on planning for wider areas. The London and South East Regional Planning Conference, SERPLAN, represented, if I remember, over 100 local authorities working together. That is one way forward. PUSH in South Hampshire is an example in an area that is not so large, and in fact there is a lot to be said for it. I have worked, in what was called the sub-regional strategy for Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, on the Norfolk coast, across the boundary of two local authorities and the boundary of two counties where an overall view was needed to work out where the housing development and the business development needed to go. That is particularly the case in areas that need regeneration.
Q271 George Hollingbery: Does that not slightly contradict what you have been saying about the need for a national spatial view?
Richard Summers: I think that it works at different levels. Bringing all the planning policy statements together into one, albeit condensed-perhaps a little too much in some places; we shall perhaps come to that-you need an overall picture at the national level about the general direction of where things are going. You then need a view of what I would call the sub-regional level, or a larger-than-local level, where there are clearly cross-boundary issues that need to be worked out between authorities working together.
Q272 George Hollingbery: I will move on to the next question, as we are quite pressed for time, and I think we shall have to vote very shortly.
The Committee understands that the RTPI has done some work on the £3 billion number that was used in "The Plan for Growth" by the Chancellor last year. I do not think that this is in the public domain, and you may not wish to talk about it, but if you were able to talk about that figure and the work you have done on it, we would be very grateful.
Trudi Elliott: I am happy to. One of the things that we have been trying to understand is where the figure in "The Plan for Growth", which said, in terms, that planning cost the economy £3 billion a year, came from. "The Plan for Growth" says that it comes from a Reading university report, so I read that report and, actually, it does not have evidence about £3 billion; that refers back to the Barker report in 2006, where Kate Barker looked at these issues. In that report, she said that there is very little evidence about the costs of planning to the economy; the only study that that report could find was a 1992 CBI study, and that was looking at both planning, in the sense that we are talking about here, and major infrastructure-at that time, major infrastructure was not dealt with by planning; it was dealt with by three other pieces of legislation. It was a grossed-up figure of about £2.7 billion. We think "The Plan for Growth" is wrong. We think that there is no evidence that planning costs the economy £3 billion.
The Chancellor stood up in the House of Commons and said that we had one of the most expensive planning systems in the world, so I sent an FOI to the Treasury, because I thought that there must be some evidence that we had simply not seen. The reply I got was, "I can confirm that after a search of our record, HM Treasury does not hold any recorded information in the scope of your request". I am happy to provide you with a copy of that, if you find that it assists.
There is lots of evidence about the occupation costs of property-that is, how much it costs to occupy property in parts of the UK. In some parts of the UK-in some parts of London-it is more expensive than in other places, but that is as a result of business rates, rents and the total regulatory burden. There is simply no evidence on the costs of planning to the economy.
Q273 George Hollingbery: May I press you? It is interesting; I would say that, frankly, there is a cost of planning to the economy, and I think that that is deliberate and quite right. If you had unbridled development across the country, there would be a great many effects that would not be immediately priceable-the externalities-and some of the premium in land prices for housing and so on reflects that very premium. Is that a reasonable interpretation?
Trudi Elliott: Of course there is a cost to planning. What we are saying is that it does not cost the economy £3 billion, and I think that it is unwise to talk about the costs of planning without also talking about the benefits of planning to the economy, as you have just articulated, because there are costs and benefits.
Q274 George Hollingbery: May I test the other witnesses’ opinions on that?
Adrian Penfold: Certainly there are costs, and, for the most part, they are justified, as you say. There is a cost in not allowing housing development in the green belt. I think that most of us would sign up and say, "Yes, that is a cost worth paying." I was thinking about this earlier. There is a cost to not building tall buildings all the way across Westminster. If there was no planning control, I think that you would see tall buildings sweeping across Westminster-both residential and office-and there is a benefit from that not being allowed to happen. There is a decision to be made about how much cost society is prepared to bear to achieve those benefits.
Another angle, which I think Trudi touched on, is the benefit to developers of planning-what I would call the abattoir effect. When we build a residential, mixed-use or office development in a city, we are pretty sure that, because of planning, planning permission will not be granted for an abattoir next door, which would devalue that development. There is the whole place-shaping agenda of planning. I think that often in this debate, the positive side of planning gets lost-positive in terms of its benefit to developers.
Nick Reeves: I am really concerned about the social and environmental costs of inadequate or inappropriate planning. A terrible legacy of planning over many years is homelessness, sink estates, the selling-off of playing fields, and publicly owned spaces under threat. Those are the real costs of a certain type of planning, and of planning that has been inappropriate and inadequate in the past. We, as an institution, are looking for a new planning framework that will actually address the wider social and environmental issues.
The framework makes it very clear that the economy is right at the heart of the proposed framework. If there has to be a priority, it has to be in favour of the environment, because without a good, healthy environment, we have nothing. One of our real concerns in the past was that in planning developments, inadequate notice has been taken of requirements for water to supply homes, business and new developments. The other day in the House of Commons, the Environment Minister mentioned the River Kennet, which runs through his constituency; he was able to stand at the bottom of the river and not get his feet wet. That is not just a consequence of climate change; it is a consequence of overdevelopment.
Q275 George Hollingbery: I am sorry to stop you there, because I know we are about to run away for 15 minutes. I want to move on if I can, and I know there are other people ready to ask questions. We have evidence that process is more important than policy in terms of cost and delay. I would like a quick comment on that; how long it takes to get a planning application. But these are complicated decisions; maybe it is the right thing to do. I have had some members of industry complain to me directly that it is big developments that take a lot longer than they should to get done. Finally, perhaps for you to contemplate while we are out, should the emphasis on the economy-paragraphs 13 and 54-be reworded to rebalance the guidance?
Richard Summers: Yes, we do think that the apparent weight that is given to the economic element of sustainable development, particularly in paragraph 13, which introduces the confusing term "sustainable economic growth" after the NPPF has just carefully defined sustainable development, is not helpful. That first-among-equals tone runs through the rest of the document. We think that ought to be made quite clear, so that the mechanism is there to balance economic, social and environmental issues, not only at a national level but in local plans and each particular development application, according to the needs and circumstances of the situation.
Adrian Penfold: On the process and policy side of things, it is easy to confuse the two. It is necessary to introduce new policy and guidance, as a result of localism. As I said earlier, localism implies to me a reduction in the amount of national Government prescription, to allow local people and communities to decide what will happen. To me, that would imply changing the policy as well as the guidance.
I think the NPPF also gives guidance on how to operate localism. If one looks at the local plan section and the development management section of the document, they both deal with this new environment of localism and, particularly, of neighbourhood planning, which is new to us all. I think there is a requirement for that.
On policy-and to an extent this touches on the economic growth point-it is frankly for Government. If Government feel they want to make changes-and there are significant changes to policy in this document-they should bring the policies forward, as they have done, and argue for them. To an extent, that has been a bit confused in the way the document has been presented. Is it a reduction in policy? Is it a simplification? Is it just an exercise in précis? Or is there new policy? I think all four are in there, and a bit more clarity about which is which would be helpful.
Trudi Elliott: If I can build on that, it would be very helpful if there were a stronger narrative about how all the different elements of change that are going on simultaneously hang together. That might assist us all in navigating our way through the changes and ending up with a workable planning system, with the minimum amount of transitionary turbulence, if I can put it that way. At the moment, we have got this process, we have got the Localism Bill, we have got 15 different consultation processes going through, some of which are deeply significant to the changes, particularly on the process point. The local plan regulation consultation directly relates to the NPPF and to the Localism Bill, and that mixes both policy and big process issues.
Q276 Mark Pawsey: We have taken quite a lot of evidence on this Committee on the issue of sustainable development, and questions of definition. I do not want to go into greater depth, thank you. Each of you has said that definition needs building on-there is not enough there; people need to understand rather more what it is. Do you think that presumption will have the desired effect of stimulating economic growth and development, with more houses built? Will that be the result of introducing this concept of sustainable development?
Richard Summers: The presumption may have the effect of stimulating or encouraging local communities to accept growth-business or housing growth-and there are other mechanisms proposed in the Localism Bill to work with that. However, there are two very important threads to the proposed presumption for sustainable development. The first is actually to guide plan making. Although it is mentioned in passing in the document and at the right place, it does not come through strongly enough in my view.
Q277 Mark Pawsey: May I pick you up on that? Do you think that this presumption is there to encourage local authorities to get their plan making in place? Because the basis of the system is that we would rather see a plan-led system than the absence of one.
Richard Summers: I am just coming to that. The second point that I was going to make is that the presumption is proposed secondarily as a backstop where there is no plan or the plan is out of date or whatever. That is likely to have the effect of encouraging more local planning authorities to come forward with local plans. In my travels round the nations and regions of the UK, I am hearing increasingly from planning officers that that is what their members want to do.
Q278 Mark Pawsey: Are they therefore changing their focus? Are local planning authorities saying, "This is coming forward. We desperately need a local plan. We had better get our act together"? We hear that currently only 50% of authorities have a plan in place.
