Memorandum by the County Surveyors Society
1. THE EFFECTIVENESS
The Government's own evidence demonstrates that
local plans are failing to be delivered. The Green Paper confirms
that by November 2001 13 per cent of the 362 district and unitary
plans have yet to put an adopted plan in place. Since the introduction
of the requirement for comprehensive plan coverage, structure
plans have achieved complete coverage, and in most instances have
been through a review. It does not seem sensible therefore to
revamp the system in such a way that it puts even more pressure
on Districts by introducing a system based on comprehensive district-wide
Local Development Frameworks.
The Green Paper provides little evidence for
its proposals, and in particular the abolition of structure plans,
as only three years ago DETR's own research showed that structure
plans were working well. Further Lord Falconer's assertion in
a written response to Baroness Scott of Needham Market that 21
counties have taken more than five years or more to adopt revised
structure plans is misleading. CSS believes that in most cases
the authorities did complete their structure plan in under five
years and as far as we can determine in those instances where
it took longer, most of the delays were due to Government intervention,
such as local government reorganisation, and delays in approving
Regional Planning Guidance. However, at no time did this cause
undue delay to the districts in the preparation of their local
plans or mean the adoption of plans not in general conformity
with a structure plan.
It has to be said therefore that there is no
guarantee that by transferring responsibility for strategic land
use planning from the 34 County Councils to the 238 District Councils
and eight Regional bodies in England plans will be produced any
quicker. Requiring Districts to prepare both Local Development
Frameworks (LDF's) and Action Area Plans will make the system
more complex and less democratic.
LDF's are expected to take into account the
land-use implications of other policies and programmes, such as
education, health, waste, economic development, transport and
highways, all functions that in two-tier areas are provided by
the county council. If the link the counties provide between strategic
plan-making role and the infrastructure planning and land use
is severed, it will have a serious impact on the effective implementation
of planning policy.
The Government's objective for a more effective
system of plans below regional level would best be achieved by
the preparation of Integrated Development Frameworks at a sub-regional
scale rather than district level. The CCN's formal response to
the Green Paper sets out the case for LDF's which is supported
by the CSS.
2. THE ROLE
Until the Government publishes it's White Paper
on Regional Government, the proposals for the Regional Spatial
Strategies (RSS) will be applicable to a regional planning body
which is unelected and democratically unaccountable, where the
RSS will be approved by the Secretary of State.
Until this situation is changed, decisions now
taken by county councils in structure plans will be passed to
a more remote regional capital, or, more likely, to Central Government.
The level of detail needed in the RSS to accommodate sub-regional
issues is not only likely to lead to delays in the regional planning
process but is unlikely to be matched by the sub-regional knowledge
of the regional planning body. It is worth noting that the Government's
own research on structure plans (1999) expressed doubt that enhanced
regional planning arrangements "could fulfil an effective
role in providing an efficient, accountable and statutory system
of sub-regional strategic planning within the medium term".
On this basis CSS would suggest that some of
the most challenging and difficult planning decisions arise at
sub-regional level and some regions cover too extensive an area
to have a universally relevant regional strategy. Therefore an
accountable strategic planning framework at sub-regional level
is a pre-requisite to an effective planning system and RSS prepared
by the present regional planning bodies is not an acceptable substitute.
3. THE PROCEDURES
Whilst CSS accepts that there may be a small
number of developments that are of national importance and therefore
require special consideration, it is not persuaded that the Parliamentary
procedure offers any real advantage over the public inquiry approach.
The proposed process is predicated on there
being a clear distinction between issues of principle, to be examined
and determined by Parliament and matters of detail to be investigated
and settled through Public Inquiry. CSS does not believe that
such a clear distinction exists in practice. Parliament will inevitably
need to look at the detail in examining the principle. Further,
CSS doubts that Parliament will have the ability to distinguish
between the principle and detail, a difficulty that some Local
Authority Members are currently experiencing in relation to multi-modal
studies and RPG preparation.
4. BUSINESS PLANNING
CSS considers that the introduction of business
planning zones is unlikely to be of significant benefit to businesses.
There is little credible evidence that the planning system has
acted as a serious impediment to business growth other than in
circumstances, which would generally command widespread public
support. For example, planning restrictions have certainly stemmed
the spread of large out of town retail outlets and house building
in greenfield locations.
Further, the certainty provided by knowing the
planning status of land has helped businesses. Whilst the Green
Paper proposals that business planning zones are likely to be
few in number, CSS takes the view that they are likely to take
a long time to deliver and offer only marginal advantages, if
earlier experiments with Simplified Planning Zones are any guide.
However, if BPZ's were linked to regeneration initiatives they
may be worthy of further consideration.
5. PROPOSED CHANGES
The proposal for a tariff-based approach to
replace the present system(s) would be a fundamental change. It
would provide more certainty, openness and transparency and could
enable contributions to be sought from smaller developments than
at present. There are however some practical concerns.
While new sources of income are welcomed by
local government it is not clear whether government sees the new
tax as a net additional resource for local authorities. The areas
of greatest development pressure could be expected to benefit
significantly from the extension of developer contributions but
there could be losers as well as winners and the distributional
effects will have policy implications.
