Memorandum by the Planning Officers Society
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
1. THE PLANNING
1.1 The Planning Officers Society represents
over 500 of the most senior professionals and managers of planning
functions in the English Local Authorities. The Society embraces
County Councils, Shire Districts, London Boroughs, Metropolitan,
Unitary and National Park Authorities. Our objectives are:
to act as an advocate for Local Government
to assist and advise the Local Government
Association and the Government on planning and related issues;
to act as a centre of excellence
in Local Government Planning matters and promote best practice;
to act in liaison with other organisations
to promote the built and green environment.
2.1 The Society's submission to the Select
Committee will be made by:
James Russell, President of the Society and Assistant
Director of Strategy and Planning at Coventry City Council; and
John Silvester, Senior Vice President, and Director
of Planning and Community Services at Surrey Heath Borough Council.
2.2 The Society's memorandum focuses on
the seven issues in which the Committee have expressed a particular
interest, following some preliminary general comments.
3. GENERAL COMMENT
3.1 The Society has broadly welcomed the
Green Paper and its associated consultation papers, as heralding
a long overdue and radical overhaul of the planning system. In
his introduction to the Green Paper the Secretary of State sets
out the Government's objective for the reform as:
"We need a better, simpler, faster, more
accessible system that serves both business and the community".
3.2 The Society endorses these aspirations,
and supports the various legal, procedural, cultural and resourcing
changes that will need to be put in place to deliver them. The
UK's planning, regeneration and sustainability framework is complex
and diverse with many powerful interests at stake. Satisfying
all of these in a system, which is simpler and faster, and yet
fair and just, will be a challenging task.
3.3 In order to simplify the task the Society
believes that a guiding principle for all the reforms must be
flexibility. Whilst the desire for standard solutions is understandable
the Society believes that the planning system, and its users are
now sufficiently mature to develop more local solutions on a "horses
for courses" basis operating within a national framework.
3.4 The Society believes that as part of
the review it is important for the basic purpose of planning to
be set down clearly in legislation. In our document "Planning
for Change" the Society suggested "The purpose of the
Planning System is to promote, guide and ensure sustainable development
at all spatial levels, in ways which are fair, open and accountable.
It seeks to resolve conflicts in the competing demands to achieve
the social, economic and environmental aspirations of all communities".
4. THE EFFECTIVENESS
4.1 The first and fundamental point the
Society wishes to make is that whatever system of development
planning is adopted as the outcome of the review it is essential
that the primacy of the Development Plan must remain as a cornerstone
of the new system. Moves towards quicker, more flexible plans
which are regularly reviewed are supported but the system will
still need the strength of Section 54A (or whatever replaces it)
to ensure that policies and interim policies have appropriate
weight in the determination of planning applications.
4.2 Whilst there is no doubt that the current
Development Plan system has proved to be somewhat slow and ponderous:
(a) there is now some 90 per cent national
coverage for the first time in 50 years;
(b) reviews of plans have been completed
or are under way in many authorities;
(c) the system has dealt with tens of thousands
(d) many businesses and the development industry
are experienced at participating in the process; and
(e) the system has set a framework for section
54a and the plan-led approach.
4.3 The downside of the current system is
that it has proved to be long-winded, hierarchical, expensive,
inflexible, over-complicated, insufficiently responsive to the
speed of change and of variable quality. All players in the system
have to bear some responsibility. Local Planning Authorities sometimes
find the decision-making process difficult in reaching unpopular
decisions. The political commitment due to the high cost of plan
production and the subsequent Public Inquiries has been sometimes
less than enthusiastic. The business community, with the exception
of the House Builders Federation often have not participated except
in pursuing competing demands for development sites. Lastly, the
voluntary sector has often wanted to cover every minor eventuality
with safeguarding policies.
4.4 A useful test suggested by Professor
Ted Kitchen is that:
The Usefulness of the Plan
must = more than one
The time taken to produce it
All too often this has not been the case.
