Memorandum by Shelter (PGP 42)
PLANNING: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
PLANNING OBLIGATIONS: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL
Shelter welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence
to the Transport, Local Government and Regions Select Committee
inquiry into the Planning Green Papers. This memorandum summarises
our response to the Green Papers.
Shelter welcomes the Planning Green Paper and
its associated proposals for change to the system of planning
We share the view that fundamental change is
required within the planning system, that it needs to become more
responsive and enabling, and more accessible to the local communities
that it serves.
The Government's approach to sustainable development
means putting economic, social and environmental concerns at the
heart of decision making. This means addressing all of these factors
equally. The planning framework should promote sustainable development
that delivers to the community in its widest sense. Whilst environmental
concerns are important they should not be the dominant factor,
as they sometimes have been in the recent past, and as some conservation
groups would like them to be.
We agree that the system of planning obligations
can play a significant part in the delivery of affordable housing:
we have emphasised this in our submission to the Government's
Spending Review. Greater clarity and fewer constraints within
the policy framework, and investment in developing good practice
and the skills of local authority officers would significantly
boost outputs from the system.
Shelter's particular perspective is that of
homeless people and those in housing need, and our policy proposals
are grounded in the experience that we have:
in providing housing advice through
more than 50 local housing advice centres and Shelterline, our
national telephone helpline;
through the research we have commissioned
on various subjects such as the need for investment in social
in developing specific policy proposals,
for example on the delivery of affordable housing through the
through our work with the "Blueprint
Group" (Shelter, ROOM, the National Housing Federation, and
the Chartered Institute of Housing), and our input into the London
Spatial Development Strategy and SERPLAN.
We have chosen to limit our comments to aspects
of the Government's proposals that we believe most directly affect
homeless people and those in housing need.
Summary of response
We welcome the proposals in the Planning Green
paper as they affect the operation of the planning system as a
whole. The interests of the whole communityincluding homeless
people and those in housing needmust be represented in
the planning system. Their interests are distinct from those of
developers and private house builders.
We welcome the proposed replacement of the Structure
Plan with sub-regional plans where these meet a specific need
to address strategic issues. We welcome the proposals for Local
Development Framework documents and statements of community involvement.
We agree that greater clarity in the Government's
guidance and additional training for planners and local authority
members would allow the planning system to function more smoothly.
We agree with the Government's analysis of the
faults of the current system of planning obligations. We consider
that a "tariff" system will offer much in the way clarity
of expectations on developers, faster procedures, and easier quantification
of the benefits and how they are applied.
We anticipate some issues with the introduction
of a tariff system. In particular, it may not be possible to avoid
site-by-site negotiations, the level of tariffs must be set to
take account of the risk of "choking off" development,
and substantial training of the planning officers who will operate
the system will be required.
Where "low cost market housing" is
to be included in the definition of affordable housing to be provided
on a site, there should be an explicit mechanism that ensures
that this is at a discount to the market price for the particular
dwellings in question and that this discount should be retained
in favour of successive occupiers rather than lost when the first
occupier sells up.
Shelter welcomes the Government's overall vision
and the direction of change that it set out for the planning system.
Planning for sustainability
The planning system has an economic and social
impact on society and the built environment. We therefore welcome
the Green Paper's stated objective for the planning system: that
it should deliver sustainable outcomes.
In recent years, the balance of the planning
system has shifted considerably towards conservation and restraint
of new development. Proposals for change should recognise and
redress this balance. Shelter is concerned that, while we support
the principle of "Plan, Monitor and manage", its operation
can generate a situation where:
planning bodies, dominated by conservation-minded
elected representatives, set targets for land release that are
there are insufficient monitoring
systems in place to judge the effects of the chosen level of land
release on the market and on land and house prices;
the time frames and processes for
review and evaluation do not allow any meaningful "management"
and response where monitoring systems do reveal insufficient land
The outcome is that demographic changes at the
national and regional level, and the housing need that they identify,
can be overlooked.
Representing all sections of the community
We support the proposed statement of community
involvement and the Green Paper's broader commitment to ensuring
that the planning system engages with local people and communities.
The planning system is a process through which competing interests
are balanced. For this to work effectively, all interests must
be properly represented, including those who speak for those in
We therefore welcome the Green Paper's comments
about wider representation on regional planning bodies and urge
that this should include representatives of homeless people or
those in housing need.
Local development framework
We support the simplification that will be achieved
by the Local Development Framework with its mix of core policies
and action plans. We note that the current section 54A of the
1990 Act (presumption in favour of development that accords with
the plan) means that development interests see the local plan
preparation process as the first state in securing planning permission
for any particular site. It is at this stage that the sites will
be released for development are identified and that "in principle"
agreement is reached on the level and type of planning obligations
that will be sought on major sites.
