Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by the Regeneration Practice (PGP 05)


Planning's contribution to an urban renaissance:

  The Planning System has traditionally provided a laissez-faire framework for growth. A system which was able to accommodate a high degree of public consultation, in an environment where nobody really minded generating a bit more traffic congestion, the steady encroachment onto greenfields with housing, the erosion of civic space by parked cars, or the lack of proper management of our streets and parks. Adequate homes were being built at affordable prices by the housing association sector, walking in public spaces was tolerable—if not enjoyable, and the pressure on land resources for housing was containable. John Gummer's White Paper "Household Growth: where shall we live" published in November 1996 signaled the start of a fundamental process of review of the sustainability of this approach; a review carried forward under Lord Rogers Urban Task Force, and culminating in this Planning Green Paper.

  Fundamental Change in the Planning System is at the heart of the urban renaissance debate, because it is needed to return a lost quality of life to people in urban England. The challenge is to create a system which allows growth to continue, but in a more sustainable pattern. To create a planning system which can secure our economic vitality by allowing development at higher densities on brownfield land, but at the same time create new and well managed civic places to enrich our towns and cities for people.

  To deliver this vision, planning choices need to address several complex factors:

    —  the need for speedy decisions on growth to retain our economic vitality;

    —  the provision and management of civic space in new development;

    —  land and property economics;

    —  the impact of development upon existing transport, schools, hospitals, crime, the historic environment, public parks, squares, streets, canalsides and other places for quiet contemplation.

  The proposals as drafted, are in too narrow a frame of reference to tackle all these issues. They completely fail to take account of the importance of architecture and civic placemaking to a successful urban renaissance, and fiscal measures to steer market development into more sustainable patterns. They seriously under-estimate the increase in skills, resources and authority which a new planning system must have to deliver economic vitality alongside quality of civic life.

Whether the Government's proposals will simultaneously increase civic quality and better quality planning choices, particularly for citizens and business;

The effectiveness of the system of Local Plans and the Government's proposals to replace them:

  We welcome the new Local Development Frameworks. But it is doubtful if sufficient skills exist in the planning profession to draft these Local Frameworks around the need to create, preserve and manage civic places. They are likely to be too focussed upon market solutions to development, not unlike the Unitary Development Plans, which aimed to provide a laissez-faire framework for growth. We believe a completely new planning body, independent of Local Government, and rich in civic design and economic skills is vital, if these new Local Frameworks are to encapsulate a civic case for future growth in our towns and cities. As drafted, the proposals in the Green Paper will simply rehash the existing system, with "Community and Business Engagement" tags added.

  Particularly worrying in the Paper, is the apparent misunderstanding that virtue exists in a new planning system with increased community engagement, when patently, this will only weaken the authority of the system. Community-based Action Plans would, in reality, be nothing more than a silvered aspiration on the part of Government, reflecting a political vision for local change. Greater independence, expertise and strength is needed in the new system, not more democratic engagement which belongs at the ballot box.

  Equally concerning are grossly naive references to "developers and communities working together to plan (major) developments" (Paragraph 4.23). This civic surrender will lead to English towns and cities turning into a nightmare version of Ibiza surrounded by the suburbs of Los Angeles—a process which is already all too apparent in our town and city centres and suburbs.

The Role of Regional Planning Bodies:

  Producing Plans at Regional level will merely provide a further framework for market-led concentrations of economic prosperity, denuding less economically successful areas of economic vitality. This process fuels excessive demands upon mobility, and the social and economic polarisation of England. Who will care about Regional Planning Guidance after the social consequences of another decade of growth led by these forces? A Fiscal Policy to skew growth into more sustainable regional patterns is the only measure which could actually achieve something.

Procedures for Scrutinising Major Development Projects:

  These will provide greater efficiencies in cost and time and are to be welcomed. However, the Select Committee system offers a better forum for examination of Third Party Interests by the Executive of Government than the House of Commons, which may be unduly led by the Whips.

Business Planning Zones:

  These need careful consideration as concentrations of employment remote from housing are a natural outcome of market forces, itself an unsustainable pattern creating excessive demand on transport systems and other public infrastructure. Providing a suitably skilled, resourced and authoritative planning body is in place (as we advocate), it is difficult to see any justification for these planning "opt-out zones".

Changes in the Planning Obligations procedures:

  We strongly support the introduction of Impact Fees. These will offer certainty to business, while at the same time compensating for the additional burden upon public goods and services caused by development. However, the Impact Fee proposals in the forms offered, fail to address three difficulties:

    —  The fees will be lost inside Local Government budgets and so will fail to improve public goods or services. They will therefore be seen as a development tax, and as a result, will be universally unpopular;

    —  The provision made to discount for on-site provision of public goods will need to involve negotiation. We have already seen that negotiation slows up the planning system, and does not deliver public goods such as affordable housing;

    —  The possibility that the Impact Fee system can be used to improve the quality and management of civic space in our towns and cities is not considered.

