Memorandum by the Corporation of London
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
1. The Corporation strongly supports the
principle of improving the effectiveness of the planning system,
but queries whether all the proposals in the Green Paper will
deliver a more responsive and streamlined system.
2. The Green Paper includes a range of measures
which aim to speed up the planning system and give greater certainty
to its users. However, at the same time, it aims to ensure greater
public involvement in local decision-making. In the Corporation's
view, the difficulty of reconciling these two objectives is not
adequately addressed in the document. Many of the proposals for
greater consultation would be difficult to deliver without extra
resources being devoted to the planning system and the Green Paper
is not explicit as to how the suggested reforms would fit within
the Best Value regime.
3. Over recent months the Corporation of
London has raised a series of concerns about the present planning
system with the Government. Some of the Corporation's concerns
are addressed in the Green Paper, but there are still a number
of concerns outstanding. Points raised which are considered in
the Green Paper include:
(i) giving greater certainty to developers
through delivery contracts and certificates from the local authority
setting out the parameters for a development site,
(ii) speeding up decision-making,
(iii) the Secretary of State giving reasons
for calling in applications,
(iv) formallising planning gain to give greater
certainty and reduce delays,
(v) greater emphasis on pre-application discussions,
(vi) tougher targets for the Planning Inspectorate
in dealing with appeals,
(vii) clarification of national policy to
make it easier to predict when central Government is likely to
(viii) the issue of certificates which give
clear guidance from the local authority to a developer instead
of an outline planning permission.
4. There are a number of areas where the
Corporation believes change is necessary. These are outlined in
the following paragraphs.
5. The cost of submitting applications is
substantial. For example, the application for the Corporation
sponsored City Academy in Southwark is likely to cost around £500,000.
The applicant in the Heron Inquiry estimates that he will have
spent £3,000,000 before the end of that Inquiry; the redevelopment
of Spitalfields has cost £4,000,000 since LIFFE dropped out
with permission still to be granted. These problems are partly
addressed by the Green Paper's proposal that a developer could
seek a certificate from a local authority that the developer has
the authority agreement for a defined period to work up a detailed
scheme against parameters determined in agreement with the local
authority. But to have a major impact the whole "masterplanning"
process needs to establish the likely limits of development on
a site. Such certificates would otherwise be of limited use to
developers. The Corporation also believes there are issues of
transparencythe procedure envisaged could lead to the public's
exclusion from decisions on the main parameters for a development.
6. The planning system is not certain enough
because too many bodies and organisations are involved in the
process. In the City's case, there is a large number of bodies
that can influence a City application ranging from the Mayor and
the GLA to English Heritage and CABE. The Green Paper proposes
that the number of statutory consultees should be reduced and
that they should respond within statutory timescales. The Corporation
would also argue that there should be greater control over bodies
like English Heritage which have limited accountability, whose
meetings take place in private and whose decisions are not challengeable
except through a formal planning appeal.
7. The rules relating to the need for environmental
assessments are not sufficiently clear. They caused problems for
instance with the Swiss Re Tower. They are costly and take a substantial
amount of time to produce; yet environmental aspects are taken
into account in any event in deciding applications. The rules
have been grafted onto the existing process and they are another
source of challenge. The Corporation would like to see the rules
on environmental assessments clarified and better targeted.
8. It is too easy to mount a judicial review.
Hearings take too long to come to Court, sometimes between six
and nine months, and the delay can often be used as a negotiating
weapon. The legal aid system is abused and "poor" individuals
are used by interest groups to mount challenges against major
9. The Green Paper states that the Government
is working with the Planning Inspectorate to consider ways in
which its annual targets might be improved further. It also states
that the Government will cut by half the time taken from the close
of a call-in inquiry to the issue of the decision to the applicant.
These proposals are welcome. The Corporation believes it should
be more difficult to initiate legal challenges and that the rules
by which challenges can be funded should be reviewed. Appeals
should also be heard more quickly. Ministers as well as inspectors
should be given clear targets to this end.
10. London compares unfavourably with other
major international cities which seem to be able to give decisions
much more rapidly than in the UK. These cities seem to have development
plans, which give clearer guidance than London as to what is permissible
and what is not.