4.5 Consequently the Society believes that
there is justification for simplifying and speeding up the system
and in doing so it is important that the underlying problems are
addressed. If no solution to the underlying problems can be found,
there will be a greatly reduced justification for change. This
is certainly not to advocate "no change", but is important
to avoid any element of change, which will not clearly eliminate
one or more of the current obstacles to good planning. Before
any change is implemented it must be shown clearly to have passed
the very reasonable tests set out by the Secretary of State in
his introduction to the Green Paper: better, simpler, faster and
more accessible. This is particularly so in relation to the Development
Plan process where no amount of repackaging will produce improvements,
unless delays resulting from consultation and inquiries are addressed.
4.6 The Society remains to be convinced
that the system proposed in the Green Paper will necessarily be
better, simpler, faster and more accessible to all sectors of
the community. The diagram below shows how the spatial planning
framework might look.
4.7 The new system needs to provide real
flexibility as to the geographical area to be covered by a Local
Development Framework (to allow for LDFs for clusters of authorities),
and in the format and presentation. In particular, there is concern
that the proposals in the Green Paper for specific proposals to
be contained in action plans would not work well in many areas
because of the need to allocate and phase the release of sites
for housing across a number of settlements, and to define the
operative areas for a number of different policies.
4.8 Similarly, the legislation should impose
the very minimum of prescription, and be generally non-restrictive
on the content of LDFs and the approach to their production, having
in mind the need to target and enable effective use of scarce
4.9 In the early years of the new system,
Action Areas are likely to be thin on the ground as local authorities
or communities will not have the resources to prepare them having
regard to the need to concentrate on Regional Spatial Strategies,
Sub Regional Strategies, LDFs and improving the performance of
Development Control. Hence the statutory development plan will
consist of an RSS and LDF prepared in conformity. There is some
concern that if LDFs comprise only a set of core strategies and
criteria based policies, many more applications will be considered
having regard to "other material consideration" rather
than "in accordance with the provision of the development
4.10 In terms of addressing the issues of
speed, simplicity and accessibility the heart of the matter is
the approach taken to the legitimisation of the plan and its proposals.
In this regard, we would urge that the present adversarial system
should be changed to one in which there is a process of examination
of the draft plan and the work leading up to its publication,
asking the question "is it a good plan?"
5. THE ROLE
5.1 The Society fully endorses the concept
of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) which we see as a major plank
in the delivering of the sustainability agenda by pulling together
land use, transportation, economic development and other social
policies. There is a clear case for RSS having statutory status.
5.2 We are, however, opposed to the proposal
that responsibility for the preparation of the RSS (so far as
it specifies planning policy and targets) should be extended beyond
the democratically elected bodies. That does not rule out a wider
body preparing the RSS where each agency is responsible for and
controls those aspects, which it will deliver, as is the case
with community strategies.
5.3 It is essential that all planning authorities
should have an explicit, statutory role in the preparation of
the RSS and its component parts, including sub-regional strategies
or targets; and the implication in the Green Paper that County
Councils will cease to be planning authorities needs to be reconsidered.
The loss of the Counties' contribution and resources would be
fatal to regional and sub-regional planning, and present serious
difficulties for the preparation of local development frameworks
and minerals/waste plans.
5.4 The sub-regional components of the regional
spatial strategy should be the responsibility of the local authorities
within the sub-region.
6.1 Firstly, the Society recognises the
need to balance national objectives for major infrastructure with
local concerns about the impact that these might have. There is
a clear need for a mechanism that allows differences of view to
be explored and evaluated in an open and democratic manner, which
commands respect. A system that fails to do this will become discredited
and could provoke direct action from objectors.
6.2 Whilst there are some well-known examples
of public inquiries that have taken excessive amounts of time,
the majority of inquiries are expedited quickly. The procedures
they follow are generally understood and are accessible to the
public, and the decisions they produce command the respect of
objectors and promoters alike.
