Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by McCarthy and Stone (PGP 13)

Memoranda to the Select Committee for Transport, Local Government and the Regions on Planning: delivering a fundamental change and the accompanying papers on Major infrastructure projects, Reforming planning obligations and Compulsory purchase and compensation.

  McCarthy and Stone, as the UK's major provider of private sheltered accommodation for the elderly, has a very strong interest in the proposed reforms to the planning system and hence welcomes the opportunity to be able to submit views on the proposals to the Select Committee. Our views are as follows:

The effectiveness of the system of local plans and the Government's proposals to replace them

  We welcome the overriding objectives of the Planning Green Paper, to speed up the planning system and make it more effective and able to bring about good planning. However, in our opinion the problem with the current system is not its structure but the way in which the present system is interpreted and implemented.

  For example the abuse of Circular 1/97; the slow processing of planning applications; the lack of priority given to brownfield development and/or schemes for special needs housing; the objection to high density housing; and the general resistance to change. Much more could be achieved through proper enforcement of existing policy and legislation. Therefore we do not believe that the Local Plan system needs to be radically reformed. Instead the Government could cut burdens on Local Authorities by reducing the need for overlapping strategies, such as community strategies whose precise role seems unclear to us and where many of the objectives would be very similar to those of Local Plans or the proposed Local Development Frameworks. Furthermore, removing material from Local Plans that is not sensitive to local variations, such as development control and design standards, listed building polices, conservation policies, access and car parking standards will simplify and speed up the problem. Above all, the Secretary of State should be prepared to apply sanctions to local councillors that do not adhere to national policy and guidelines.

  In terms of the proposals for LDFs and Action Plans, we are concerned that Action Plans will take longer to produce or will not be produced with the same time discipline as the LDFs. We find it hard to envisage that the new system will create more certainty for interested parties.

The role of regional planning bodies

  McCarthy and Stone supports the proposal to simplify the hierarchy of plans but believe that it will be necessary to strengthen the scope and quality of regional planning in order to do this. It is our view that regional plans are currently inadequate to replace the county structure plans. It will be vital for the Regional Planning Bodies to consult far more widely and effectively in the future if this is to be achieved.

  In our view the regional level is the most appropriate for addressing the implications of predicted social, economic and environmental change for the planning system. One example of this is the projected growth in the number of older people (by 2016 one million more single pensioner households will exist). Currently there are no housing strategies that consider the implication of this future change and we believe this should be addressed at the regional level.

Proposed changes to planning obligations and CPOs

  The Government's proposals to replace planning obligations with a development tariff are fundamentally flawed and if introduced in the form outlined in the White Paper would seriously jeopardise the future development of brownfield sites. The reason for this is that the proposed tariff would not be linked with, or reflect, the social or environmental impact of the development or the cost of developing the site. We speak with experience as all McCarthy and Stone schemes are built on brownfield sites that have significant costs associated with bringing development forward—including demolition, decontamination, noise attenuation, tree protection and highways contributions. In addition to this, the fact that we build Category II type sheltered housing means that 30 per cent of each McCarthy & Stone development is non-salable consumer space.

  To set the tariff using simple criteria such as floor space would prejudice heavily constrained urban brownfield sites from being developed—it is wholly inappropriate to apply the same level of tariff to a small brownfield site as to a small greenfield site! We also believe that affordable housing policy should only be applied to sites greater than 0.5 hectares, irrespective of the number of dwellings proposed, as smaller sites are unsuitable for and incapable (physically and/or economically) of, accommodating a mix of housing types.

  Furthermore we would be extremely concerned about the lack of scrutiny there would be over the levels at which tariffs would be set and how the income would be spent by each local authority. In fact McCarthy and Stone fundamentally opposes the very principle behind this tariff, that a developer should pay for wider community services that bear no relation to his development. At the end of the day it is the consumer (who in our case is typically a widow in her mid 70s) who pays with higher property prices.

Whether the Government's proposals will simultaneously increase certainty, public participation and faster decisions, particularly for business

  On average it takes McCarthy and Stone 12-13 months to secure a planning consent for a typical Category II type sheltered housing scheme. We agree that there is a genuine and urgent need to speed up the planning system. The Green Paper contains some proposals that would improve the planning system, but many that would not or that we are unclear about at this stage.

  In our view, the following proposals would speed up the planning system:

    —  Fast track mediation.

    —  Statutory planning performance targets.

    —  Better resourcing of planning departments.

    —  90 per cent of all applications being dealt with by delegated authority to officers.

    —  Simplifying the development plan process by abolishing structure plans.

    —  Making an independent Chair or Inspector's report on a planning appeal binding.

  The following proposals would however slow down the system and cause more delay:

    —  More community consultation at all levels (without mandatory deadlines).

    —  Removal of crown development from planning controls.

    —  Reasons for approval.

    —  Opening up committee meetings to public debate.

    —  Removal of facility to duplicate/twin applications which is an important means of trying to achieve greater discipline amongst authorities.

    —  The proposed LDFs and Action Plans.

    —  Removal of the public local inquiry into a draft LDF and Action Plan.

Planning's contribution to the urban renaissance.

  Whilst McCarthy and Stone welcomes the spirit and principles behind the Planning Green Paper we are extremely disappointed that it hails fundamental reform without tackling the fundamental problems that lie behind the failings of the current system. The real challenge is for the Government to nurture more positive attitudes towards development, and to make more people understand that it is development that brings about urban renaissance.

  It is our view that negative attitudes, not complexity, are the underlying problem. Whilst we acknowledge that some development is controversial, McCarthy and Stone's developments are not and yet we still experience considerable difficulties in achieving a planning consent. On many occasions we have been refused planning permission because of local concerns—such as the density of development; an allegation of inadequate car parking; the loss of an existing use, (even though such use can be shown to no longer be economic or beneficial); and, a general resistance to change!

  We also believe that there is considerable scope at all levels for greater consideration and understanding of the implications of social, economic and environmental change for the planning system. Local authorities and central government currently seem to be stuck in the groove of affordable housing, affordable housing, affordable housing... despite the lack of high quality compliance needs assessments and, controversial as it sounds, an overestimation of the need for affordable housing over other types of housing in some areas.

  Finally, in order to really speed up the development of brownfield sites we believe there should be a formal presumption in favour of brownfield development. At McCarthy and Stone, we would take this one step further and argue that given both present and future need for housing for the elderly, there should be a formal presumption too, in favour of sheltered housing and other forms of special needs housing to ensure an adequate supply for future generations.

March 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 2 May 2002