LIST OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
(a) The current planning system requires
significantly more staff and resources than are currently available.
The new system proposed by the Government will require even more
staff, and any radical changes will not be possible until they
are in post (paragraph 8).
(b) The inclusion of a statutory objective
for the planning system would be helpful if one could be agreed.
This will not be easy. Any objective would need to command wide
acceptance and should not be a potential source of dispute at
each stage of the planning system (paragraph 12).
(c) The Government should evaluate the
desirability of establishing a National Spatial Strategy (paragraph
(d) PPGs play an essential role in defining
national policy. The Committee welcomes any review which strengthens
their role and makes them more user-friendly. The pursuit of brevity
must not lead to the omission of essential policy. Distinguishing
policy from guidance on its application is helpful provided the
policy is not dependent on best practice guidance for its interpretation.
PPG3 is an acceptable model. Good practice guidance should have
the same weight as a PPG (paragraph 21).
(e) Decisions about regional planning
should be taken by groups of democratically-elected members of
local authorities. Wider interests should be consulted but not
make the decisions. We support the proposal in the White Paper,
Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions,
that where elected regional assemblies are set up, they should
take over regional planning functions. Where elected assemblies
are not set up, the present system should remain (paragraph 26).
(f) The Regional Spatial Strategies should
take precedence over and guide the land-use aspect of all other
regional strategies drawn up by other regional agencies including
the Regional Development Agencies' regional economic strategies
(g) There is a need for an effective sub-regional
planning system between the regional planning level and local
plans. In addition, planning for waste, transport and minerals,
which would continue to be carried out by county councils or their
successors, should be effectively integrated into comprehensive
sub-regional plans (paragraph 35).
(h) Some county boundaries are still relevant
but others no longer reflect the way people live or work. Councils
should be allowed to agree amongst themselves the appropriate
strategic planning arrangements, which could include retaining
county structure plans in some areas (paragraph 36).
(i) The proposals for Local Development
Frameworks have many failings and lack many of the advantages
of Unitary Development Plans and Local Plans. The new Local Development
Frameworks may be quicker to draw up but they are unlikely to
be as clear.
- They would be more complex than the simplicity
offered by Unitary Development Plans and Local Plans and would
provide less certainty;
- A complex array of plans at a local level
would be created which would be fragmented and difficult to understand
- The frequent review of frameworks is also
unlikely to provide the clarity and certainty sought by the Government
and all parties;
- The Local Development Frameworks could cause
considerable confusion because of the reliance on vague criteria;
- A plan-led system without a comprehensive
land-use map would give rise to a great deal of uncertainty, delay
in determining planning applications and a significant increase
in planning appeals;
- The proposed Local Development Frameworks
may not gain the confidence of local people. The new forms of
community consultation for Local Development Frameworks are welcome
as is the linking of the frameworks to Community Strategies, but
they will not be an adequate replacement for the rights to appear
at a public inquiry which are required for Unitary Development
Plans and Local Plans (paragraph 60).
(j) Retaining and improving Unitary Development
Plans and Local Plans would be a better option than introducing
Local Development Frameworks, since there would be certainty and
continuity as well as the retention of public confidence in the
system. The process of drawing up and adopting Unitary Development
Plans and Local Plans has been slow, but it is now almost complete.
Considerable progress has been made in solving the problems and
further improvements could be made if:
- the plans were approved by inspectors after
a public inquiry;
- rigorous preparation timetables were laid
down and enforced with appropriate penalties; and
- repetition of policies in structure plans
and regional planning guidance was removed (paragraph 61).
(k) The revision of plans should not cease
because of the proposals for reform, as Lord Falconer stated (paragraph
(l) The Committee welcomes some of the
adjustments to the present development control system. We strongly
support the proposal that re-applications should not be automatically
accepted. None of these proposals requires primary legislation,
and they illustrate the kind of evolutionary approach to improving
the planning system which will bring general benefit (paragraph
(m) Targets for reaching decisions are
useful to provide guidance for local authorities on operating
an efficient development control system, but considerable flexibility
is required to allow for complex applications which cannot be
considered within the timescales. It should be remembered that
delays can be due to the developer as well as the local authority
(n) The Committee supports the proposals
to reduce planning permissions to three years. However it is important
that a 'standard' time limit is not applied in cases where a longer
implementation period is justified by the applicant. There should
be an opportunity for local variation where appropriate (paragraph
(o) The 90 per cent target is arbitrary,
and no justification was given for it. If the Government decides
to go forward with the target that 90 per cent of planning applications
should be delegated to officers, it should advise Local Planning
Authorities on the types of application which might be suitable
for delegation to officers (eg householder applications) and the
circumstances in which officers could decide applications without
infringing democratic accountability (eg where there are no local
objections and the Chief Planning Officer would recommend approval).
All local authorities should be required to monitor delegated
decisions. The Government should reiterate the seriousness with
which it would view attempts to influence officer decisions by
inducements (paragraph 74).