6.3 By contrast current Parliamentary procedures
can be difficult to access other than by those directly involved.
The use of a Parliamentary procedure should therefore be reserved
only for the most significant of projects of genuine national
interest where there is a clear advantage over the planning inquiry
6.4 The Society agrees that there are a
small number of developments that are of national importance and
that require special consideration. However, we believe that the
list suggested in "Annex C" of the consultation is far
too extensive and would be likely to prove an impossible burden
on parliamentary time. We welcome the Government's intention to
prepare national policy statements to provide a clear context
for consideration of individual projects. Our support for this
is dependent upon there being adequate opportunity for public
consultation and testing of the policy.
6.5 We agree that there may be benefit in
separating consideration of need and the principle of development
from detailed consideration of the project proposal. However,
we are concerned that decisions about suitability of location
should not be taken without adequate opportunity for scrutiny
of environmental, sustainability and other impacts prior to decisions
being taken. Greater clarity is required about how the process
proposed in the Green Paper will deal with the relative merits
of alternative locations or routes.
6.6 We consider it to be an important safeguard
that, even where a scheme has been given in principle approval
in policy terms, an Inspector should be able to recommend rejection
following a detailed examination of the practicability and impact
of a scheme.
6.7 We are not persuaded that for all but
the most major proposals Parliamentary procedure offers demonstrable
advantages over the Public Inquiry approach. We have overriding
concerns that the proposed measures do not provide adequate opportunities
for public involvement at appropriate stages of decision-making.
Democratically elected local authorities have a key role in agreeing
views as to the local acceptability of major projects, which needs
to be explicitly recognised.
7. BUSINESS PLANNING
7.1 The Society supports the notion that
certain high technology companies and other twenty first century
business need greater flexibility to be able to respond to rapidly
changing market conditions. We are not, however, convinced that
Business Planning Zones are the right way of creating this flexibility.
On the face of it they seem similar in concept to Simplified Planning
Zones (BPZs) which have proved less than effective.
7.2 If BPZs are to be sufficiently large,
in terms of floor space or land take to merit identification at
the Regional level via spatial strategies, the Society is dubious
as to whether they would have "low impact on the surrounding
area". The Society's concerns are that they would:
be likely to be on Greenfield rather
than Brownfield sites;
undermine the urban renaissance;
make the implementation and monitoring
of green travel initiatives very difficult.
7.3 In any event the Society believes that
if all the other measures in the Green Paper are implementedie
faster, better, simpler development plans, and faster development
control there should be no need for BPZs.
8. PROPOSED CHANGES
8.1 The Society supports the idea of a tariff-based
approach spread over a wider range of developments that is currently
the case with section 106 Agreement as most developments, other
than the most minor, make some demands on local infrastructure,
social, educational or leisure provision.
8.2 Because of the likely continuing need
for site-based planning obligation requirements it may be appropriate
that such tariffs should be levied for a relatively limited range
of purposes, eg affordable housing, open space, school places,
general transport improvement that would be relevant to all types
8.3 Because of varying land values both
within local authorities and between different regions tariffs
may not always be applicable because they could inhibit any form
8.4 Local Planning Authorities will need
continuing access to valuation advice if the tariffs are to be
properly related to land/development values, which can change
rapidly over time. This will be an additional financial burden
on local authorities, unless the valuation costs can be offset
against the impact fee. It is not clear how a local planning authority
will be able to justify the particular tariff it chooses to set.
One option would be to set the tariff as a percentage of the development
value. Additional government guidance on this may need to be provided
if there is not to be lengthy argument at the Local Development
Framework examination stage.
8.5 If tariffs are seen as an additional
source of capital resources for Local Planning Authorities, the
level of fees collected should not be a factor in determining
a local authority's capital allocation, Rate Support Grant etc.