Richard Summers: Except that lots of planning authorities are marking time at the moment, because of the uncertainty that is caused by the progress of all these planning reforms that are working their way through Parliament and are before us today. That connects to the point that we make about the need for transition arrangements. The risk is that if the button was pressed on the NPPF tomorrow morning, as it is currently drafted, every local plan in the country would be immediately out of date. There needs to be a transition period to ensure that there is a smooth handover. Trudi, perhaps you would like to expand on that?
Trudi Elliott: The point I would make is that unless you have proper transition management, the objective that is in the NPPF of stimulating both the development of plans and also sustainable development could be jeopardised by the degree of uncertainty, because we know from all previous planning reform that unless you get the transition management right, the lack of certainty slows down development and means that you get less rather than more. [Interruption.]
Chair: I will suspend the Committee for 10 minutes. We will rush across and rush back and do our best to get back with you in the shortest time possible.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chair: We will go on to Simon, who will start the next section, then we will come back to Mark.
Q279Simon Danczuk: My question is very much about this phrase "significantly and demonstrably". What is your definition of that?
Adrian Penfold: I am looking at paragraph 14 and I think it does two things. It means different things in the two different places. It would help if the paragraph was separated into the local plan bit and the development management bit. In the local plan bit, it says that when you are making your local plan you should meet "objectively assessed development needs…unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits". That is absolutely right. If you are not going to meet need for housing, employment, infrastructure or whatever it is, you should have very good reasons for that. You should be able to demonstrate those reasons and they should be significant, not insignificant. The other way it is used is in development management. If you are going to refuse planning permission for something, the same test is applied. There may be a lesser test that would be applicable there. On the question of whether you meet need, you should have a very high hurdle if you are not going to meet need.
Q280 Simon Danczuk: Do you think that that gives more weight to the economic aspects of development, rather than the other social or environmental aspects of development?
Adrian Penfold: I suppose so, if you see meeting need as being economic in its nature, but one could say that it is social as much as economic. Meeting housing need with both affordable housing and market housing is a social need. I do not think that it does necessarily give more weight.
Q281 Simon Danczuk: Any other views?
Richard Summers: Chairman, there is a risk of this getting a little bit overcomplicated, because what seems to be proposed here is an additional test of adverse impact, over and above the basic need to balance social, economic and environmental considerations in judging sustainable developments in each situation. In fact, the way that you explained it just now demonstrated going back to the basis of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. We think that, actually, this is another added complication to a mechanism that could work well enough without.
Nick Reeves: It is clearly weighted in favour of economic development over all other considerations. As an environmental institution, that is our real concern. I mentioned earlier the social dimension-issues such as homelessness and sink estates-which is the legacy of planning over a long period of time. We want to see a much better definition of sustainable development that really is about the three pillars that we all know about, plus the fourth pillar of cultural identity, which I mentioned at the outset. This document is all about a presumption in favour of economic growth and development, at the expense of all other considerations. I think that is wrong.
Q282 Simon Danczuk: Briefly and finally, to you, Adrian. I have had lots of letters about the NPPF as a Member of Parliament. I am guessing that other MPs have as well. All the letters from developers and house builders have been endorsing and supporting the NPPF, while all the letters from local residents and pressure groups have been saying that the NPPF is not right and needs radical reform. Why do you think that is?
Adrian Penfold: I think the policy is more pro-growth than the current policy. There is an emphasis on economic growth, although I do not think that it outweighs it to the extent that some of the other members of the panel do, but there is a clear message there from the Government. I suspect that the initial reaction to the Localism Bill from developers was one of concern. Many developers will still have concerns that neighbourhood planning could be an excuse for nimbyism and could stop or delay development. It was seen as being potentially quite negative. A lot of us now see that it can be positive and that there are ways in which you can and should work with local communities in a positive way. There were concerns there, particularly from the house builders. To some extent the policy was seen to balance out some of those concerns.
Trudi Elliott: For me, this goes to the heart of one of the problems we have with the document currently. It is a problem that has a solution, which is that there is far too much ambiguity and far too much that can be read more than one way. If you get organisations such as the National Trust with its well-informed background and key organisations such as the Home Builders Federation interpreting the same document so fundamentally differently, that tells you that there is something wrong with the drafting. In our response to CLG, we have identified an enormous number of places where there is ambiguity, which needs to be clarified. The Government need to be clear what they want on the tin, and the contents of the tin need to match the outside.
One of the other issues is about rhetoric and reality, which Adrian has touched upon. A lot of local communities thought that localism was going to enable them to say no as well as yes, whereas the neighbourhood planning proposals in the Bill are about encouraging communities to be pro-growth and go beyond what is in the local plans. We need to be clear that the rhetoric matches what is in the document and that the document needs to be tightened up.
Q283 Mark Pawsey: I was asking whether the presumption in favour of sustainable development would lead to more development and more house building. I think that we got the views of the RTPI, but I was wondering whether we might have the views of the other witnesses.
Nick Reeves: It absolutely will. There is almost a presumption here that the environment does not matter. Environmental concerns are almost secondary, yet they are one of the three pillars of sustainable development. What we would like to see is a much clearer definition of sustainable development, with the environment taken much more seriously. Then again, it is not surprising that the environment-including climate change resilience, and associated problems such as flood risk-barely figures, because the environment professions had no hand whatever in drafting this document.
Q284 Mark Pawsey: To be clear, you think that the consequence is that the rate of economic growth will increase, and that there will be more house building as a consequence of the NPPF.
Nick Reeves: Yes.
Adrian Penfold: I think there will be eventually. I think it will take some time, because the NPPF will take time to work through, but there are policy changes in here. I have already stressed what I think is the importance of the requirement objectively to assess need, and then to meet that need if possible. That is an important move. If the five years plus 20% goes through as well, it will presumably make the five-year land supply a more viable and more achievable land supply, because you would have that 20% contingency to replace sites that fell out of the five years’ supply. I do not think that is to do with the presumption in favour of sustainable development. A lot of people seem to interpret that to mean that all you have to do is argue that your development is sustainable, and then there is a presumption in favour of it. That is not the way I read it. The presumption in favour of the local plan remains, and that is at the heart of the document.
Q285 Mark Pawsey: Absolutely. Do you agree that that will provide a real incentive for local authorities to get their local plan in place, and that perhaps planning departments have spent too much time on development control and not enough time on plan making? Will that provide an incentive for local authorities to get the plans in place? Otherwise, it will all fall back on the definition of sustainable development.
Adrian Penfold: I think it will, although actually, otherwise it falls back on the whole NPPF. That is how you test, if there is not a local plan in place, or if it is silent or indeterminate, or whatever the wording might be. You still have the NPPF to fall back on, but I think this will give local authorities an incentive. The other thing I think will give local authorities an incentive to get their local plan in place is the community infrastructure levy, because if they have not got a local plan in place, they will not be able to develop a tariff, and charge for development on the basis of that tariff. There are other incentives, but this is a key one.
Q286 Mark Pawsey: Mr Reeves, do you not think that the incentive to get the local plan in place will deal with your anxieties about the presumption in favour of sustainable development?
Nick Reeves: I certainly hope so, but forgive me if I am slightly sceptical, and even cynical. This document is almost anti-environment, and my institution is really concerned about that. We are looking to get back to basics, to have a proper discussion and to get a proper definition of sustainable development. Let us have something in here about climate change resilience, and a really clear vision of where planning will take us in future.
Q287 Mark Pawsey: Would you have preferred it if the Government had done nothing?
Nick Reeves: No. We absolutely agree that review of the planning regime is necessary, but the document as drafted is almost a lost opportunity.
Q288 Chair: I have a point for Adrian Penfold. We talked about the importance of proper needs assessments being done. Do you think there is a need for guidance from the Government to get some consistency about those assessments, from the developers’ point of view, so that when the duty to co-operate kicks in, the authority that is trying to co-operate does so on the same needs assessment basis?
Adrian Penfold: I do, and I have said so in my written evidence. I think that is one of the most important areas where the Government will need to provide guidance.
Trudi Elliott: We absolutely agree. We have done a discussion paper about how we could, on a sector-wide basis, go about identifying those areas that are so critical that we need guidance so that we do not keep having "Groundhog Day" debates and arguments about how you assess need and so on. There is quite a lot of work going on about that at the moment, because it is critical.
Richard Summers: If I may add to that, it is interesting that the strategic housing land assessments that we have been used to were mentioned in the NPPF and other documents, but the employment land reviews, which were estimating the requirements for business development, have slipped through the net of condensing planning policy statements into the NPPF. That is one of the examples of where things have got missed out. We could find ourselves wanting quite quickly. There needs to be a proper basis for assessing requirements for housing land and employment land.
Q289 Bob Blackman: Moving on to the interaction between the NPPF plan and local plans, what do you think the risks are, given that according to evidence, 70% of local authority plans are either out of date or non-existent? What are the risks that the local authorities involved will diverge quite considerably, and will have quite different sorts of local plans and therefore different standards, and will then implement quite stringent standards that might be very different in different parts of the country? What are the risks involved in that?