11. The current process takes too long to
complete. This increases development costs and makes it more difficult
to hit the development cycle. In the City the supply of buildings
lagged behind the last boom. A typical City site for a building
of 100,000 square feet would cost some £200,000 per month
to hold in interest charges (based on 7.5 per cent) and could
take some five years to deliver. The Corporation welcomes the
measures in the Green Paper, which attempt to tackle this by setting
new targets for planning applications and by proposing the new
delivery contracts between the developer and the local authority.
12. Human Rights has not really caused problems
as yet, but the issue feeds the current uncertainty surrounding
the planning process. The challenge to the Secretary of State's
right to call in and determine was an example of this uncertainty.
This can lead to local planning authorities taking a precautionary
approach. Furthermore, the UK system is based upon the right of
an individual to do anything on his land, which is not unlawful.
European legislation works from the other direction by prescribing
what is permissible. The Corporation believes that more care and
attention needs to be taken in working through the implications
of European legislation on UK procedures.
13. The current informal arrangement by
which planning gain is extracted causes further uncertainty and
delay. The Planning Obligations consultation paper proposes formalising
the arrangements by replacing planning gain by a national system
of tariffs. The Corporation remains concerned and has raised the
issue with DTLR.
14. Speed in dealing with major applications
is not a true measure of success if the number of rejected applications
is high. Greater emphasis should be placed on initial discussion
to ease the difficulties, which an application might face. The
Green Paper puts greater emphasis on and encourages pre-application
discussions. The Corporation supports this proposal and already
holds these discussions with developers.
15. There should be greater emphasis on
decisions at local level. One of the proposals for speeding up
the adoption of the new Local Development Frameworks to replace
UDPs is to do away with public inquiries and leave consultation
and decisions to the local planning authority. The new arrangements
are crucial to speeding up the process but are left vague. The
proposals aim to speed up the process, but at the same time aim
to involve the community more. The replacement of the current
public inquiry system which allows everyone a hearing is contentious
and the document fails to resolve the fundamental conflict between
enabling community participation and speeding up the planning
16. The Corporation believes that changes
to proposals for major infrastructure schemes must be made without
delay to avoid a repeat of Terminal five. It could be argued,
however, that the proposals contained in the consultation document
reduce local democracy by removing the consideration of policy
issues from the scope of public inquiries. On a more positive
note, the new procedures do make alternative provision for objectors
to make their case to Parliament and therefore should result in
a significant reduction in the delays and uncertainty that have
frustrated the implementation of major infrastructure projects
by focusing the debate. The City is highly dependent on accessibility
(both national and internationally) and measures to speed up decision-making
on rail and airport projects in particular, are likely to be beneficial.
17. The major infrastructure document outlines
proposals for Parliament to approve projects "in principle".
The term "in principle" is open to widely varying interpretations
and the Corporation believes that it should be better defined.
18. The proposed procedures necessitate
clearly defined policy from Government. Until now there has been
a lack of coherent national policy covering issues such as airport
expansion and this has led to delays and ad hoc decision
making. This consultation document, however, does not list any
specific measures or timetable for improving the policy making
19. The decision as to whether or not the
new proposals apply to any project is left to the Secretary of
State's discretion. The consultation paper asks whether this should
be left open, or whether a list of project types should be included.
Although the list approach still leaves scope for the application
of discretion, it is a helpful guideline as to which projects
are likely to come under the new parliamentary procedures.
20. The timescale for the introduction of
the necessary legislation is vague. The Corporation believes this
is a matter that needs clarification. The new procedures rely
on there being sufficient parliamentary time available to examine
an adequate number of projects. It is not clear how the availability
of time might be arranged.
21. The Corporation's strong commitment
to better access for disabled people is reflected in its response
to the DTLR Green Paper. The Corporation has an Access Group composed
of disabled people from the local community who advise on the
access implications of new development schemes and the environment.
This approach might be recommended as best practice to all local
planning authorities as a means of ensuring routine consultation
with disabled people. It also presents an opportunity for developers
to discuss schemes at an early stage to identify likely access
issues and a mechanism for feedback to the planning authority
on the success or otherwise completed schemes. The consultation
should aim to embrace a range of disabilities and also ages and
intereststhey tend to be weak in representation of young
people, for example. Discussing development proposals with a local
access group should be included in the statement of consultation.