Whilst CSS supports the proposals for an extension
of the types of development that would contribute to affordable
housing, it has some reservations as to appropriateness of this
as a means of securing improved affordable housing. In some locations
the local economy is fragile and the imposition of such a burden
on business could cause them to either relocate, or face financial
difficulties. Additionally, CSS is concerned that Government will
see the proposed tariff as a substitute in policy and financial
terms for a comprehensive affordable housing strategy.
The provision for site specific variations would
certainly be essential with regard to transport where each development
will require different solutions. It is important that this is
not seen as an exception, since individual accesses onto the highway
network will need to be negotiated on a site-by-site basis with
the highway authority.
The overall taxation effects on the public and
private sector and on sustainable economic development clearly
require further discussion along with the practical arrangements.
Compulsory Purchase and Compensation
The proposed changes would enable authorities
to acquire land compulsorily for planning and regeneration, with
greater flexibility in the "public interest" justification
of proposals including reference to the Development Framework.
The proposals to clarify the basis of compensation should provide
a more acceptable package to those whose land is acquired and
are to be welcomed. However, CSS is not convinced that the proposals
will speed up the process, except in those cases where the proposals
Use Classes Order (UCO)
The aim of making the General Development Order
more comprehensible is certainly supported. On balance the suggestion
that permitted development rights could be varied locally is not
supported as it could give rise to confusion between different
local authority areas.
The idea of revising the UCO to enable more
flexibility to move between Classes without planning permission
is welcomed provided that these changes are consistent with sustainable
6. WILL THE
The gap that will result from the proposals
between regional and local level plan-making is not conducive
to certainty about long-term policy. Housing issues which are
usually the most controversial issue in structure plan preparation
are left to be resolved in unspecified ways.
The proposed plan-making system, which CSS contends
adds more tiers and does not reduce them as the Green Paper suggests,
will not provide a clear plan-led system as at present. Business
benefit from the certainty provided by Section 54A, and the easy
identification of what constitutes the development plan.
It is essential that the community is fully
engaged in the planning process. However, people usually get involved
because they have concerns over specific development proposals.
The Green Paper proposals that in the first instance will operate
under an unelected regional planning body, taking decisions remotely,
cannot be seen as assisting in increasing public participation.
The regional bodies will suffer from remoteness
when compared to county planning authorities. This will affect
businesses as well as residents. The removal of structure plans
will not only reduce bottom-up influence into strategic thinking
at regional level but also removes the possibility of taking on
board public views on strategic issues to which they can relate
at the local level. Local Development Frameworks and Action Plans
are also likely to limit the number and range of issues to be
raised at the public inquiry compared to existing Local Plans.
From a business point of view the speed of development
control decision-making is perhaps the most important issue. Most
of the proposals for processing planning applications, many of
which are already best practice, should help speed up the process.
In this respect, the differentiation between the type of applications
and their respective targets, the proposal of the introduction
of delivery contracts setting out a timetable for a decision,
the suggestion that business carry out pre-application consultation
with the public and undertake statutory consultations before submitting
their application may well give business some assurance of faster
decisions. However, approximately only three per cent of the applications
made in 2000-01 were for major applications (ie; over 10 dwellings
or 0.5 hectares), the majority 73 per cent were for householder
applications and minor applications, which are unlikely to benefit
from the proposals outlined above, and which will continue to
stretch already limited resources in their determination.
A further concern in relation to delivery contracts
is that they could be seen as a timetable to deliver a refusal,
in instances where currently a local planning authority would
work with the applicant to deliver an approval, albeit in a longer
Lord Rogers in the introduction to the Urban
Task Force Report, Towards an Urban Renaissance is quoted as saying
that "Urban renaissance is not only about numbers and percentages,
it is about creating the quality of life and vitality that makes
urban living desirable. To stem a long period of decline and decay,
pessimism and under-investment, we must bring about a change in
urban attitudes so that towns and cities once again become attractive
places in which to live, work and socialise."
Planning alone cannot deliver all of this. Planning
does involve the management of competing uses for space and making
of places that are valued and have identity. Both are fundamental
to enhancing towns and cities.
Concentrating house-building in urban areas
and the brownfield land target is central to Government policy
for urban regeneration. However, this requires both clear strategies
for new housing allocations and the ability to deliver those targets.
Ensuring that urban sites are developed before release of further
greenfield land is already providing problematic and under the
Green Paper this sub-regional dilemma will be even more difficult,
since many housing land issues cross district boundaries.
Similar issues arise in relation to economic
development. The influence of eight regional strategies on 238
districts is unlikely to be sufficiently robust to deliver renaissance
objectivesparticularly if the economic hotspots have the
advantage of Business Planning Zone status.
Finally, infrastructure investment as much as
planning control will determine the attractiveness of urban sites
to developers. By separating strategic landuse planning from the
transport planning undertaken by county highway authorities the
proposals will frustrate the integration of services which is
vital urban renaissance.
Director of Planning, Transport & Economic Strategy,
Warwickshire County Council
Chairman of the County Surveyors' Society Strategic
Planning and Regeneration Committee.
15 March 2002