8.6 As regards the proposals for CPOs and
compensation these are welcomed especially following on from the
recently published Compulsory Purchase Procedure Manual. The Society
considers that the right balance has been struck between the needs
of the community and the rights of the individual and concludes
the overhaul of procedures and how
they are applied is long overdue and the Green Paper comprehensively
tackles this, broadly in line with what local authorities have
been asking for over a long period;
it is eminently sensible that the
justification for acquisition is much more closely related to
the development plan system as proposed in the parallel Green
the simplification and consolidation
of the legislation should encourage wider use of the available
new compensation arrangements should
be more fairly applied to, and understood by, those affected by
compulsory acquisition although there may well be increased financial
obligations on Local Councils or those providing the funding.
8.7 As regards the Use Classes Order (UCO),
the Society acknowledges that the options put forward are based
on detailed research undertaken for DTLR by Baker Associates.
The Society also notes that the Preliminary Regulatory Impact
Assessment concludes that the provision of the Revised UCO should
allow "the maximum possible deregulation consistent with
delivering planning policy and wider objectives including protecting
8.8 The Society has two main concerns, firstly
that the review agenda seems to be driven by issues in London
and the South East. Many of the concerns raised are just not a
problem elsewhere in the country. Secondly, the Society believes
that the changes are not sufficiently radical and the balance
is still too firmly on the side of neighbour protection than deregulation.
9. WHETHER THE
9.1 As indicated earlier the Society endorses
the need for radical change and welcomes the broad thrust of the
9.2 The Society is, however, dubious as
to whether the reforms in themselves will achieve the sea change,
which is anticipated. The crucial issues in achieving increased
certainty, greater public involvement and faster decision, all
at the same time, are attitude and resources.
9.3 There is no doubt that local authorities
and the planning profession have to tackle head on the poor image
of planning and shift the culture from a neighbour protection
system to one that embraces positive planning at all levels.
9.4 The Society hopes that it is doing its
part with its revised Best Value Guide and the work we are doing
with IDeA and the DTLR's Modernising Unit in relation to Moving
Towards Excellence, to assist authorities in providing an excellent
and positive service.
9.5 The resources issue is crucial in terms
of funding, staffing, skills and training. The Society input extensively
to the research project "Resourcing of Local Planning Authorities"
undertaken for DTLR by Arup Economic and Planning with the Bailey
Consultancy and supports the conclusions that most authorities
are seriously under-resourced. Headline statistics from the study
37 per cent under-funding of unitary
and district authorities and 23 per cent for counties;
27 per cent increase in the number
of development control staff required to meet current needs.
9.6 Even if additional resources are forthcoming
from this year's spending review, the increasing difficulties
in recruiting and retaining staff will present a major barrier
to the improvement of services, particularly in London and south
east England. The number of students completing accredited higher
education courses each year has declined recently, as has the
number of applications to undergraduate courses (see below). Retention
problems are increasing due, in part, to the failure of pay to
keep pace with increases in the cost of living and a very tight
9.7 Only if the twin problem of resources
and people with appropriate skill are resolved, alongside the
reforms, can Government's objectives for the Planning system be
10.1 The Green Paper and its daughter consultations
are primarily about process and procedures. The Society is disappointed
that there is little about objectives and outcomes, eg:
integration of transport and land
addressing social exclusion;
the quality of design in town and
10.2 The Society does, however, believe
that there are aspects of the proposals, which if implemented
in the right way and within the right culture will assist urban
renaissance. This includes:
more focused national guidance with
a clear sustainability thrust;
a collaborate approach to Local Development
Action Area Plans including Master
Plans, Design Brief etc;
a more focused use of resources to
areas of change or in need of change;
the new CPO and compensation proposals;
the potential for increased investment
in regeneration from planning obligations.
11. FURTHER INFORMATION
Information regarding the Planning Officers
Society and the full submission to DTLR on the Green Paper can
be found on our website: www.planningofficers.org.uk
Senior Vice President