Memorandum by London First (PGP 04)
PLANNING GREEN PAPER
London First was set up in 1992 to improve and
promote London. We represent 300 of London's largest companies
as well as the capital's higher and further education institutions.
Our response is made in the context of representing businesses
operating in London, and in our role of inward investment agency
for London, promoting London overseas, assisting companies to
set up and ensuring London remains a world city.
The issue of planning and the planning system
is one frequently cited by London First members and inward investors
alike as one impeding business competitiveness. The shortage of
homes and high cost of office space are the result of low supply,
constrained by the planning system, and are often cited as competitiveness
issues for London.
We recently undertook an extensive consultation
exercise involving over 80 companies, to advise the Greater London
Authority on how they can improve planning in London. Overwhelmingly,
business believes that whilst some improvements can be made to
the system itself, the major impediment is how it operates. This
is largely a problem of a lack of resource in planning, with too
few planners and planners not being of sufficient calibre and
lacking commercial awareness. We urge the Government to seriously
address this in tandem with legislative change, otherwise the
impact of the reform will be minimal. Planning must be properly
resourced, and the importance of planning fully recognised within
national and regional Government.
The fundamental role of the planning system
must be to encourage development and regeneration, balancing the
needs of the wider community with the needs of the immediate community.
The planning system must balance consultation with speed, and
the need to update policies with certainty. Planning, if positive
and proactive is the vehicle for the urban renaissance. However,
the system as it stands strangles any ambition.
We welcome the opportunity to contribute to
the TLR Select Committee on the Planning Green Paper. In addition
to the comments set out below, we urge the Government to consider
the importance of certainty in clarity with respect to the timetable
for change and transitional arrangements. There is a real prospect
of years of uncertainty which will reduce development and regeneration.
The proposals are described as the largest reform to planning
in 50 years. If this is the case it is imperative to get them
right. A great deal of work is necessary to turn these proposals
in to a workable planning system.
1. Without a significant increase in resources,
the planning system will continue to fail all those it is meant
2. The proposals in the Green Paper will
increase risk and uncertainty and reduce development and regeneration.
3. There will be too many levels of plans
with too much consultation resulting in no action.
4. The proposals for planning obligations
represent a tax on development, moving the onus for infrastructure
investment to the development industry, and will stop landowners
5. The draconian proposals for development
control will only work with a properly resourced and professional
The complaint with the current system is that
there are too many layers of plans and they take too long to adopt.
The proposals under the Green Paper propose to replace one set
of plans with another. They introduce a far greater need to consult
with the community which will severely slow down adoption, although
it is unclear how land and property owners will be involved in
preparing RSSs. The requirement to update plans to reflect changing
circumstances is welcome, but must be balanced with the need for
certainty for the applicant.
There is no timetable for adoption of plans.
Under the existing system 13 per cent of local authorities are
yet to produce a UDP. The expectation is that this will only get
worse. The requirement for the planning obligation tariff to be
determined in the LDF will significantly slow down adoption.
Community Strategies are currently being prepared
which could create tension in preparation of Local Action Plans
(LAP) and Local Development Frameworks (LDFs), especially if local
pressure groups oppose particular types of development. Community
Strategies are not prepared by elected representatives and as
such have less democratic weight than other plans, but could severely
delay their preparation and adoption.
Consultation will be through Local Strategic
Partnerships (LSP). A local authority area is likely to include
a number of LSPs, which begs the question of how they will meaningfully
be engaged in the consultation process. This is especially the
case for businesses who may be involved in more that LSP. If consultation
becomes too onerous and bureaucratic business will not be engaged.
The definition of community with respect to
consultation needs to be carefully considered. On major developments
the community is wider than that in the immediate vicinity, and
in some cases might be defined nationally. It is quite feasible
that a development is in the wider community interest but opposed
by those locally, those actively engaged in consultation.
It is conceivable that an area will be subject
to at least four layers of plans: the RSS, sub-regional strategy,
LDF and LAP eg the Thames Gateway is explicitly cited. This could
be more if there are topic based as well as area based LAPs. The
proliferation of plans will cause uncertainty. The areas in which
this occurs are likely to be those most needing regeneration/development.
The practicality of the plans being developed in the same timeframe,
especially as all require extensive consultation, is also debatable.
The proposals do not clarify or fully recognise
the role of the regional body in planning, especially with respect
to development control. This is most acute with respect to planning
obligations and proposals to pool funds. Pooling arrangements
for affordable housing make most sense at a regional ie pan-London
level, however, there is no mechanism to enable this.
Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) will have
statutory status, which we welcome. However, the status of the
London Plan is governed by the Greater London Act 1999 and is
to remain unchanged. This creates an anomaly, which should be
rectified by the SDS having statutory status.