Richard Summers: Chairman, it is an essential element of planning that you plan according to the needs and circumstances of each particular area. What we have here in the NPPF is, if you like, a national steer on the way to do planning and the importance of sustainable development-all the things that we have been talking about-but also the freedom and flexibility for local authorities to plan according to the requirements of their local area and, indeed-thinking of the Localism Bill-according to the aspirations of local communities.
Adrian Penfold: I think that it is a risk-a risk that accompanies localism. Personally, I think it is a risk worth taking, because there is too much centralisation in planning and more localism is a good thing, basically. I read one of the other submissions, which said that there is a risk that local authorities will replace those 1,300 pages in their own local plan. Some may; others will not. Others will take a more sensible approach. As I say, I think that is a risk that one has to take and hope that it turns out sensibly.
Nick Reeves: I agree with my two colleagues. I think that is absolutely right. It is a risk worth taking.
Trudi Elliott: There are some risks attached to the local plan regulations as currently drafted, because there are some unintended consequences in there, and we think that significant work needs to be done on those regulations so that the reality is that what we are trying to do is achieved through those regulations. What we do not want is to make it more confusing and difficult, and to have unintended consequences around the regulations in relation to local plans.
Q290Bob Blackman: What do you think the impact would be if a local authority had a light-touch local plan, did not do very much, and relied on the NPPF? Do you think good planning decisions would be taken then?
Richard Summers: It is up to every local authority to come up with a workable local plan that respects the needs and circumstances of the area and the consultation with local people and local stakeholders. In that way, plans will vary from area to area. In some areas with complicated situations, you will get more complicated plans, or you should do. In other areas where things are not as complicated-perhaps they are more clear-cut-the local plans are likely to be simpler, we hope, unless, of course, as Adrian has said, they start replicating in the back of the local plan all the policy guidance that they have been relying on from county structure plans in the past and regional spatial strategies just making an exit, which they had not been allowed to repeat under the previous arrangements. They had had to rely on those policies in silence.
Trudi Elliott: Truth be told, the straight answer to your question is no, unless the ambiguities in the document are amended. There would be planning by appeal because there is so much ambiguity in the NPPF as currently drafted. That is soluble, but if it came in as it is drafted now-
Q291 Bob Blackman: So you would like greater clarity, in terms of definitions?
Trudi Elliott: I just think that the document as drafted has too many linguistic ambiguities. If it is going to be a quasi-legal document influencing both the formation of plans and, in your scenario, planning decisions, it has to be right.
Q292 Heather Wheeler: You mentioned local plans and community-led planning. You seem to have a great concern about that. That is not my experience, so why do you think that will be a problem? Why do you not think that the community can do community-led plans?
Trudi Elliott: If I gave that impression, that was unintended. What I was talking about was local plans-that is, local authority-led plans. RTPI has 35 years’ experience of working with communities on local planning through Planning Aid. Indeed, if you look at our recent engagement with Planning Aid, since June, we have had: 2,000 inquiries on our advice line; 54,000 hits on our website; increasing demand for outreach planning, plan-making support and so on; 860 people on training and capacity building in planning; and 2,112 people on outreach plan-making support. If anyone is engaged with neighbourhoods and neighbourhood planning, it is us. We have had concerns about provisions in the Localism Bill that are very complicated for local communities.
Q293 Heather Wheeler: However, what you have just put on the record is this groundswell of the public getting involved, so there seems to be an absolute opportunity for the public, with their local plans, to get involved with the neighbourhood plan. That means that the NPPF will work, which does not seem to be the great said thing.
Trudi Elliott: There are two or three separate issues there. What you need for a good planning system to work is a clear NPPF without ambiguities, which sets out the national priorities, and an up-to-date local plan, which sets out the local aspirations and priorities, both of them with a bit of vision. That is the context in which neighbourhoods can do their neighbourhood planning and, absolutely, there is a demand there, but if the NPPF is unclear and ambiguous, then what you get is dispute, legal challenge, etc., and a lack of clarity for neighbourhoods. The provisions for neighbourhood planning are in the Localism Bill, in the main.
Nick Reeves: Community-led planning will be successful and work only if local communities have extremely good guidance, which the document does not provide. This framework, as my colleague has said, is full of ambiguities. People need clear guidance, certainty and a very strong vision-that is what local communities will want to see.
Richard Summers: To answer Heather Wheeler’s question, there is both a need and an opportunity here. The opportunity is to make neighbourhood planning work. The need is to provide local communities with the supports and encouragement that they are going to need, because they will be seriously short of resources, such as human resources, experience of how to do a plan with a community-it is a complicated business-and financial resources to support what they are doing. Planning Aid provides voluntary support to help individuals and communities who are disadvantaged and cannot afford the services of a planning consultant. There is a big need out there, and a shortage of resources to meet it.
Q294 George Hollingbery: To pick one part in particular, I have met all my parish councillors over the past two weeks and one question they keep coming up with is: can you do a neighbourhood plan lite-six things that you want to do, but not the rest?
Trudi Elliott: Yes. Actually, if you go on our website, we have a very nice paper on all the things you can do in a neighbourhood now, under the existing planning system, and some of those are very light. We are at the moment translating those into very community-friendly fact sheets. The provisions in the Localism Bill-the new arrangements for a full-blown neighbourhood plan-are neighbourhood planning heavy, really, and are quite complicated. They will have added weight.
Q295 George Hollingbery: That will be a material consideration.
Trudi Elliott: But there are all sorts of ways, if you get a community engaged and want to do some things in their place. I think we got to about 20 different planning tools that communities can use to help them shape their community, from village appraisals and vision statements-
Q296 George Hollingbery: Which a lot of my parishes have. I do not want to prolong this, but can you do a neighbourhood plan lite? You do not know.
Trudi Elliott: Do you mean a neighbourhood plan in the form proposed by the Localism Bill?
Q297 George Hollingbery: Say that there are six things that you care about in a community, and there are 250 of you in a parish. You want to do the vernacular and the spacing of the high street-that is all you want to do. You do not care about the rest.
Trudi Elliott: Oh yes. At the moment the vanguards are going through, and you do not have to do everything in your neighbourhood plan. You can focus on some things, and we are hoping from the vanguards that we will see which work and which do not.
Chair: I am sorry, but time is pressing because we had the Division. Colleagues, could you ask your questions briefly? If one person answers and everyone else agrees, we will get on.
Q298 Mark Pawsey: I want to come on to brownfield sites. We recognise that land of less value should be developed first. Do you think that the provisions with regard to brownfield land are strong enough? Should the Government be more prescriptive than they are in the NPPF?
Adrian Penfold: If I can take that first, I think they ought to be strengthened and there ought to be a reference to previously developed land. The phrase, "land of lower environmental value" has confused people, and it needs to be clarified. I do not think, however, that that ought to be translated into a sequential test. There are localities where going for a brownfield site, which may well be an airfield site or factory site well outside the town-three, four or five miles outside-may not be as sustainable a solution as an edge extension, or an extension to the edge of the town, which may be on a greenfield site. Those decisions ought to be taken locally, but within a context where the NPPF is saying that the preferred solution is brownfield.
Q299 Mark Pawsey: So you are pretty happy with what the NPPF says, are you not?
Adrian Penfold: I would strengthen it by including a reference to previously developed land, because I think it has confused people.
Q300 Mark Pawsey: What do others think?
Nick Reeves: Brownfield first, absolutely.
Q301 Mark Pawsey: So stronger than in the NPPF.
Nick Reeves: Absolutely. I think there is a risk of unintended consequences with the proposed wording, because it could allow development on any bit of scruffy land, including a horse pasture and green belt, if it were taken to its extreme. That is an example of the need to tighten up the wording. "Brownfield land" or "previously developed land" is tried and tested and has worked effectively in the past. There are risks involved in taking this new definition.
Q302 Bob Blackman: Very briefly, what do you think the impact will be of the requirement for an additional 20% of land to be held above the five-year housing target, and equally, can you answer at the same time whether you think windfall sites that were not expected and predicted in the plan should be included?
Richard Summers: It is a strange formulation in my view. First of all, if you add 20% of housing land supply-I do not think the terms in the NPPF are clear by any means-immediately you put the squeeze on authorities whose urban edge is up tight against the green belt, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or an area of countryside that is valued for environmental forestry or agricultural purposes. It also puts a squeeze on the question of updating a plan, because it will take time to go through the land search, the public consultation and all the rest of it to bring the local plan up to date.
Your other question was about windfall sites. We know that windfall sites crop up from time to time. By their very nature, they are not predictable one by one, but in most areas there is a trend that you get a certain proportion of windfall sites cropping up from time to time, and I think it is strange to take that out of the mix.
Adrian Penfold: I think it is the most difficult issue to deal with in terms of transition, and I would allow a period of time for local authorities to adjust to that. I do not necessarily think you need that period of time on some of the other policy changes. The Government frequently introduce policy changes in PPSs without a period of transition, so I think this needs to be looked at on a granular basis-the whole concept of transition.
Nick Reeves: I would just like a better understanding of why 20%. It seems pretty meaningless to me. Developments should be demand-led, subject to all sorts of conditions, including environmental tests and so on, so I think the 20% is completely meaningless.
