Memorandum by J Sainsbury Plc (PGP 62)
PLANNING GREEN PAPER AND THE DAUGHTER DOCUMENTS:
PLANNING: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
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cases where there is no new LDF in place and the old plan is out
of date, applicants should revert to national and regional guidance;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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
Effective community engagement needs to define
both its objectives and the communities it serves. We welcome
the inclusive nature of communitiesrecognising that they
include stakeholders such as residents, interest groups, business
and employersas 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.
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
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