(p) Statutory consultees have an important
role in contributing specialist advice to local authorities on
planning applications. The proposal to reduce the number of statutory
consultees would not in itself reduce the time taken for consultees
to respond, since it takes only one key consultee to cause a delay.
Furthermore, authorities are not obliged to wait anyway (paragraph
(q) Last year the Government published
a report which sought to improve the current arrangements by ensuring
- local authorities facilitate pre-application
discussions with statutory consultees;
- consultees are required to allocate sufficient
resources and put in place systems to respond promptly to planning
We recommend that in place of its proposals to
reduce the number of consultees, the Government introduce these
recommendations (paragraph 84).
(r) Witnesses recognised that there was
a need for better consultation. We support the proposal that all
local authorities should be required to publish their consultation
arrangements. The Department should issue clear guidance and examples
of best practice (paragraph 85).
(s) The Green Paper does not adequately
consider the need for third party rights of appeal. Greater community
participation at the pre-application stage is not a substitute
for the legal right to appeal against a decision. External scrutiny
is required to avoid the potential conflicts of interest between
the local authority as planning authority and the local authority
as property owner or developer with a pecuniary interest in the
result of a planning application. The National Assembly for Wales'
approach to reviewing planning decisions made by councils concerning
land that they own should be monitored with a view to its possible
adoption in England (paragraph 90).
(t) The existing right of third parties
to object to draft policies in Local Plans and Unitary Development
Plans, and to pursue these to inquiry in front of an independent
Inspector if unresolved by the local authority, is a vital third
party right. We recommend that it should not be watered down.
Third parties should have the right of appeal where there has
been a significant departure from to the Local Plan or Unitary
Development Plan (paragraph 91).
(u) The proposal for Business Planning
Zones appears to be based on the misconceived idea that the planning
system is stopping desirable development rather than helping to
enable it. There is no evidence of this. The zones are unlikely
to encourage significant amounts of development, but there is
a serious danger that the development which they will attract,
will be car-based and of a lower standard than if they had been
subject to normal planning controls. The best means of promoting
sites for high technology development is using the existing planning
system (paragraph 97).
(v) There is a 'business' agenda running
through much of the Green Paper. It largely ignores the environment
while supporting business development. The planning system is
the key bulwark in preventing urban sprawl and restraining unsustainable
development and should not be subservient to the requirements
of business. The reforms should stress the need for the planning
- to protect the countryside and improve the
quality of the built environment;
- to minimise the use of natural resources;
- to reduce the need to travel (paragraph 103).
(w) The Government's proposals for tariffs
would replace one form of complexity with another. Instead of
site by site negotiated solutions after the submission of planning
applications, enormous effort would be required to establish the
basis for tariffs around the country, authority by authority,
at the forward planning stage (paragraph 124).
(x) There is a danger that the change
to the tariff system will affect the Government's grant to local
authorities (paragraph 125).
(y) However, the Government's other proposals
(see points above) for improving the practical operation of the
planning obligation system would tackle many of these objectives
without the need for changing the whole basis of the system. We
recommend that the Government introduces those procedural changes
first as outlined above, and only revisits more radical options
for reforming the planning obligations system to improve its speed
and transparency if significant problems remain in five years'
time (paragraph 126).
(z) The Government needs to undertake
substantially more work to demonstrate that funding affordable
housing by tariff rather than by the current system of negotiation
will clearly produce significantly more affordable housing (paragraph
(aa) We were heartened that Lord Falconer
wishes to consult on the details of the emerging scheme and on
the Government's advice to local authorities, but, nevertheless,
feel that the proposal to introduce a tariff requires considerable
further development before the Committee can take a view on whether
it is workable (paragraph 133).
(bb) We strongly support the proposal
to introduce National Policy Statements. They should be the subject
of public consultation after which they should be debated by Parliament
on an amendable, substantive motion. If they are prepared well
in advance of projects coming forward, they will be a major step
forward. The policy statements could take a variety of forms:
- in some situations they would indicate a need
to make provision within a region, leaving the regional guidance
to indicate a suitable site for the particular facility;
- in others, they would need to indicate
a range of options or a precise location or route corridor.
The policy statements should relate to the National
Spatial Strategy (paragraph 141).
(cc) We recommend that the Secretary of
State have the power to designate projects as Major Infrastructure
Projects by the new Parliamentary process, but emphasise that
he should only select Major Infrastructure Projects of truly national
significance for authorisation. We are concerned that both the
list of potential Major Infrastructure Projects in Annex C of
the Government's paper, and the list contained in the Town and
Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Inquiries Procedure) (England)
Rules 2002 are far too broad (paragraph 144).
(dd) Based on the evidence received, there
is unlikely to be any time saving by adopting the proposed parliamentary
process. The Government has continued to stress the length of
time taken by the public inquiry to consider Heathrow Terminal
5; this was wholly exceptional (paragraph 161).
