Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by J Sainsbury Plc (PGP 62)



  Sainsbury's is a major user of the planning system. It is involved in development plan monitoring and representations, and submits an average of 1,500 applications a year for proposals ranging from minor signage and shop front alterations, to major mixed use redevelopment and urban regeneration schemes. Many of our new store and extensions proposals are subject to planning agreements. Last year alone we entered into c60 Section 106 obligations. It is in our interest to be able to work within an open, fair and efficient planning system.

  We welcome the Government's initiative in proposing reforms to the planning system.


  Sainsbury's believes that the current development plan system is too lengthy, over complex and overly prescriptive. We support the principle of rationalising the existing system of local plans provided it is to be replaced with an effective, certain and less time consuming alternative:

    —  In the first instance we have raised concerns about transitional arrangements for introducing new plans and we would encourage the Government to give more guidance on this point in order that the whole system does not stagnate. In cases where there is no new LDF in place and the old plan is out of date, applicants should revert to national and regional guidance;

  We then have a number of points concerning the way in which the new system might work:

    —  The objectives of efficiency, certainty and value will only be achieved if the relationship between all levels of the development plan is made clear, and responsibility for dealing with strategic issues is understood, especially if Structure Plans are to be abolished. The relative functions, purposes and limits of the regional spatial strategies, local development frameworks and action plans must also be clear.

    —  Connected to this, the Paper lacks any real suggestions on the status and relative weight of each level of the development plan in development control decisions, and how that status is achieved. For example, there is no real guidance on whether it is envisaged that action plans will have legal status for the purpose of Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

    —  We are not convinced that the twin objectives of speeding up the development plan process and increasing public access and involvement in it can be achieved with the current level of resources available to Local Authorities.

    —  We support the principle of simpler local plans (LDFs), and of more frequent reviews of both the core policies and the Action Plans that will populate the LDFs, but we would like to have a better understanding of the Government's intentions for those areas which are not covered by a specific Action Plan. We would like assurances that where Action Plans are not in place (which might be the case due to lack of resources) there should be no presumption against development.

    —  The Government does not appear to have finalised its ideas over the way in which development plans will be examined. The current process for adoption of a Local Plan is too long and the Local Plan Inquiry procedures are unwieldy but we believe that all users of the system will require some forum in which they can have their views heard by an independent "Inspector". We support the view that the report of the independent Inspector or arbiter should be binding on the Local Authority.


    —  We believe that Regional Planning bodies should focus on the regional agenda and should not produce Spatial Strategies that merely repeat national guidance.

    —  Whatever type of body is eventually charged with producing the Regional Spatial Strategies it is crucial that there is co-ordination between other regional bodies and their plans.

    —  Finally, we would like to emphasise the need to engage all stakeholders in regional planning. Companies like Sainsbury's are often perceived as being national or international, and our strong regional dimensions (in terms of number of employees, sourcing of products and numbers of stores etc) is often overlooked.


  These changes are unlikely to affect our business directly.


  Sainsbury's supports a proposal to create business planning zones where no planning consent will be necessary for development within certain specified parameters. These appear to us to have much in common with the simplified planning zones, which can be created by local planning authorities using their powers under Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. SPZs are not currently used to any great extent and it will be important for the Department to introduce safeguards to ensure that BPZs do not similarly fall into disuse.

  The idea of having such zones for high-tech industry is a good one, but we would ask the Department to consider whether the idea could be extended to other forms of development where appropriate safeguards can be ascertained in advance. This could be a useful tool in encouraging mixed use regeneration schemes if extended to a range of uses.


Planning Obligations

  The fundamental changes proposed to the system of planning obligations will have a major impact on Sainsbury's. Rather than repeat our submissions to DTLR, we would respectfully draw the Committee's attention to the following points:

    —  Much can be done with the existing system to achieve greater transparency and certainty. For example, committee papers should spell out in broad terms what is being provided by way of tariffs and obligations and the justification for these against the proposed development.

    —  Sainsbury's has no objection in principle to the idea of a tariff. There will still be the need for site-specific obligations in certain cases, underlining the point that tariffs are an additional burden rather than a replacement to the current S.106 system. The relationship between the development proposed and the site specific obligations will have to be strictly defined.

    —  Developers might well be content to have a clear tariff which gives them certainty when contemplating development (so the amount can be incorporated into viability appraisals). The tariff should be based upon net additional floor space, in order that it does not act to deter much needed and socially beneficial redevelopment and refurbishment.

    —  The administration associated with setting and collecting the tariff should be minimised. Pooling of revenues raised by the tariff is supported.

    —  Strict guidance on bands and an upper limit to tariffs will be required in order to prevent abuse of the system by some Authorities. Whilst it may be possible to build tariffs into the appraisals for new schemes it will not be possible to do so for asset development. For example proposals to build housing over supermarkets or as part of a redevelopment of low rise supermarkets would be discouraged by having to bear, not only abnormal construction and operational costs but planning obligations as well.

Compulsory Purchase Orders

  On the whole, Sainsbury's is supportive of the proposed changes, but urges a simplification of the system. Where schemes have been approved which are considered to benefit communities, the system should not prevent those schemes coming forward because the use of CPO powers is perceived as risky or too expensive to use.

  In relation to the particular changes proposed:

    —  If confidence in the system is to be restored, the legal powers must be simplified and clarified. It would seem sensible to consider consolidating legislation.

    —  In relation to the power given to local authorities to Section 226 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the power should include positive, as well as negative, aims.

    —  We particularly welcome the proposed changes to allow acquiring authorities to confirm compulsory purchase orders where there are no (sustained) statutory obligations, to allow acquiring authorities greater flexibility to amend orders and to confirm CPOs in stages. Such changes enable the use of CPOs to be a dynamic process.

