Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)
MR JOHN WALKER, MR IAN TREHEARNE AND MR SEAN CREIGHTON
WEDNESDAY 17 APRIL 2002
440. Part of the purpose of changing is greater certainty and what you are saying is for at least the next three years, possibly the next four, there is not going to be greater certainty. Is that right?
(Mr Walker) It depends on how good the transition plan is because without a good transition plan you must be right.
441. Is there a good transition plan?
(Mr Walker) There is not a transition plan. That is what we are calling for as the next step.
442. I understand what you are calling for but how do you put a transition plan into the legislation?
(Mr Trehearne) I think it has to be done through guidance from the Department. I do not think it necessarily comes through legislation but there is an interesting move towards putting a statutory purpose for planning into the legislation, which I think personally is a good idea and I think we do as a group. It can flow from there but it has to be understood that the political process is just that. If the answers were simple, you would not need a political process and perhaps, at the end of the day, power needs to be exercised in order to make things happen.
443. You think this hiatus of three to four years is worthwhile if we get to the new place eventually?
(Mr Trehearne) I hope it is not a hiatus. I hope that things will continue to happen throughout it.
444. In your written submission, you say we need new regional plans which do not fudge issues. Do you think the proposed regional strategy statements will deliver that?
(Mr Walker) I do not think we are convinced at the moment, which is one of the reasons we make the point that there is a grave danger here that all of the community engagement, business engagement, the vision formation and everything else comes to nought unless there is clear accountability and responsibility with the various levels of planning and unless those different levels of planning, including the regional in this case, are expected to deliver decisions which address the key issues in their areas. We cannot make that happen but we are raising the point that it needs to happen and that, in formulating more detailed thoughts about how the regional plans are formulated, who is represented on them, who is consulted and engaged in them, thought must be given to resolving issues rather than simply fudging them.
445. You say that you want the RDAs to have a formal role in approving regional and spatial strategies. Would that give too much influence to business interests?
(Mr Walker) No. From our point of view as a group, it simply reflects what we take as being a fairly obvious need for economic strategy and spatial strategy to be very closely aligned and to be pulling in the same direction.
446. Would it be better if directly elected regional assemblies took these decisions?
(Mr Walker) Directly elected regional assemblies, in terms of democratic accountability, would be the ideal way to govern regional planning but we are not in a position and nor is anyone else to guarantee whether or not those will come about and when.
447. Mr Creighton, can I take you back to the evidence you were giving earlier about community involvement? You expressed some concern about the lack of joined up thinking. How do you feel the proposals in the Green Paper for community involvement compare with what is out there at the moment when local authorities or whoever are evolving their plans?
(Mr Creighton) Often, community involvement in the last 20 years or so has been very formalistic through public meetings and written letters and consultation responses. Various organisations have been experimenting with a range of ways of developing more active participation, whether it is neighbourhood initiatives, foundation or planning for real or citizens' juries that have looked at various issues. Organisations like the one in Sheffield, Manning Castle Community Development Trust, has used a lot of those methods to plan and green the estate that they have a large responsibility for and they are the accountable body for single regeneration. There is lots of good development practice that needs to be enshrined in good guidance from the government as to what constitutes good community involvement. The community involvement statements, supported by group guidance, would be a crucial step forward, particularly for big developments. One can cite emerging good practice initiated by developers in the King's Cross railway land area, where they are engaging in different types of participation and consultation before they get to the detailed planning application stage.
448. Can I ask about the costs because you say in your evidence that you believe this greater community involvement will obviously put up the costs. What are your views on how much it will put up the costs by? In what way will it put up the costs and who should pay for it?
(Mr Walker) The comment you quoted comes very much from the view that it is worth putting more effort into the front end of these activities and therefore the front end of these activities will cost more than it has in the past, but the benefit if it is done properly will be to have greater certainty, greater clarity and speedier, better delivery in the second part of the process. We have not attempted in any way to estimate what those increased costs might be but it must be the case that more effort up front costs more up front.
