Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by The Association of London Government (PGP 37)



  2.  The Association of London Government (ALG) represents the 33 London boroughs. It is committed to fighting for more resources for London and getting the best possible deal for London's 33 councils. As well as providing its member authorities with a single powerful voice, the ALG lobbies for proper resources for the capital and leads the debate on key issues affecting Londoners.

  3.  This submission outlines the position of the Association of London Government in respect of the Planning Green Paper and its associated documents.


  4.  The ALG is supportive of the aims of the Green Paper for a better, simpler, faster, more accessible system. Many of the proposals coming forward meet these objectives and are welcomed.

  5.  The problems of the current planning system are identified in the Green Paper as complexity, slow and unpredictable decision-making, lack of engagement with the community and a lack of customer focus. This criticism is accepted in part but many aspects of the current planning system remain innovative and positive. The Green Paper proposals to resolve these problems are driven by the need, as identified by the business sector, for a speedier system and the need for people to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.

  6.  The emphasis on "business" and "speed of decision" is not always compatible with effective engagement with communities. Community involvement in planning should be measured not by its length but by the quality of involvement. This point is promoted in the Green Paper and is accepted. The problem is that decisions made on the use of land, now and in future, will remain complex. "Quality" engagement with the public over complex issues takes time. A system is required that gives all parties certainty of outcome and a good quality environment. Many businesses support the view that certainty is more important than speed of decision making.

  7.  There is a welcome acknowledgement that planning should be seen as a positive tool rather than merely a negative brake on development and that is has a critical part to play in achieving the Government's commitment to sustainable development. The ALG would like to see the need to build on existing best practice emphasised further in the proposals.

  8.  The planning system attempts to balance competing interests—local/national, economic/environmental, business/community, individual/community etc. As a representative body for London councillors, the ALG is concerned to see the need for democratic accountability more explicitly recognised in the proposals. The emphasis throughout the Green Paper documents on the need to provide for affordable housing is laudable but planning is about all land uses, not just affordable housing. Competing interests such as transport infrastructure, open space provision, educational and health requirements need to also be fully recognised by proposals.

  9.  The Green Paper is predicated on the belief that the present system needs substantial change. The ALG endorses this. The proposals put forward will result in improvements to the system's ability to deliver effective planning. Getting the detail right will be paramount and the ALG will seek to be involved with the DTLR, LGA and others to steer proposals through that are beneficial to the interests of London boroughs and Londoners.

  10.  Lord Falconer, when addressing the 13 February ALG conference on the Green Paper, noted that, "much of the regional machinery identified in the Green Paper for other regions is already in place in London." The Green Paper is written with the national planning position in mind. The ALG is concerned that the London context, taking into account the GLA and London Plan, is not fully reflected. The ALG is well placed to translate the experience of boroughs working within this regional machinery into developing, with government, a planning system that will fit the London context.


  11.  The ALG welcomes in principle the proposed tariff system but recognises that considerable work is needed on the detail of proposals before it fully meets the government objectives of providing a consistent, fair, transparent and speedy system. The proposal to specify the tariff at borough level and indicate how tariffs will be used though the Local Development Framework is also welcomed.

  12.  Tariffs will widen the scope of planning objectives that can be contributed to when compared to the current Section 106 obligations system. This approach is warmly supported. The move to expect commercial developments to provide affordable housing in recognition of the demands for housing that commercial development can result in is also supported. However there is a concern that the emphasis of the tariff system, as set out in the consultation paper, is that the planning system should take on a much more significant role in meeting housing and particularly affordable housing needs. The ALG believes that there is a limit to how much the planning system can be used to deliver affordable housing. There is a concern that the introduction of the tariff system should not result in the loss of mainstream funding for housing provision. The planning system sets out to balance land use needs and the over emphasis on one use, in this case affordable housing, can mean that other planning needs, such as transport provision, travel plans, education provision, health provision, open space and so forth, is overlooked. Local tariff setting must recognise affordable housing as a key issue for London, but not at the expense of all other land uses.

  13.  The tariff system should give greater certainty to what will be achieved from schemes but it will restrict the flexibility of committees to negotiate planning benefits from a scheme. A tariff implies expecting developers to pay a sum of money to the local authority rather than directly providing facilities. There will be many instances where direct provision of facilities, including on site affordable housing, will be preferable. The tariff system should be designed to allow for the direct provision of planning benefits such as open space creation and environmental improvements.

  14.  There are proposals that tariffs may be pooled on a sub-regional basis, such as for the provision of affordable housing. This should be on a voluntary rather that compulsory basis and the mechanism for dealing with these should be carefully thought through. The ALG would welcome the opportunity to discuss with DTLR and GoL how this mechanism would work in the London context. The ALG would like to explore with the boroughs and partners sub-regional pooling mechanisms to ensure that borough interests are enhanced and not diminished.