Chair: Thank you all very much indeed for coming to give evidence. We appreciate it and we are sorry for the interruption, but unavoidable things happen.
Examination of Witness
Witness: the right hon. Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for Decentralisation and Cities, gave evidence.
Q303 Chair: Good afternoon, Minister. Thank you very much for joining us. Some of us have been seeing each other quite regularly on this matter over the last few weeks, but it is nice to have you here, particularly as you invited the Committee to take evidence and hold our inquiry into this matter some time ago as part of the process of consultation.
Greg Clark: Can I just say something on that? I want to thank you and the Committee for the time that you have devoted to this. I know that you are quite an active Committee-if I can put it that way-and you report on lots of things. I know that you have fitted this into your schedule and that asking you to make suggestions as part of the process is quite an unusual thing to ask, but I am grateful to you for devoting the time to it.
Q304 Chair: Can we just try and find out from you what the intention with the reform was? We had evidence from the RTPI just before you came in, and they said that there ought to be a narrative trying to explain what was simplification, what was a change of policy and what was an attempt to get growth, and all those things are sort of mixed up in the explanation as to why the change is going to happen. Looking historically, it almost seemed as though the Government were committed localists-I am not saying that you aren’t still, but you were-and then suddenly there was the chance to produce this plan for growth, in which planning became an important part, and the dynamics seem to have changed and the NPPF came out of that approach.
Greg Clark: Well, it was always part of the plan, if you like. There was always the Localism Bill. Do we have any veterans of that Committee? Having finished-[Interruption.] No, George was not on it. Having finished its House of Commons stages, they are probably all having a well-deserved rest. But that was always part of it. Then there was always a commitment to introduce a national planning policy framework to bring together the existing planning documents. The two are linked, and let me say why.
My analysis-I think you are familiar with it-is that having a system that is very centralised and very top-down in its impositions, whatever its good intentions, which I do not decry at all, can have the effect of alienating people from the process. I shall put it that way. If they think that things are done to them, rather than them participating, it is actually likely to raise hackles and to create the wrong environment in which to plan. If I think of my 10 years as a local councillor and as a Member of Parliament, during that time there has been an increasingly antagonistic sense in the planning system. Things that ought to be consensual have become increasingly fraught. So they are connected there.
One thing that we always wanted to do was to transfer power to local communities, so the Localism Bill’s abolition of the regional spatial strategies is part of that and the introduction of neighbourhood planning is another part of that. It seems to me, however, that if you are going to give greater importance to the local plan and if you want people from every part of the community to participate in it, it does behove you to have a simpler framework. It is no one’s intention that it resulted in this, but if you have more than 1,000 pages of national policy, it is difficult-to put it no more than that-for communities to engage in producing local plans. So part of the purpose in transferring power to communities was to have a simpler planning framework in which they could put those plans together.
Q305 Chair: I am sure we will come on to some more details in a minute, but it seems to me that there is this issue of trying to square the circle of getting more growth-we will come on to that particular issue-but also local communities having the decisions that they want about planning in their areas. The presumption is that the two will actually be the same.
I was in the debate in the Chamber for part of the time the other day, and I will describe Members from your side of the Chamber standing up almost one after the other, saying that, of course, they supported your changes and the NPPF. They are Government Members of Parliament, so they will naturally support the Government.
Greg Clark: Doesn’t always happen, Chairman.
Chair: Yes, we’re not on Europe now. They then went on, one after the other, to say that this new system would of course mean that they could stop this development here and that development there and this unwarranted development that the regional spatial strategy is enforcing there. Is there not a problem in the NPPF delivering all this new localism as well as growth in house building?
Greg Clark: I think some of your witnesses have touched on this. I think these debates are often not going to be without difficulty, but they should be decided locally. They should not be decided by the inspectorate, who are very professional people and part of my responsibility, but there is a sense that if a case-as some cases are-is chased up the appeals system to the inspectorate, you have missed the chance for that to be locally owned. That is not to say-we are all constituency MPs; we know how it is-that there will not be strong views expressed, but I would rather that those views are expressed locally and worked out locally, and that locally elected politicians are accountable for the decisions that are taken there.
Q306 Chair: That presumes that you expect fewer appeals to come out of the system than before.
Greg Clark: Yes, we want decisions to be taken locally. The key feature of both sets of reforms-the Localism Bill and the simplification of the procedure-is to advantage the local planning to make it clearer that decisions are taken in line with the local plan rather than by regional strategies, vast amounts of national policy, or through both of those by the inspectorate. That is our objective.
Q307 Simon Danczuk: The impact assessment for the NPPF says that existing planning policies are a brake on growth. What evidence is there for that?
Greg Clark: Again, I know that this has been an issue of contention. Let me bring some of the evidence here. First, to take some of the formal studies done before we got into the consultation on the NPPF, I ought to say, and perhaps should have said at the beginning, that obviously since the consultation has closed and we have not responded to it-and indeed your inquiry is to advise us-what I do not want to do is to start agreeing with a particular submission and dismissing another. I think that that would be very unfair to people who have taken time to make submissions, but let me talk a bit about some of the studies that we have inherited, as it were.
The Committee will be familiar with the Killian Pretty review, which looked into the planning system. It was commissioned by the previous Government and published, I think, in 2009. Killian Pretty reflected a consensus of the various stakeholders in planning who were talking to them, including, I dare say, our colleagues behind. It stated, "equally, a consensus soon became clear that, despite considerable improvements, the process"-the planning process-"was not working well enough. Planning decisions still take longer in the UK than in other countries with which we compete internationally." The source of that is the World Bank. So that is one example.
Another example, to take a less international comparison, is the Taylor report. Lord Taylor was commissioned to do a report on the prosperity of the countryside, again by the previous Prime Minister. Again, as far I understand it, a fairly consensual document was produced. In terms of the local aspects of this, it says, "The supply of…homes, both market and affordable…in rural communities has been restricted by the planning system." In another part, it states, "Blockages within the planning system are currently hampering economic growth."
So we have inherited a number of studies that are not this Government’s studies. They are part of the acquis, if I may use a dangerously European community word. There has been a reflection that things could be better, if you take some of the evidence to the consultation on the NPPF from different groups of people. In front of me, I have the submission from the homeless charities Shelter, Crisis, Homeless Link, the National Housing Federation, which is a social housing provider, and the Chartered Institute of Housing. They say that, "Reducing the quantity of policy will help simplify the planning system…will remove a significant barrier to much needed development." That is from the social housing providers and the homelessness charities.
From business, the CBI has said that, "the pace of the planning process needs to be improved dramatically if the UK is to compete internationally." The Federation of Small Businesses says that "the application process is still far too costly and complex" for small businesses. The National Farmers Union says that, "At present, the weight of conflicting policy advice and the dearth of planning policy at local level do not lead to swift or effective decision-making." So there is a large body of evidence that causes us reasonably to think that it is time to review this. Actually, if you look at the submissions that have been made to your Committee, and indeed to me, I think there is a fair degree of consensus that it is desirable to slim down the body of guidance. A lot of the submissions have had track changes made to them, and-I should not say all, because I have not finished going through them-the ones that I have seen are suggesting a simpler approach. It seems that we are in territory where we agree that it is helpful-I would put it no more than that-to simplify things.
Q308 Simon Danczuk: In terms of delays, the DCLG’s own statistics show that 99% of planning applications are decided within a year, and that 85% of decisions are in favour of the application anyway. Why is there a need to introduce a default yes into the system, which is what the NPPF does?
Greg Clark: I do not think it does that, but I will come back to that point. On the delays, as Members of Parliament and former local council members you will know that it often is the time taken to get to the point at which an application is submitted. Again, in terms of evidence, the LSE has said, "Approval rates tell us nothing about whether planning holds back development because the rules affect both the submission and the approval rates," so that is understood. As far as the default yes goes, the principal default is in favour of the local plan and it is very important that we took a decision there. When the Localism Bill was going through, there was the opportunity to change the basis of planning law, section 38(6) of the 2004 Act, and we didn’t do that. It follows from everything that I have said so far that the most important basis for a decision is the local plan. I want to see more planning. We have too little planning and too much development control.
Q309 Simon Danczuk: You referred to evidence earlier and your concerns about the planning process. One of the big points that has been made by the Government is that planning delays cost an estimated £3 billion a year. That is what it said in the "Plan for Growth" which was published in March. In September, the Secretary of State for the DCLG and the Chancellor wrote in The Financial Times, "Planning delays cost the economy £3 billion a year." Now that we have had evidence from RTPI, can we agree that that figure is complete fiction? It is referenced to the Reading university report, which refers back to the Barker report, which refers to a CBI study in 1992. There is no basis for this £3 billion figure. It has been quoted not just in the two instances that I gave, but often. It has also been quoted by Ministers in the House. Is that right?
Greg Clark: It is the first line of a conclusion reached by the distinguished academic, Professor Michael Ball. You might want to take evidence from him in writing. I don’t think that it is for me to criticise his citation of the estimate.