The definition of national importance with respect
to call-ins by the Secretary of State (SOS) should be reviewed
in light of regional planning powers. In London, the recent cases
of 110 Bishopsgate and the Arsenal Stadium highlight the highly
unsatisfactory current position. In both cases the Borough and
Mayor were satisfied with the proposals. In the case of Bishopsgate
the SOS still called in the application. The SOS decided against
calling in the Arsenal Stadium, however, the process added risk
and delay. In neither case are there national issues. The call
in, or threat of, has delayed major and important development.
The draconian proposals are more appropriate
for a well-funded and properly resourced planning profession.
We understand the rationale for stopping the practice of twin
tracking and not allowing repeat applications, however, these
are market responses to problems in the planning system. They
will disappear when the system is operating effectively.
Proposals to reduce the life of consents to
three years and replace outline consents with [non-binding] certificates,
do not recognise the complexity of many developments and the time
it takes to secure funding, sign pre-lets and place contracts.
The intention of the certificate is to enable developers to get
an indication of what is developable. However, this will only
work if it is agreed quickly and will then be binding when full
consent is applied for. Outline consents are essential collateral
in securing funding, achieving pre-lets and site assembly eg buying
out existing interests.
The desire to establish an area where development
is encouraged and does not require consent is welcome. However,
the proposal for it to be for one type of use is contrary to planning
guidance requiring mixed developments. It is hard to see how the
concept of business planning zones (BPZ) as currently framed will
The definition of "low impact development"
is subjective and open to challenge by those seeking to stop development.
For example, all developments will impact on the demand for local
It is unclear if planning obligations will apply
in BPZs. If they do, local authorities might charge a higher tariff
as a trade off for not requiring planning consent. If they don't,
local authorities are unlikely to designate an area and forgo
The proposals for planning obligations assessed
by a locally set tariff will in our opinion create too much uncertainty
in development and make development too costly. The net result
will be a reduction in the supply of houses and offices.
The proposals break the relationship between
the planning gain and the development moving from mitigating the
impact of the development, to becoming a development tax. This
is a fundamental shift in ideology.
The proposals will mean that there will be two
tiers of payment, the tariff and site specific costs. This will
increase development costs and the time taken to secure consent.
To ensure equity the tariff will have to be
set at a very targeted local level. However, this will create
long delays in assessing the appropriate level. Variable tariffs
may produce the reverse from desired effect ie a high tariff to
deter types of development will make the development attractive
in that it will raise more revenue.
The affordable housing element of the tariff
will reflect housing need. In London this will either mean that
most of the tariff is devoted to affordable housing, or, the tariff
will be very high.
The role of regional government is unclear.
If the GLA seeks to benefit from the tariff, will it again hike
what has to be paid? The local authority will always want to maximise
benefit for the local community.
It is hard to see how pooling arrangements will
work and how they will be initiated. If they are initiated from
local authorities' LDFs they will be subject to different and
lengthy consultation process, probably in different timescales.
It is hard to see how they will get off the ground.
The most appropriate means of pooling in London
will be at a pan-London level by the GLA, especially for affordable
housing. However, there is no mechanism to achieve this.
Pooling arrangements should be time limited
(five years) with clear processes to spend the money. It should
not be possible to pool affordable housing payments whilst the
revenue from council house sales cannot be reinvested. In London
it would make sense for affordable housing to be pooled by the
The tariff to fund transport infrastructure
investment is not collected by those who invest ie Transport for
London and operators.
The thresholds as proposed are far too low and
will choke development. The threshold should be set at the definition
of "major development" once revised to more accurately
reflect what is major development.
The question of how to assess the tariff is
extremely difficult. Assessment by size is too crude, however,
by value could be very subjective. The viability of development
and the ability to pay a tariff is wholly dependent on the financial
viability of individual development proposals. Existing use values
vary from site to site, even on adjoining sites depending on types
of use, rental income derived, the need to buy out tenants, book
value in company accounts etc. Development costs will vary from
scheme to scheme egremediation costs (the level of decontamination
required is dependent on the end use), access requirements, design
factors, development risk profile (pre-let as opposed to speculative
development another), on-site s106 requirements, etc. If each
site will be subject to a valuation to determine the tariff it
will be an extremely lengthy and costly process and will be contrary
to the desire to speed up planning.
In preference to a tariff based approach, we
suggest retaining the current system with greater guidance and
training for local authorities in negotiating agreements, possibly
with independent experts to advise.
The view of London First and our members is
that the most immediate priority to improve the planning system
is to address the issue of resources. This means ensuring that
the importance of planning is recognised by the national and local
Government. We welcome the proposal to review the issue of planning
fees, however, this is only part of the solution. Any increase
in fee income must be ring fenced and additional to existing planning
resource, it should not replace existing income streams. Planning
training must also be reviewed to reflect the needs of planning
in the 21st Century.