  15.  There is a concern that "tariff rich" authorities will face being a target for Central government cutbacks in grants too in the future. Will safeguards be built into legislation to ensure that locally raised tariffs are retained, in addition to, and not as a substitute for, future local government grants?


  16.  The proposal for Parliament to take "in principle" decisions on projects of national importance is accepted in broad terms. However there is a significant concern that the terms used in the consultation document revolve around "major" infrastructure and not "national" projects. There is a risk that unless there is a set of criteria by which "national" schemes could be identified a future Secretary of State could designate, and push through parliament, projects that are locally contentious, but not of national importance. There are serious concerns that this would undermine democratic processes by taking decision making away from the local level. For this reason it is considered that there must be a clearly defined set of criteria for projects that can be designated by the Secretary of State, and this should not be left to his/her discretion.

  17.  The ALG welcomes the production of national policy statements which should speed the process up[26]. However, the legitimacy of such policy statements will be improved with greater public involvement. The ALG would welcome the opportunity to be involved in production of these national policy statements to ensure that the legitimate interests of London and London boroughs are reflected. Co-ordination between national policy statements, regional strategies and local development frameworks will need to be carefully thought through to ensure that national statements do not override any recently agreed regional or local proposals. This would only serve to bring the planning system into disrepute.


  18.  There is a severe shortage of the skills necessary to implement CPOs. Much has been lost over the years. However, over the past few years there has been an emergence of regeneration proposals that involve compulsory land acquisition and many council property professionals are acquiring new skills. A dedicated DTLR unit to determine cases and the provision of clear guidelines should mean that the skills required for the redevelopment of areas subject to decline are maximised. However, the ALG urges the government to make a commitment to resource the education and training of planners and regeneration staff in the CPO skills required. The ALG would welcome the opportunity of working with the DTLR unit to share the experience gained across London from regeneration schemes.

  19.  The ALG welcomes the proposals for more generous compensation when CPOs are made. Will the government ensure that the money, or commitment to underwrite scheme costs, is made available to local government and LDA when CPOs are required?


  20.  Resources—Better resourcing is essential for an effective planning system. The Green Paper proposals will have significant resource implications for Local Planning Authorities. The timescales for production of Local Development Frameworks, preparing action plans, the processing targets for planning applications, the increased emphasis on consultation, the greater use of IT will all present a challenge to local planners and will need, if they are to be effectively delivered proper resourcing. The recently published "Resourcing of Local Authorities" by Arups Economics on behalf of the DTLR concludes that, "the overwhelming finding is that resources have declined significantly over the past five years and performance has generally worsened." The increase in planning fees by 14 per cent from April 2002 is welcomed and a full review of the system is supported. The ALG believes there is a case to be examined for local fee setting particularly in London where the cost of planning with London weighting, compared to the rest of the country, is higher. Ambitious changes to the planning system will not succeed in delivering the government's agenda unless the issue of resources is adequately addressed.

  21.  Transitional Arrangements—Prolonged uncertainty could damage the planning system. It is important that Ministers make decisions in principle at the earliest opportunity whilst leaving options for detailed further discussion. The ALG would like to see a firm timetable for implementation. The ALG is concerned that there is a danger that, particularly if legislation is required for changes and that this is delayed, there could be a hiatus in the system, which will be of benefit to no one. As soon as the consultation period is over, firm guidance to local authorities on the way forward should be produced. The ALG is keen to work with DTLR, the GLA and GoL to ensure that the specific circumstances of London are reflected in any such transitional advice.

  22.  Targets—Targets must be carefully devised and acknowledge the context in which they are set but still be challenging. The ALG has concerns regarding the target that 90 per cent of decisions should be delegated to officers. There needs to be some flexibility around targets. Elected members must have the right to refer decisions to committee. Many local authorities take planning decisions on a neighbourhood area basis and encourage community involvement. A framework of targets needs to be flexible enough to allow for democratic processes and accountability. Many boroughs delegate as much as they can to officers to speed up the process. This is done within clearly defined parameters and normally recognises that elected members have the right to refer certain classes of development to a committee for decision.

  23.  Retention and recruitment of staff—the ALG, in conjunction with the Association of London Borough Planning Officers, has a working party examining these issues in the London context where problems are particularly acute. We welcome the government's commitment to create a more dynamic and confident planning profession, which will attract people back to the planning profession. The work undertaken by the working party could positively contribute to this debate and we have already offered to share this work with the DTLR, RTPI, LGA IdeA and others to help deliver an action plan to deliver major improvements in the recruitment, retention and training of planners in local authorities.

  24.  Diversity in planning—Within London there is a wealth of practical experience that has built up within local planning authorities of planning for diversity. The ALG considers that there should be national planning guidance on this important area and would welcome working closely with DTLR and others to see this to fruition. Research in this area is also required to identify best practice and to build on work undertaken in the past by the CRE, RTPI and others.