Q310 Simon Danczuk: Yes, I am just providing you with an opportunity to accept the fact that the figure has no basis whatever. I have in front of me a letter from the Treasury in response to the chief executive of RTPI. It is a Freedom of Information Act request about the figure for planning delays. The Treasury says, "We have no information that justifies that figure being used."
Greg Clark: That figure comes from Professor Ball. It follows from what I have said and I hope that there is common ground. There are things that can be improved about the planning system. That is cited in a number of pieces of evidence. A number of suggestions have been made about that, and that is an independent academic’s figure. It seems reasonable to refer to it.
Q311 Simon Danczuk: Just to reiterate the point that it is based on a figure from 1992. The vast majority of the NPPF and the justification for it was to try to improve economic growth. The figure that kept being used is the one that I have described, but the evidence around it is flawed.
Greg Clark: I don’t accept that.
Q312 Simon Danczuk: Fair enough. In terms of housing growth, there is already plenty of available land, which has been allocated for housing. Why will the NPPF lead to more houses being built? Is it not the lack of finance that is stopping housing from being built?
Greg Clark: Sure. Certainly at the moment, it is due to the lack of finance. You must know from your inquiries into other matters that it is clearly a significant factor. I see these reforms-the Localism Bill and the NPPF-as fundamental reforms for the long term. If you take time to study the system and if you take my view-which I do not think is a particularly partisan view-that things have become more centralised than is ideal, and you observe that if you involve people earlier and more significantly in the process that the process works better, and if you have the chances we have because we have come into Government, you make a choice. You can either tinker around with the system cosmetically, or you can try to make it oriented more in the direction that we want, the outcome of which will be to put communities in charge.
As I say, I think that one of the virtues of that change is that people can have much greater confidence in the planning system and what happens in their communities. Take design, for example. One of the reasons why people, quite rightly, oppose development in their areas is that they have no confidence that they will be able to insist on high standards of design. That is a part of the planning system that, if you strengthen it and allow communities to insist on high standards of design, you can give people greater confidence in what comes out. And that, over the longer term, provides for a system that I think we can all have more confidence in.
Q313 Simon Danczuk: In which year do you think we will see benefits from the NPPF, in terms of economic growth and housing growth? When will we see the benefits?
Greg Clark: As you said at the beginning of your questions, Simon, there are different factors that cause the level of economic activity at any one point. We have endless debates on this subject at the moment; I think that we are having a debate in the main Chamber at the moment on unemployment. So it would be completely wrong to pretend that the changes to the planning system are going to be the single panacea to the challenges that we face on growth. Indeed, as I have said, those changes are for the medium and the long term, so I think that it is unreasonable to expect me to give a date. But I think that the system has become sclerotic, to put it that way, and this is an attempt to put communities back in charge, so that they take decisions rather than have decisions being imposed on them.
Q314 Chair: Before we move on, with hindsight do you think that it was perhaps a mistake to talk about the reforms not as an attempt to improve the way that the planning system operates but almost to demonise the whole of the planning system? When the Chancellor says things like, "Our planning system is the most expensive in the world and the delays are the longest in the world" and then the Treasury literally cannot find a single document in its vast quantity of archives to justify what he said, it is more like a throw-away line-a soundbite-than a serious analysis of a very important issue.
Greg Clark: In terms of the evidence, I have cited evidence from the Killian Pretty review that references the World Bank and Professor Ball’s study.
Q315 Chair: It is amazing that the Treasury has not got any of this, then.
Greg Clark: I have not seen their researchers on this subject. In terms of the planning system and "demonising" the planning system, be in no doubt that I am a fan of planning. I want to see more planning, rather than less planning. I think that one of the problems that I have described is that we have too little planning by communities for communities. We have too few local plans-local development frameworks-adopted across the country and too much planning by appeal.
When I spoke to the RTPI convention earlier in the year, I said that I thought that planning was a hugely important profession, indeed a vocation-and not just because Trudi and Richard were there. I hope that we are all engaged in making suggestions about how to make this NPPF the best that it can possibly be. The decisions that are taken by the planning system shape lives way beyond this Parliament and the next; they are for future generations. Planning is one of the most important professions and one of the most important areas of policy, which is why I am pleased to have responsibility for it and why I am pleased that you are looking into it.
Q316 Bob Blackman: One of the consequences of reducing more than 1,000 pages of guidance to a more strategic document is, of course, that definitions of words and phrases can sometimes mean different things to different people. Let us concentrate on "sustainable development", the definition of which I think has moved on from that in the original draft document and even in your view, in terms of how it would be defined in the future. We have been given evidence that it means different things to different people already. Do you accept that there is a need to change that definition and give it greater clarity in the revised document?
Greg Clark: Having said that I will look at all the responses to the consultation, given that some of them have said that we should not change the definition, it would be premature for me to say, "Yes, we definitely should change it," but let me answer as best I can.
On the overarching analysis that you make in terms of looking at expressions and words to see whether they are acutely enough expressed policy intent, that is why we have a consultation. I know that everyone has a consultation and that there is a degree of weariness or worse on the part of some people about it. A member of the Localism Bill Committee has just joined us, and anyone who has followed that Bill Committee through will see that I believe in improving things and taking advice from people who are well motivated and have sensible things to contribute. That is absolutely my intention with this, which is why I wrote to the Committee and why we are going to take it seriously.
As a thought experiment, imagine this Committee, well informed and advised as it, being given the task of taking the current planning policy of more than 1,000 pages and making the best possible attempt to distil and simplify it. Would you have something that needed no tweaks at all at the end of that? I suspect not. I think that you would want to put it out to consultation to make sure that your intentions were properly captured, and you would take evidence from experts to ensure that that was the case. So, that’s where we are on that.
Specifically on the question of the definition of sustainable development, as some members of this Committee know, I have always counted myself as an environmentalist. When I was a Back-Bench MP, the Bill Committees on which I served were environmental in their nature and I had the shadow climate change brief in opposition. I want us to be absolutely ambitious in this, and we have included the Brundtland definition, which has stood the test of time since 1987. It is a powerful definition. Some people have suggested that we should make reference to the 2005 sustainable development strategy definition. I said in the Chamber the other day that we will look constructively at that, and I have said that we have not repealed it-it is extant-and I know that some people favour that approach. You will come to a view as to whether you recommend it to us, I’m sure.
Q317 Bob Blackman: I think that you advised the Environmental Audit Committee that you want to go further in the definition, to protect the environment and not just to sustain it. Is that correct?
Greg Clark: It is. Let me bring out some of the source documents. We are taking perhaps a geekish interest in the subject, I’m afraid to say. This is a big opportunity for us all, and I hope that the planning framework that we adopt will endure, certainly in terms of what is built or not built under it, but also as a set of policy principles for some time to come.
The question is: is the 2005 definition, which is already six years old, the state of the art, as it were, in thinking about sustainability? In some respects, and this is my personal view rather than the Government’s view or an intended response to the consultation, I feel that thinking has moved beyond that and has become a bit more progressive. For example, there is the concept of the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development that should be balanced against each other. The idea that you should, as it were, sort of license harm to the environment and be sort of paid off by something that you get on the economy, is not so consistent with what we have recently said. This Government have said in the natural environment White Paper that we are looking for a net gain for nature.
The reason that I have this big wodge of documents is that-
Bob Blackman: Greg, I hate to interrupt but I do not want to go through another hour-
Greg Clark: Can I just make this point, because I think it is worth making? I am in to my flow on Brundtland. Brundtland, I think, has a lot to commend it. The fact that it was included in 1987 does not mean that it does not have more to offer. It says in paragraph 42: "Economics and ecology must be completely integrated in decision making and law making processes not just to protect the environment, but also to protect and promote development." Then it goes on in various ways, and various commendations flow from that, on which I am reflecting in response to the consultation.
Q318 Bob Blackman: May I ask you about one other aspect: the interaction with local plans? If you make a strong case for sustainable development, what are the risks that local plans might dilute that? They might be either not so protective of the environment, or very protective and, therefore, stop development.
Greg Clark: That is why you have national policy. In an ultra-local world-which some people, including some of your witnesses, advocate-you do not have any of that. You say green belts and environmental protection are matters for local communities; it is up to you. There is an argument there: of course, local communities are going to want to do things in their collective interest.
We did not take that view; we took the view that you should have national policy; you should have a framework in which decisions are taken. So, the protection the green belt affords should be there, frankly, whether the local council likes it or not. In the draft we have strengthened the requirement to refuse planning permission for mediocre design, whether the local council likes it or not.
I dare say that some of the submissions that we have had would suggest that is too restrictive. We have tried to capture well what is in the national interest, what is larger than local and what should be properly in the interest of the communities.
Q319 Bob Blackman: Given the discussion about sustainable development-and I am sure there are other definitions of phrases in the strategic document-do you accept the principle that the strategy, the NPPF, should be there as a strategic document, but some of the definitions may need further explanation in appendices for people to read and refer to, particularly as this is going to be a quasi-judicial document?
Greg Clark: That is the question we look to the consultation to address: whether the choice to have the high-level classic definition of sustainability is enough, or whether we should, in the document, go beyond that, or whether we should refer to other policy documents.