449. Who should pay for it?
(Mr Trehearne) Inevitably, quite a lot of it has to come through the promoter of the development.
450. In your submission you talk about the links between community strategies and local development frameworks. How do you think that can be done? Do you think it will be more difficult if there is not a land use plan which everything can relate to?
(Mr Walker) The Green Paper suggests a close link. We have gone further and said they ought to be required to be prepared together. The benefit of that is that you do have a greater chance, almost a certainty, of ending up with a single vision which embraces both the local development framework aspects and the community plan. We see it as a fairly sensible and obvious way forward.
(Mr Trehearne) There is a way of looking at this which is that an awful lot of the work has been done on local plans already so the local development framework is just a simplified way of carrying that forward. The local plans will not disappear.
451. There is no requirement to keep them according to the Green Paper, is there?
(Mr Trehearne) No.
452. If the reason for removing the need for UDPs is that some authorities do not do them even they are statutorily required to, in the future, if they are not statutorily required to have a plan, even more authorities will do away with them.
(Mr Trehearne) In many cases, there are perfectly good plans in place. Authorities are well attached to them and they will remain. They simply will not have quite the same sort of hallowed status that they have had in the past.
453. One of the changes will be that for the local development framework there will be no need for a public inquiry; while there is that requirement under the current local planning regime. Is that not a step backwards?
(Mr Trehearne) It seems to us that wherever proposals are coming forward which are going to affect sites in particular there must be the opportunity in some way of being heard if the status of that site is being changed.
454. We have almost third party rights of appeal, have we not, in terms of the structure plans. Any person who lives in the area can put forward a view on the structure plan but a lot of those people will not have any rights in the future to put forward objections, are they?
(Mr Walker) In part, this is reflecting our view that the effort at the front end of this process really does need to be done properly and thoroughly. This connection between community strategy and local development framework needs to be taken seriously because there is no point at all in devising a planning system that is much more expensive and possibly takes longer to do the front end bit and then just takes just as long to do all the back end bit as well. The benefit of more effort up front ought to be greater clarity.
455. Are you conferring new rights on people up front?
(Mr Walker) The processes and some of the guidance that Sean talked about in terms of community engagement, whether or not they are put into legal rights, would involve processes which gave people much better opportunities in the formative stage of strategies than they have now.
(Mr Creighton) Clearly there is a case for all kinds of detailed reinforcement of existing, rather fuzzy rights. Firstly, a statutory requirement on community involvement.
456. What is a community? Do you think you can define "community"?
(Mr Creighton) Yes. There are lots of definitions of "community". One of the problems is that people like to invent new ways of defining it. We regard communities as both communities of geography and communities of interest. The planning committees should be open to the public. There are still planning committees that meet in closed session. There should be a legal right to a deputation to the planning committee. There should be a right for some measure of community right of appeal against planning decisions.
457. What you are talking about now is back end activities, is it not, rather than saying, "Get it to the front end so that people can express their views at the beginning rather than at the end", when you are into a conflict situation?
(Mr Creighton) You need to do both because, at the end of the day, you are not going to be able to resolve all tensions and all conflicts. You are not always going to be able to reach an agreeable, acceptable way forward. One of the tricky areas is where local authorities are also the planning applicant and where communities often feel that their needs and wishes are being pushed down by perhaps economic needs.
458. I would particularly like to know why, in your evidence, you say, "The replacement of outline planning permission for the certificate of development raises serious concerns."
(Mr Trehearne) We think it is completely misconceived. We think that regeneration depends on attaching value to land and the only way that you can do that is by the acquisition of an outline planning application. The second pointthis goes slightly beyond the paper but it is very much relatedis that for regeneration to take place you need big, long, general planning permissions. The idea of leaving a planning permission which will only last three years is very unhelpful. For the promoter of regeneration, achieving planning permission, getting value in the land, getting a right to achieve a sort of development at a fairly general level is very important and usually these schemes are too large to detail out right at the beginning.
459. Too large or too costly?
(Mr Trehearne) Both.