    —  Sainsbury's deplores the uncertainty which is caused by the current arrangements for compensation. The changes proposed do not propose, however, radical amendment to the fundamental principles of compensation. For example, we would have liked to have seen some discussion of how the role which the private sector often plays in CPO (eg by offering alternative accommodation, or guaranteeing space in redevelopments) might be formalised.

    —  Nevertheless, we support the proposal to provide a single statutory Compensation Code. The entitlement to, and amount of, compensation must be reasonably ascertainable at the outset of any process if the system is to work efficiently and dynamically.

    —  We would encourage further review of the principle of open market value as the normal basis for determining the compensation payable for land taken as result of compulsory purchase. Anecdotal evidence from other systems suggests that a guaranteed right to a specified premium above market value can dramatically reduce the delay (and cost) associated with contentious CPOs.

Use Classes

  Review of the Use Classes Order is vital if the planning system is to be seen as responsive to business. Recent changes in the use of property need to be reflected. In addition to providing a tool for planning authorities to control and monitor change, the UCO plays an important role in commercial leases. Developers, owners and occupiers of property need to be certain that restrictions on its use are clear and that the Order does not inhibit growth and competitiveness. Accordingly, Sainsbury's supports the objective in the consultation paper, that UCO and GPDO provisions should allow the maximum possible deregulation within the context of wider policy objectives.

  Many of the changes proposed are unlikely to affect Sainsbury's core business. Some of the options for change recognise the dynamic nature of retailing, and this is welcomed. It is important that any option which is adopted also recognises the importance of mixed use developments in effecting or underpinning urban and town centre regeneration. This suggests that size thresholds should not be set too low. We are opposed to any move which seeks to remove altogether the temporary uses provisions (so that planning permission will be required), or significantly reduces the number of days for which they are allowed. Both changes are clearly inconsistent with the ideas of deregulation and producing a speedier, more efficient planning system.


  There are obvious tensions between these objectives, in particular between public participation and speed. In this context it will be very important for public participation exercises to be properly managed and for the public to understand the extent of their involvement. For example, if an urban extension area to a town has been agreed at the sub-regional level the public should be properly advised that this principle is established and that the extent of their participation should focus on the layout and design.


  Where the new development plan system is in place it should be capable of providing certainty, however, there has to be greater co-ordination between plans at different levels in order to avoid a plethora of different plans at different stages. This would lead to confusion and potential conflicts.

  One aspect that needs to be retained is outline planning permissions. Investment depends on there being legal and planning certainty that a scheme is acceptable in principle and can be developed. The proposed certificates do not provide such certainty, because of the possibility that detailed planning permission will not be granted (for example, because of a change in political control at the relevant authority). Planning applications are increasingly accompanied by Environmental Assessments. Accordingly, quite a lot of information is available to decision-makers and the community at the time a decision is taken to grant planning permission. The proposals would mean that developers will be put to the expense of providing detailed information before having formal confirmation that the development is acceptable in principle. It would also require officers and members to evaluate that information in advance of such confirmation. This appears to conflict with the Green Paper's stated aim of delivering speedy and transparent decisions.

Public Participation

  Effective community engagement needs to define both its objectives and the communities it serves. We welcome the inclusive nature of communities—recognising that they include stakeholders such as residents, interest groups, business and employers—as indicated in the Green Paper. We are, however, concerned that there is a lack of understanding in the Paper of the distinction between consultation and information. Further, the new system must not impose overly onerous duties on those charged with consulting and those who are to be consulted: to require too much will result in "consultation fatigue" for both parties (and, especially for smaller organisations, has important resourcing implications) with the undesirable result that they no longer take part.

  The Government's proposals include a number of sensible suggestions for ways in which development control and processing of planning applications can be improved. Again in our view these will necessitate increased resources. Many of the suggestions dealing with community involvement on major projects are part of our standard practice already.

  With reference to the Green Paper's proposed "Statement of Community Involvement" we support the aim of promoting good practice for engaging those with an interest in proposed developments. However, there are areas of uncertainty in these proposals, which need to be resolved. Certainty and speed will not be achieved if the same community interests are permitted to object to all stages of the proposed new process ie Regional Spatial Strategy, LDF/core policies, Action Plans and then on a specific application.

Faster Decisions

  The Green Paper's proposals for speeding up the development control process are welcomed, but we are sceptical that these can be achieved in the absence of a genuine commitment to increased resources. In addition, the government must be able to demonstrate that these proposals have the support of all relevant areas of the public sector before bringing forward primary or secondary legislation, for example, the technical statutory consultees such as the Environment Agency and those non-technical statutory consultees such as English Heritage.

  At the moment it is unclear how the government intends to fully resolve the potential conflict between greater public involvement in the preparation and adoption of LDF/Action plans with the intention of annual reviews. We believe that at the very least more resources will be required to deliver the new version of the plan led system.


  In the daughter document on Planning Obligations it is assumed that virtually all developments should be subject to planning obligations and there appears to be no recognition that development in itself can provide huge benefits to a community or set of local authority objectives. This sets a negative tone. Development is increasingly beneficial per se, providing infrastructure, offices, facilities, jobs, housing etc.

  If the planning system is to play an effective and meaningful role in urban regeneration, the current inefficiencies of the planning system must be removed. The suggested changes to planning obligations might provide clarity, but the tariffs will have to be set at a level and in a way that will not deter regeneration and mixed use projects (which, financially, are sometimes difficult).

  Through a more efficient use of LDF and Action Plans, planning could have a major role in bringing about urban renaissance. However, there is a need to ensure that authorities have the financial resources and skills to deliver it.

Sue Willcox, Head of Town Planning and Transportation

Sainsbury's Property Company

April 2002

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