There is a paragraph in PPS 1 that refers to the stable development strategy. That was out of date almost as soon as it was published, because the 1999 strategy was replaced by the 2005 one. There is a danger, if you do not have timeless definitions, that things become out of date. You might say that in the modern world, where everything is online, that it is possible to keep things up to date. I should not pre-empt it, but I have seen submissions from the consultation advising one way or the other. I would be interested and grateful for the Committee’s considered thoughts on this.
Q320 Mark Pawsey: I want to pick up on the presumption in favour of sustainable development. First, can I ask where the NPPF sits, or where you see it sitting? On the one hand, some people have described it as a plain English guide to planning policy; on the other, people are trying to interpret it as a precise technical document. The RTPI referred to it earlier today as a quasi-legal document. Will you clarify for us where you see the document sitting?
Greg Clark: The answer is that the most important document is the local plan. Decisions have to be taken with regard to that, legally under section 38(6) of the 2004 Act. The PPGs and PPSs-the guidance-are material considerations that can be brought in at the same time. It is important that the national policies to be taken into account are written in an intelligible way. It is, of course, also desirable that they should not be ambiguous, so the drafting challenge to be clear is to capture a language and a tone that is accessible and understandable, without having the legalistic language-given that it is not statute law-that can exclude. That is our challenge. A lot of the submissions that I have seen have commended the type of tone and drafting of it and, of course, have specific suggestions that I am all ears for.
Q321 Mark Pawsey: So we can expect to see some tidying up of language. Is it a quasi-legal document?
Greg Clark: I suppose that the emphasis is on the word "quasi". Clearly, it will be referred to by decision makers and, since the planning application process is a quasi-legal process, it has its part to play in that. But it is not a statutory document in the same way as a piece of legislation.
Q322 Mark Pawsey: One of its objectives is to promote more development and more house building. You spoke earlier about the strengthening of environmental protections. Do you expect that there will be more development and more house building as a consequence of the implementation of the NPPF?
Greg Clark: I see it as part of a set of long-term reforms that change the planning system so that there is more reason for people to be welcoming of change for the better in their areas and that will, I hope, contribute to an improvement in the current situation, where, for reasons that I have given, both providers of social housing, other housing-
Q323 Mark Pawsey: But do you think that more development will take place as a consequence of the adoption of the NPPF than would have happened if it is not adopted?
Greg Clark: Yes, as part of the set of reforms of which the NPPF is one and the Localism Bill is another.
Q324 Mark Pawsey: Is the presumption in favour really a stick to drive local planning authorities to get their local plans in place? We hear that local authorities do not enjoy plan making, that they prefer development control. They are rather slow in getting their local plans forward. Is it there really just to incentivise them to get the plan in place?
Greg Clark: I do not regard it as a stick. A stick is a nasty thing that you don’t particularly want to be threatened with. It is clearly the most desirable thing to have a local plan in place. I hope that that is abundantly clear from the draft framework.
If you do not have a local plan in place, it is in everyone’s interest that you ought to have some clarity as to how decisions are going to be taken so you have a national set of policies that will determine applications. But they are not designed to be a stick in the sense of having adverse consequences. They are there to, in effect, replicate the kind of policies that a reasonable local council would themselves adopt.
Q325 Mark Pawsey: All right, but if "stick" is not the right word, do you think there is a much stronger incentive now for local authorities to get their local plans in place?
Greg Clark: Take the whole system, for many years only a minority of councils have adopted local plans. We would all agree that that is not in anyone’s interest. We want people to adopt local plans. I think that there are a number of contributory reasons-a bit like Simon’s point on house building-why people have not adopted plans, one of which is, if you have regional strategies and 1,000 pages of national policy, it is quite difficult simply to perform the exercise of producing a local plan.
Secondly, if you are being obliged, as it were at sort of gun point, to put in policies that are in the regional strategy that you disagree with, a lot of our colleagues on councils are rather averse to putting up their hands and voting for something, the contents of which they disagree with. There are various changes that we are making, including a simplification policy through the NPPF, that will make it easier and possible to have a local plan. I hope that people will respond in that way, and will want to be in charge more locally.
Q326 Mark Pawsey: To allay the fears of people who are concerned about the presumption in favour of sustainable development, will the local plan always take precedence over this presumption?
Greg Clark: Yes, it is clear that in law decisions have to be made in accordance with the local plan, unless other material considerations apply. The key document is the local plan.
Q327 David Heyes: Does not the retention now rest with the other phrase that we keep examining-"significantly and demonstrably"-about the tilt being too far in favour of the economic rather than the other aspects of sustainable development?
Greg Clark: I would appreciate the Committee’s considered view on this. I do not want to defend the existing draft and say that we will not contemplate any changes, but let me explain why the term "significantly and demonstrably" has been used.
There are two separate words. In terms of "Significantly", it seems to me that if you want to avoid a very legalistic comparison, "Is the balance on a particular issue 1 gram one way, or one the other?" the idea that things should be significant enough to be noticed is reasonable. "Demonstrably" basically implies that you should not just assert something; you should be able to demonstrate it and you should have evidence for it.
Some people have said that those words are pretty well understood, certainly in legal circles, but possibly not in lay circles. There have been some suggestions for other forms of words. The policy intent behind it is to suggest that people provide evidence-we are not getting into counting angels on pinheads.
Q328 David Heyes: The document says: "Local planning authorities should avoid unnecessary conditions or obligations, particularly when this would undermine the viability of development proposals." Can you not see a danger that local authorities will finish up having to approve environmentally or socially harmful applications because they cannot impose improvements that would make them commercially unviable?
Greg Clark: That is certainly not the intention. They specifically, in my view, should not approve developments that would be significantly environmentally damaging. That is not the intention at all.
Q329 David Heyes: For example, would a local authority be able to argue that a development is unviable if they could not find the means to provide the necessary infrastructure to deal with the infrastructure demands that would come with the application?
Greg Clark: That would be one of the aspects of sustainability that would come in to play.
Q330 Chair: I know we had the previous evidence from Adrian Penfold, who said that these words, "significant and demonstrably," ought to apply to the plan-making, because their developments should meet a very high test before authorities would not seek to meet the needs of their communities, but it should be a different and lower test for an individual planning application. There was a difference in that approach.
Greg Clark: I did not hear him say that. I hope you will reflect on it and give your response. I think Mr Penfold has also submitted evidence in his own right.
Q331 Bob Blackman: Looking at local plans in particular, one of the things we have heard in the evidence is this concern: what is the point of having a local plan if it cannot restrict development, if that is what local people want? Isn’t there a risk that local plans will not be able to restrict the type and scale of development to those that local people may want to see?
Greg Clark: With power comes responsibility. We are transferring the power to decide these things from regional strategies and national Government; we are giving local councils the power to make these decisions. I think it has to be in the framework of responsibility. It goes back to our previous exchange. If there is, as there manifestly is, a need for housing across the country to meet the needs of future generations and a need for land to accommodate businesses that we hope will create jobs, there has to be a responsibility for councils to plan for that. I said that I believe in planning-I think we have too little planning-and that is what planning is about. It is about looking into the future-literally planning-anticipating what is needed and making sure that you can provide it in the best way, in the right places, with the right connections and infrastructure, and with the right accommodating services. Part of the test of whether a plan is a real plan is that it is engaging with the future and providing for that. My contention is to give that responsibility to councils and say, "No one is going to tell you what the answer should be from on high. If you do it responsibly and properly, that is your decision", and over time people will see that as a better way to proceed.
Q332 Bob Blackman: We are told that 70% of local plans will either be out of date or not in place as a result of the changes that are taking place, so that will mean a lot of local authorities having to go through a process of either updating or developing a local plan in the first place. Do you not accept that there is a risk associated with this, and that people will say, "We must play safe. We must not worry about the growth aspects, but control our local environment because you have removed the national protection"?
Greg Clark: I don’t, Bob. It goes back to the earlier conversation: most places will have policies in place. They may not be up-to-date LDFs, but they will have saved policies, and applications should be determined in light of that. However, it does raise the point about transitional arrangements, an issue that I expect you to give your view on. We always intended there to be transitional arrangements. Some people have suggested what types of transitional arrangements they should be, so there can be complete confidence in them.
Q333 Bob Blackman: May I take you on to neighbourhood plans and how they interact? Obviously, one of the concerns is that a neighbourhood plan will look at the clear neighbourhood where people live. People will be saying, "Hang on, we have a national framework with a local plan, and now we have a neighbourhood plan, and this is what really affects us." This is really where it comes down to the potential for nimbyism. Do you accept that?
Greg Clark: No, I don’t, Bob. We considered this very carefully in the Localism Bill Committee. It conforms to what we said before: what if you were not planning for the future? The requirement that we put for the test of a neighbourhood plan was that it had to be consistent with the strategic priorities of the local plan. For example, if a road was planned across a county, the idea that a neighbourhood would decide to build three cottages right in its path to thwart it clearly would not respect the responsibilities for the larger-than-local aspect of it. There is that test. Going back to what we said, some people would no doubt say, "Well, this is not ultra-localist; it is an imposition that the local council gets to rule out such a decision," but it is a reasonable thing to say.