  25.  Replacement of Unitary Development Plans with Local Development Frameworks—The move towards Local Development Frameworks (LDF) and the closer links between Community Strategies and planning is welcomed. Clarification is needed about whether the LDF and associated plans will have statutory status and be subject to an examination in public. If the LDF is to have "plan led" status so that "decisions have to be taken in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise" then an examination in public or public hearing before an inspector would be the preferred approach. A public examination of key policies would add legitimacy to the process and help avoid challenges to decisions made on the basis of adopted policies. The relationship of LDFs to the London Plan also needs to be clarified along with whether there will need to be a certificate of conformity with the London Plan for each LDF.

  26.  Action Plans and community involvement—The production of action plans, either "local" or topic based are to be identified in Local Development Frameworks. These more detailed plans would focus on areas of change where site-specific policies are needed to guide development. The Green Paper notes that, "people whose property rights are directly affected should be allowed to make representations and be heard if they wish to." (para 4.27). The ALG recognises the need for community involvement but there is a danger that a series of smaller inquiries on individual action plans could result. This would be extremely resource intensive. The ALG would wish to be closely involved with drawing up proposed guidance for action plans particularly in the London context where the role of the GLA in the process would need to be clearly established.

  27.  Business Planning Zones—The ALG does not support this proposal. The Business Planning Zones are meant to have a "low impact" on the surrounding area and are aimed at high technology companies. The ALG believes that in order to ensure good quality design etc. a significant amount of time and effort will have to be expended developing the scheme. The ALG proposes that it would be more effective to identify areas where high technology companies should cluster, through regional Strategies (in the case of London this would be "the London Plan") and Local Development Frameworks (and Action Plans) and deal with applications through the normal planning process. A DETR report by ECOTEC in June 2000 found that the current system does not constrain this type of cluster development. There is a danger that introducing a Business Planning Zone will add delay. Significant time will be spent on getting a BPZ scheme right in terms of design, layout and infrastructure to ensure a good quality development will result.

  28.  Third party rights of appeal—The ALG support the government's decision not to support the introduction of third party appeals. Whilst there is a logic to the principle of third party rights of appeal in certain instances, the introduction of such a process could prove time consuming, costly and could create greater uncertainty as many developments both minor and major would be open to challenge. It would also have a significant impact on resources required by local authorities to deal with the increasing number of appeals.

  29.  Local Planning Advisory Service—Establishment of this service, which is aimed to help implement changes on the ground, is welcomed. Issues within London, given differing governance structures, mean that a London dimension will be required for such a service and the ALG would welcome working with DTLR, GoL, GLA, LGA and business partners, some of whom already offer planning advice, to develop this service so that it meets the requirements of planning in London.

  30.  National Planning Policy Guidance notes—The ALG welcomes proposals to reduce the volume of national planning policy guidance. (PPGs) We support the timetabling of a review of the number of key PPGs over the next two years. It is important to note that given the structure of London government, the planning system as it operates in London and the specific policy issues London faces there is often a "London" dimension in any policy guidance. The ALG would welcome discussions with DTLR, the GLA and GoL ensure that these are appropriately reflected in national planning policy guidance.

  31.  Planning checklist—The proposal for a planning checklist is supported and the ALG would welcome close working with the DTLR and LGA to ensure that it reflects the planning dimension in London. However, the ALG believes that one list will not fit all. The householder or small business will find the system daunting and flexibility to reflect the type of application and possibly local requirements will need to be built in.

  32.  Masterplanning—The masterplanning approach is a promising idea. It should provide the basis for a better designed and community orientated developments. It would enable the local authority to establish its aims and appropriate land uses on a site by site basis, similar to the current system of using planning briefs. However this approach would have significant resource implications for local authorities. There would need to be substantial negotiation, supervision and consultation to ensure that an acceptable plan is produced. There is a concern, particularly in areas of regeneration, that the masterplanning approach could stifle innovation. Flexibility is required to allow new and creative ideas to flourish. Outline planning permissions can serve a useful purpose on some sites where the masterplanning approach may not be appropriate. The ALG is seeking reassurance that all circumstances and issues are addressed before outline permissions are fully replaced with the masterplanning approach. Good practice guidance should be produced on the masterplanning approach and the ALG would welcome the opportunity of sharing the experience of London boroughs on this issue.

  33.  Omissions—Although the Green Paper promises that planning should have a "new strategic focus" the ALG would like to see further debate on the areas subject to planning control. A complex system of controls has developed over the last 50 years and the ALG would wish to see a more radical review of this complex system, particularly by revision of permitted development rights. This complexity has led to an increasing workload for planning departments. Some examples of changes that could be introduced include:

    —  The ability to allow part of an application and refuse part would be a useful tool for local authorities.

    —  The prior notification system should be scrapped.

    —  The introduction of a time limit within which development should be completed needs to be examined.

    —  If a development is not completed within the defined timescale financial penalties should be imposed.

March 2002

26   A major part of the Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry was taken up trying to establish what a national airports policy was since the last document produced in 1985. Back

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