  A variation of the Impact Fee options may provide a solution. This has three elements:

    (a)  A Local Charge: This is set based upon application of a local Tariff to the gross internal floorspace of any development use proposed. It is reviewed in local hearings at which third party representations can be heard. The Local Charge is hypothecated to the recipients, under Public Service Contracts (PSC) (not to the Local Authority).

    (b)  A Use Sustainability Multiplier: This is based on the degree of mixed use. The level will be set by national Government planning guidance, after public consultation. In the example given below, single person flats are neither a mixed use, nor family accommodation. They therefore encourage unsustainable mobility demands and out-migration, fueling house building at the edge of urban areas. In this case, a Use Sustainability Multiplier of 1.25 might apply.

    (c)  A Discount Procedure for Developer Provision: If any of the "Public Goods" included in the Local Charge list are provided by the developer, the local authority may award a pro-rata discount in the Charge. However, this must include sustainable financial provision for management. For example, this will allow the developer to enter PSC's for the provision of on-site affordable housing, but only in partnership with a Registered Social Landlord, ensuring the provision is sustained. It will also provide incentives for the developer to make provision for civic space within the development, including suitable management arrangements. I include under the definition of civic space, the provision of a quality of architecture beyond that which the market could sustain; the provision of public squares and landscape features within the development which would otherwise be financially unsustainable; and management arrangements for these features.

Worked Example of Option:

  Finsbury Flats:

Development Type (say) = 200 1 Bedroom Flats for Market Sale
Development Size (say)= 10,000 Square Metres gross internal
Basic Local Charge (say)= £100 per Square Metre
Use Sustainability Multiplier (say)= 1.25
Total Local Impact Fee:= 10,000 x £100 x 1.25
  = £1,250,000

  Local Impact Fee Allocation:

  Support To:

Civic Space and Management Provision (say) = 25 per cent (£312,500)
Key Worker Accommodation (say)= 25 per cent (£312,500)
Core Funding of (independent) Planning Body (say) = 5 per cent (£62,500)
Crossrail Project (say)=25 per cent (£312,500)
Clissold Park Management Company (say) = 5 per cent (£62,500)
Newington Green Childcare facility (say) = 5 per cent (£62,500)
Finsbury Town Centre Management Company (say) = 5 per cent (£62,500)
Local Drug Rehab Project (say)= 2.5 per cent (£31,250)
London East Training Council (say)= 2.5 per cent (£31,250)
Total:= 100 per cent (£1,250,000)

  Discount Provision (to be proposed by the independent planning body and ratified by the local authority):

  50 Flats to be Provided in PSC

with Finsbury Housing Association (say) = £ 312,500
Civic Space and Management Provision (say 75 per cent) = £ 234,375
Total:= £546,875
Net Impact Charge Payable: £1,250,000—£546,875 = £703,125

Proposed Use Class Changes:

  We generally support the suggested changes and the Use Class system which allows for protection of

sustainable use patterns in the Planning System, and movement between compatible uses without consent.

  However, no provisions appear to have been considered in the case of "Live Work". Live Work is an eminently sustainable concept, and one which suits modern E Business. Its omission may be due to the difficulty of managing retention of the uses within the units—in particular, the degradation of Live Work back to Residential Use over time. A process often supported by Environmental Health Regulations, where legislation to protect amenity exists in isolation of planning rules. Unless the planning system recognises this use in its own right, beyond sui generis, it will continue to lead to sales of Live Work units at residential values, and public mistrust of the development market. We suggest that in cases where Live Work consent is granted, the financial burden of use management—perhaps involving annual inspection by the planning authority—should be reflected in the end value of the development, and therefore fall upon the developer. This should be included in the Use Classes Order as an addition to the Temporary Use provisions to avoid the current anomaly, and other legislation updated accordingly.

CPO and Compensation Procedures:

  The reforms are clearly an improvement, but some fundamental issues remain with CPO's:

    —  They are still a lengthy procedure, up to three years if contested.

    —  They are still very poor value for money due to high costs of compensation, often equal to the value of the land, interest payments and high costs of professional and legal fees. This situation is exacerbated by proposals in the Green Paper for additional "loss payments".

  There are many cases where owners, particularly of land in "bad neighbour" use, hold land assets out of development creating significant civic management issues, often in the most deprived urban areas. For example raves, abandoned cars, waste dumping and prostitution. These lost reserves of land decrease the available land in mixed-use development at any time, thereby directly increasing housing costs.

  While not strictly a matter for this Inquiry, it would clearly discourage socially irresponsible habits, if a Vacant Land Tax were introduced. This combined with the Chancellors' recent Tax Credits for Land Reclamation would provide a far preferable set of fiscal instruments to encourage land back into development, than direct public intervention through CPO. Development by the market, regulated through (an independent) planning body would clearly avoid wasteful delays and unnecessary professional, legal and other costs.

Paul Latham Dip (Arch) RIBA, Director The Regeneration Practice

March 2002

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