Q334 Bob Blackman: But do you not accept that people would suddenly say, "All we can do now is add to things to make things grow quicker, rather than putting things in place to restrict them in the neighbourhood plans"?
Greg Clark: It is wrong to see it in binary terms-as growing or restricting. A lot of what people yearn to be able to do in the planning system is to have the right type of development in the right places, looking as if it has some relationship to what is there already. It is the chance to involve people right from the beginning. That is not just our experience in the UK, although there are plenty of examples where there is great enthusiasm for people to shape the development of their places. Let us look at the Dutch system, for example. They have a place for very local participation right from the beginning, and that makes for a better system. Most people live where they live because they choose to be there; mostly, they are not forced to be there. They love being there, and they want it to be better, not worse.
Q335 Bob Blackman: But a lot of people who choose to live in those places do not want to see change. They do not want to see any growth take place. They are very happy to look out on to open fields. They may see a risk associated with this-a risk that suddenly it will all be taken away from them.
Greg Clark: There is the larger-than-local aspect of it. Democratic councils are elected at the local level, so it is not as if it is being imposed by unelected people. If you take Lord Taylor’s report on the rural economy, it is often the case that villagers will quite reasonably object to a major extension that is built in a uniform, rather alien style, where there is not much investment in infrastructure, but they will be given the chance to participate in, perhaps, the provision of new housing for people who would otherwise have to leave the village. In terms of employment land, for example, rural business hubs are something that the Taylor report recommended, and the previous Government accepted that they were desirable. They provided jobs for people in rural communities that do not involve their having a rather less sustainable commute into the big city. There is recognition that they can help the life of villagers and the rural communities.
Q336 Chair: You said, Minister, that there should be more planning at the local level, and that local plans are more important. One of the fundamental problems at present is the length of time it takes to get local plans in place. Indeed, the 2004 Act came into place because the development plans were taking so long to get in place. If we have more planning at local level, will it not take even longer to get the local plans in place?
Greg Clark: No. There are a few reasons why it has taken far longer than my predecessors in the previous Government intended for LDFs to be in place. If you have a system that has become very complex and verbose, there is more to conform to; there is more to translate and to apply. There is simply more of it around. The ability to get rid of the regional strategies, for example, is a big step forward.
I have seen this around the country. Lots of policies are contained in plans that are put to examination and then need to be adopted by local councils. That can put people into a Catch-22 situation: the plan will not be adopted if they do not put the policies in, but they really do not like the policies and would rather they were not adopted. That does put council chambers into a quandary. Do you put your hand up and vote for a number that is alien to your honestly derived assessment of housing need, for example? Lots of people in the community do not understand the pressures and the process, and will simply be mystified as to why their local council has adopted what they see as a very anti-local plan, and they will be resistant to that. We are contributing to making it easier to adopt plans more quickly.
Q337 James Morris: May I come back to the tension in the NPPF between the quasi-legal function that it will have and its brevity? Intuitively, having a simplified series of guidelines makes a lot of sense, but we have heard evidence that, because of its quasi-legal nature, it will be subject to all kinds of challenges and will potentially slow up the process. Is the brevity of the NPPF a deliberate strategy to allow a lot of interpretation of its broad parameters and a lot more discretion about how to interpret it, or is it something that you see as being a quasi-legal document with quite a rigid framework attached to it?
Greg Clark: That is a good question. There are a number of different aspects to it. I do not have a particular target in mind. There is no machismo in having it less than 55 pages or anything like that. When it comes to making track changes, I note that that some of the submissions that I have seen already-I have not read them all yet-have produced documents that are not massively longer than that. Whether things should be added or words should be changed is the point of the consultation, but I am not driving at a particular level.
However, it seems obvious that, if you want to simplify and make things accessible without having a target in mind, you want to condense, and we have tried to do that. As I said to one of your colleagues earlier, it is not designed to be at the expense of clarity. Any suggestions that you or other respondents have made that can better express the policy intent are, of course, welcome.
Q338 James Morris: Clearly, there are gaps, or organisations that are not referenced, in the NPPF. Would you be concerned if local plans were used as a vehicle for those groups to put their view over, even if it contradicted overarching NPPF guidance?
Greg Clark: I would like to see more local debate. We do not live in a uniform country; cities are different from villages, and they will want different policies. Through the neighbourhood planning process, my Department has funded a number of different independent organisations, including some of our critics-the CPRE has received funding-so that they can work with communities to develop policies that are appropriate for their local set of circumstances, so I am relaxed about local differences being expressed voluntarily.
Q339 James Morris: Is it a deliberate policy decision to leave some degree of ambiguity in the NPPF? Should the planning community be comfortable with that? It is like the debate about the definition of sustainable development. Should we not all be a bit more comfortable about having some ambiguity to allow a broader interpretation? I hope that is not too philosophical.
Greg Clark: It is quite philosophical, but appropriately so for this high-level discussion. One certainly does not aim for ambiguity, but there is something about the proposed approach that is meant to be more empowering. If I can put it this way, we are seeking a change in culture. Rather than planning being about a minute inspection of whether a policy in the local plan conforms precisely with policy H38 of the regional plan-ultimately, that would be decided by the Planning Inspectorate-it is meant to be more empowering. You therefore have principles-I would like them to be thought of as clear principles-that need to be reflected, but which empower communities to adopt policies that reflect their local needs, which may be different from those of a different type of authority in a different part of the country.
Q340 James Morris: This may be a slightly depressing question, but how often will the NPPF have to be updated?
Greg Clark: It is a good question, James. It is clearly impossible to know at this stage. My ambition is that this will be a timeless classic, and that your successors might be contemplating the first changes in 100 years’ time.
Chair: And the next Planning Minister.
Greg Clark: I am aware, however, that the world does not necessarily operate like that. That is why, during consideration of the Localism Bill in Committee, and indeed in the House, there was the question of how much you put in statute and how much you put in guidance. Clearly, one reason why you have guidance is that things do change from time to time, but this is an opportunity to set out a framework that is meant to endure, and one reason why I want you to spend serious time on it-you already have, but I am also thinking of your response-is so that we can try to make the NPPF as good as we can. There will then be no need constantly to revise it, or at least to do so very quickly.
Q341 Chair: On what are probably slightly lower-level points on the practicalities, it has been said to us that all this guidance-it may be burdensome at one level-can be quite helpful to authorities facing an application that they may not have come across before. If that guidance is not there, they will have to go somewhere else to get the advice they need. That is a general point. Is there any way, without having supplementary guidance or some such thing, we could still have some recognition of some of this valuable information, including the valuable case law that has been built up on planning over the years?
Greg Clark: First, the case law continues. The law is not being changed; this is strictly guidance. As you know-this goes back to James’s point-your predecessors have considered frequent changes to guidance over time, and that is not being rescinded. This is not year zero, in terms of the planning system; far from it. We have that wealth of experience behind us.
We will come on to think about guidance next. There is guidance available, for example, on housing market assessments and things like that, and we will want to consider that, but we must take one thing at a time. Let me outline the choices. One downside of Government guidance is that it becomes quasi-legal if it comes to a court case or an appeal. Even though it is meant, literally, to be guidance and quite a benign thing to help you out, it can be cited, and you can be accused of not having followed it; that happens not just in planning, but in every walk of life. One does not want to empower communities in one way and then disempower them by requiring them to follow other documents as if they were legal documents. However, implicit in that is my acceptance that, on various technical aspects, it is reasonable to give some guidance. I caught a bit of Trudi’s evidence earlier, and one suggestion that has been made is that we work with the professional bodies, for example, to promote guidance on the more technical aspects. We have not taken any decisions on that, but it is a helpful suggestion.
Q342 Chair: That is an interesting way forward, and we can probably give some consideration to it. On a specific issue relating to the removal of guidance, the Football Association has given us new evidence. It has been talking to Sport England, which it obviously works with. It has come back to me on this business of removing PPS17 on playing fields, which is a national issue. Sport England wants to continue to have a statutory responsibility on this issue, but its understanding-the Football Association is probably the world’s most effective association in this respect, because it tends to be football pitches that get developed-is that although the statutory consultee role remains, there will not be a requirement on local authorities to find a like-for-like replacement when a playing field is developed if there is no guidance. There is a worry that this is going to be a real problem. Is that something you are at least minded to think about?
Greg Clark: It made a helpful submission. Again, obviously I cannot pre-empt it, but it is not our policy intention to do anything to reduce the amount and availability of playing space-rather, the reverse. Frankly, if we have a growing population, we need more, rather than less. It made a very constructive set of suggestions, and we are considering them.
Q343 Simon Danczuk: The good news is that you are open to these things, and as you said earlier, you are contemplating changes to the draft document, so that is a good thing. One thing the draft looks at is "town centre first", and the view is that it has been watered down in the draft. Are you minded to firm it back up again?