(ee) If the Government were to go ahead
with its Parliamentary proposals, the public would also lose confidence
in the inquiry system since long established rights of hearing
would be restricted. It will be very difficult for Parliament
to give a fair consideration to Major Infrastructure Projects
as required by the Human Rights Act. Even if there is no formal
whipping of MPs by party managers, the influence of party discipline
would be extremely difficult to avoid (paragraph 162).
(ff) Giving Parliament the power to decide
on the principle, need for and location of a Major Infrastructure
Project would lead to unavoidable duplication later at a public
inquiry and the increased likelihood of legal challenge (paragraph
(gg) It is not appropriate for MPs to
be asked to consider the issues raised in Major Infrastructure
Projects given the likely length of hearings and the probable
need to sit part of the time away from the House. If implemented
the proposal would constitute a retrograde step and would be counter
to the report of the Joint Committee on Private Bills of Session
1987-8, which was approved and implemented by both Houses. Worse,
the partial consideration suggested would add a further highly
undesirable complication that would almost certainly increase
the likelihood of delay, thus defeating the main object of the
proposal (paragraph 164).
(hh) When it _approves_ Major Infrastructure
Projects, Parliament should do no more than it currently does
under section 9 of the Transport and Works Act for schemes of
national significance. We therefore recommend that the scope of
the Transport & Works Act be extended so that certain Major
Infrastructure Projects may be selected by the Secretary of State
to fall within an appropriately amended section 9 of the Act (paragraph
(ii) Under our proposal, as with other
Transport and Works projects, after completion of the Parliamentary
stage the project would be scrutinised at public inquiry. At the
inquiry the Inspector would be guided by a National Policy Statement
and the approvals of both Houses of Parliament. These would be
weighty material considerations for the Inspector to take into
account. There would also be further guidance from the Secretary
of State who will have issued a statement of the matters which
should be considered at the inquiry. Nevertheless, the public
inquiry would be the forum to consider all aspects of the proposed
development (paragraph 166).
(jj) We welcome the Government's proposals
for making public inquiries more efficient, and emphasise the
need to keep the Major Infrastructure Projects inquiry rules under
review and update them when necessary (paragraph 169).
(kk) We welcome the formation of the
DTLR's Planning Central Casework Division to handle the Secretary
of State_s calledin and recovered appeals, and Lord Falconer's
statement that he envisages that within two years the Division
will halve the time it takes for decisions to be announced. In
the past the announcement of decisions has on occasion been delayed
for political convenience. In this context we note that both the
new MIP and the 2000 inquiry rules require the Secretary of State
to notify his decision _as soon as practicable_ after taking it.
We recommend that this rule be amended so that the Secretary of
State is required also to take the decision itself as soon as
practicable to ensure that decisions are made when required for
the efficient operation of the planning system (paragraph 170).
(ll) By comparison with some of the relatively
small savings that can be obtained by improvements to the current
inquiry process, it is clear from the example given that very
considerable time savings can be made by improvements elsewhere.
We recommend that the Government conducts a thorough formal review,
and reports upon both the pre application and post regulatory
approval stages of all aspects of Major Infrastructure Projects
(mm) In combination the recommendations
which we have made relating to national policy statements, Parliamentary
procedures, public inquiries and the decision taking stage, will
bring about the required improvement in procedures while at the
same time providing a fair hearing for affected parties and retaining
public confidence in the inquiry system. Of no less importance
is the need for Ministers not to postpone taking decisions for
political reasons after an Inspector's report has been received
(nn) The Government's theory that the
planning system inhibits economic growth appears to be based on
anecdote and prejudice. Well-planned land uses create a favourable
climate for investment as many successful local authorities have
shown. Attractive and well planned cities are often the most prosperous.
With improvement, the existing forward planning system will continue
to achieve this (paragraph 185).
(oo) It could well take more than five
years before the changes proposed in the Green Paper are fully
operational and even longer. The development plan system introduced
in 1991 has taken up to ten years to bring full benefits for its
users, notably local authorities, developers and local communities.
These should not be lost by adopting the Planning Green Paper
proposals. With modification to existing Unitary Development Plans
and Local Plans, the same objectives could be achieved without
the delay which would be caused by the Government's proposals.
Many of the other incremental reforms, which have been proposed
in this report, could start immediately and not cause the hiatus
which the fundamental proposals inevitably will cause (paragraph
(pp) Local Authority Planning Departments
are short of staff. The Green Paper does not give sufficient weight
to the need for councils to retain their planning staff or for
the profession to attract new graduates so as to make the current
system work effectively. The Government needs to be working more
closely with local authorities to improve staff retention, and
with schools, universities and the professional bodies to make
planning a more popular career. The Government's reforms are unlikely
to change the image of the planning profession and raise the status
of planners (paragraph 202).
(qq) An incremental approach to reforming
the planning system would allow the reforms to be introduced as
the skills become available (paragraph 203).
(rr) Additional funds can be secured by
raising application fees but they will not in themselves be sufficient.
Local authorities must recognise the important strategic role
performed by their planning departments and to allocate a higher
proportion of their budgets to them (paragraph 204).