Greg Clark: I do not want to be discourteous to respondents, or to be in legal jeopardy, so I will not say what I am minded to do, but let me say again what my policy intention was in drafting this: it was not to depart from the "town centre first" policy, but to strengthen it. We doubled the length of time for the prospective impact on the town centre from five years to 10 years. It has been suggested that five years had a value as well, that looking at this over a longer time frame does not provide the strengthening that was intended, and that things can sort themselves out over 10 years, so you want to look at the earlier impact. We will reflect carefully on that.
The one change that has been made in the draft-I am very interested in responses to this, including yours-is on offices. Again, the thinking behind that, which I will share with you, is very much related to the Taylor report, which I quoted earlier. The rate of start-ups for businesses in rural areas actually outperforms that in the rest of the country. In a lot of rural areas, making use of disused agricultural buildings for business hubs, including small offices, has been quite successful in providing a place in which businesses can start up, and in terms of sustainability, if you live in a village and you can actually work there, rather than needing to commute somewhere else, that seems desirable. That was our intention in not requiring every new office development to be in the town centre.
What was not intended-it has been suggested that this may be a loophole-was to have massive out-of-town office developments that could detract from the town centre. Clearly, if you want a vibrant town centre, you want people working there as well as shopping and taking part in leisure pursuits there, so we are looking carefully at that, but I am absolutely clear that the policy intention is to strengthen "town centre first".
Q344 Simon Danczuk: I get the impression that you are now contemplating quite a lot of change to the draft document. Has The Daily Telegraph won its campaign yet?
Greg Clark: As I said at the beginning, if you have followed the progress of the Localism Bill-the Committee has interviewed me on this before-you will know that I think it is a waste of everyone’s time if you ask reasonable, intelligent people to give advice, having decided in advance to ignore it all, so it was always my intention that we would take reasonable views on board. People can have their campaigns. Perhaps some people assumed a stony-faced demeanour that was never there in the first place.
Q345 Mark Pawsey: Another area of concern on which we have received evidence, and I know you’ll have had many representations, is brownfield land and the substitution involving the term "land of lesser value". Will you say a few words on where you see progress being made on that issue?
Greg Clark: That’s a very good point. Again, this is exactly why you put things out to consultation. Hon. Members who were here in the last Parliament will know that I had a private Member’s Bill to exclude gardens from brownfield sites. The inclusion of gardens was an example of an unintended consequence of a definition of brownfield land-previously developed land-that was not environmentally sensitive enough. It is obviously in everyone’s interest-it is in the national interest and certainly in the local interest-to make use first of derelict land, to bring that back into use. However, there is some land that is brownfield according to the definition-in other words, it has been literally previously developed-but over the years has come to be quite ecologically valuable, not least in towns and cities, and often in currently industrial or ex-industrial towns and cities, so we chose to use the expression "land of least environmental value" to capture that. That was on the advice of a lot of environmental charities. Buglife, for example-I don’t know whether it has given evidence to you-has extolled the importance of ex-industrial land or formerly developed land in towns and cities.
However, there is a certain familiarity with the word "brownfield", which we’ve grown up to use. I think people who have done a computer search for the word "brownfield" and found that it’s not there have drawn too much of an inference that we don’t want to see derelict land being brought back into use. I am sure it’s possible, because I’ve seen submissions that make suggestions on how it can be done, to clarify that policy intent and reference the word "brownfield", which people have seen before.
Q346 Mark Pawsey: In terms of brownfield first, will there be an accommodation for sites where the costs of remediation are such that it wouldn’t be economic to develop the land? That would permit what we would consider greenfield land to come forward, because it would not be sensible or economically viable to develop the brownfield land.
Greg Clark: Part of the plan-I had an exchange with Bob on this-is about being a real plan. If a particular site would cost £50 million to bring back into use and that money is simply not available because an Olympic stadium or a millennium dome isn’t about to be built there, you have to reflect that, but it is desirable that regeneration does, where it can, find sums of money to bring land such as that back into use. We don’t live in a world in which every single bit of derelict land can, tomorrow, simply be built on, so there has to be some sort of assessment of whether that can credibly be done.
Q347 George Hollingbery: The first thing I want to say is something we’ve never said from the beginning. The ministerial team and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, John Howell, need some congratulations. There was a sclerotic planning system that needed tearing up and starting again. While we can dispute endlessly what the right answer is, I am glad that we now have an opportunity to discuss it.
I am coming specifically to the five-year land supply with the target of 20% extra on top and the ability whether or not to assess windfall sites. Can you reflect quickly on whether you feel slightly uncomfortable that the second part of it-the 20% extra and the inability, which is not total inability, or difficulty of bringing windfall sites into your projections-is somewhat centrist rather than localist. Plenty of authorities have lots of evidence that windfall sites come forward on a regular and predictable basis.
Secondly, a lot of challenges to local plans, particularly right now, are going on around five-year land supply and deliverability. I have a local example where it is pretty plain to me that a large developer has held back a site deliberately so that the numbers were not being supplied through the local plan so he could then get another site approved, which of course he adds to his balance sheets-something that can be done in difficult times.
It makes me think about up-to-date information and presumption in the NPPF about out-of-date plans. Should we have a light-touch re-inspection? Should we get rid of the dissonance about a national body re-inspecting local plans and being the arbiters at appeal, and try to get inspectors into counties on a regular basis to reassess local plans on a light-touch basis, to get information up to date-so, a five-year land supply and re-inspection?
Greg Clark: Good points. First, George, thanks for what you said at the beginning.
Both the sixth year, as it might be better to call it, and the windfalls reflect what has been a theme of this discussion as to whether a plan is a real plan. There is no point having a document that is a fiction, that is not going to engage with the needs of the community in the future. What we know across the country is that land that is allocated for housing-or for economic development, for that matter-some of it drops out, for whatever reason. You might find that land was thought to be able to accommodate eight homes and, when it comes to it, six are built because there might have been a tree with a preservation order, or when the matter came before the committee, they preferred something slightly less dense. To go down from eight to six means that you have lost 25% of the available housing.
The suggestion in the draft was that you reflect that drop by having a buffer there so that you are not obliged to build any more homes than you actually do intend to build, but you have something there to recognise that not everything happens in the way that you thought-no more than that. It is about the number that you have but recognising that it’s not all going to be built. Some respondents to the consultation have said, "Well, this varies across the country. Some councils may have a very accurate record of being able to provide the land and build the commercial or the residential development they need, so should they not be able to have a more localist arrangement and be able to demonstrate that there is a reason to suppose that their projection is more accurate?" Again, that point been made, and given that I have set out the policy intent, we will reflect on that.
Similarly, windfalls are not currently to be included in the first period. There is a prospective tension between true planning. If the point of having a local plan is to be able to say where the new homes will be so that you can plan the infrastructure, make sure that they are in the right places, assess school places and so on, and if you were, in the very extreme case, to have a situation in which all your housing was going to come from windfalls, it would be quite difficult to be able to plan for that, so there is a tension there between the two. This is a bit like my answer to the earlier point, George. Some people have said, "Well, actually, in some authorities a consistent level of windfalls is produced and they are in very predictable places, so should there not be the ability to reflect that?" That seems to be a constructive suggestion, which we will reflect on.
On the up-to-dateness of plans and having a light-touch conversation, I suppose, with the inspectorate, I infer that people think things should not necessarily be as formal as a big evidence session every five years or whatever whenever a change is made. Let me take that away and discuss it with officials. It seems to me that, as we want to advantage plan making and want to keep local plans up to date once they are adopted, that is an interesting and reasonable suggestion.
Q348 Chair: You said that you recognise that a substantial change has been embarked on, whatever the final wording of the document is, so I think you are minded to consider at least some form of transitional arrangements to allow the new regime to be bedded in, to allow authorities to get used to it and to allow them to bring their plans up to date, which will be the important thing for those authorities that have a plan at present-to reflect the changes. You have indicated that it is an open consultation and that you want to listen. So, given the potential for significant adjustments to the wording of your document, would you consider-I have raised this before in the Chamber with you-the possibility of a further, short consultation on any significant changes that you make to the document to make sure that, in the end, we get this right? It is a long-term document, not just a short-term change, so it is important that we get it right.
Greg Clark: I am determined that we will get it right. I have had the advantage of seeing the responses to the consultation, which has been fantastic. We have had really considered responses, and I look forward to the Committee’s response. We know what people would like to see, and they have been very clear, even down to the wording in many cases. We have plenty to go on to be able to have a document that meets the ambitions that we all have, so we will not be holding another consultation, because I think we have enough feedback-enough to go on-with what we have at the moment.
Q349 Chair: So even if, when you produce your eventual final version, a number of respected practitioners, local councillors or whoever say, "Oh, you’ve changed that word, Minister, and we don’t know what it means; we think you have created an unintended consequence here," you still would not have any opportunity to reflect and change at that stage?
Greg Clark: I am confident, Chairman, that the submissions are sufficiently clear. As part of any consultation, there is the opportunity to clarify with people who have made suggestions what, precisely, they meant by this word and whether that formulation captures it-the opportunity to clarify submissions that are made. I am confident that we will be able to do it.
Chair: Okay. Of course, we will wait to see whether that is the case ultimately. Thank you very much indeed for coming to give your evidence.
Greg Clark: And thank you again for all the time you have spent on this.