This process is a significant contributor to
the length of time it takes to prepare local plans. The Green
Paper does not directly address whether section 54A will remain
in its current form and whether the proposed Local Development
Framework will provide the certainty that developers and planners
need from the system, whilst avoiding the need to consider all
potential sites within the local authority's area.
We support proposals to ensure that regional
planning bodies are more representative of different groups. We
recommend that this should include the voluntary sector and the
interest of those in housing need.
We agree with the proposal that government advice
on planning techniques and planning best practice should be clearly
separated from its statement of planning policy. PPG3 (Housing)
does not distinguish clearly between the two. The result is that
some local authorities do not realise the extent of the freedom
they have to determine policy at a local level, and to set aside
the Government's advice where it is not appropriate to their particular
Training for officers and local authority members
We welcome the Government's proposals in respect
of the training and development of planning staff and local authority
members. In particular (and in connection with the operation of
the system of planning gain), planners would benefit from greater
understanding of the land development process and the financial
framework that developers work within. Indeed, this is vital to
the successful operation of the proposed "tariff" system
for planning obligations.
A "tariff" system
We agree with the objectives of the Government's
proposal. The current system of negotiated obligations is demonstrably
difficult to implement, it is not transparent, it imposes delays
on the development process and it can impose unexpected burdens
The tariff system addresses these issues: developers
should be clear about the contribution that they will have to
make, protracted negotiations should be avoided and it should
be easier to quantify the benefits derived and track their application.
The tariff system is also a new departure for
the land-use planning framework, although (as the Government's
proposals explain) it is based on emerging practice. We have identified
a number of issues that will need particularly close consideration:
In our view, a generalised "tariff"
that will apply across a local authority may be difficult to achieve
for a number of reasons:
valuation is usually described
as "an art not a science" and requires access to (or
appraisal of) financial information. The level of tariff due would
have to be negotiated in respect of each site failing which any
local authority determinations in this respect will be routinely
subject to appeal by landowners and developers;
the very different nature of
different sites (their ownership and development history, the
costs of remediation and infrastructure provision, the possible
presence of "ransom strips" in the access to the site)
again means that there will be relatively few sites where a process
of negotiation can be avoided. This is particularly relevant given
the Government's emphasis on the use of brownfield land for development.
as the Green Paper makes clear, the
system must avoid choking off development by imposing tariffs
so high that landowners simply withdraw from the market;
we support the Government's proposals
that local authorities should publicly account for the planning
gain agreements that it enters into in respect of each site and
provide an account of when and how the resources involved have
been received and spent;
significant investment should be
made in the training and development of staff responsible for
the operation of planning obligations. Alongside this, the Government
should work with development, valuation and planning experts to
provide good practice and standardised formats for obligations.
Consideration should also be given to introducing a formal disputes
resolution procedure or independent valuation advice service to
assist planners and developers;
within this framework of policy and
good practice that supports its use, the Government should allow
local authorities greater freedom to seek and negotiate contributions
Scope of planning obligations
Paragraph 4.5 envisages that a much wider range
of objectives should be promoted through planning obligations,
and paragraph 4.6 envisages a wider range of development types
and sizes on which the tariff might be raised. We support this
proposal. We note that, in principle, the current system ties
the proceeds of the obligations either to the local impact of
the development, or to objectives closely allied to the nature
of the development and the effect of the planning system on land
supply and house prices. Too great a gap between the two may lead
developers to challenge more routinely the nature and level of
the tariff being imposed.
We agree with the Government's proposals in
respect of the provision of affordable housing. Contributions
should be sought from commercial developments and from smaller
developments than the current PPG3 and Circular allow.
Affordable housing definitions
Shelter, along with the "Blueprint group",
has consistently argued for a definition of affordable housing
that includes both affordable social housing provided by registered
social landlords and local authorities, and housing provided by
landlords or developers at a discount to prevailing market rents
or prices and where there is a mechanism that ensures that this
discount is available to successive occupiers and not just the
first purchaser (failing which the value of the discount is immediately
passed to the purchaser in question). We are disappointed that
the Green Paper does not acknowledge this position.
We agree with the Government's position that
"A local authority's requirement for an element of affordable
housing must be justified by a demonstrable housing need"
Size of site to be subject to obligations
We agree with the proposals in paragraph 4.13
to exempt very small sites from the tariff or alternative system
of obligations. However, the thresholds suggested would mean that
the sites would be expected to make a contribution to affordable
housing would be smaller than at present. We support this proposal.
Sites for affordable housing
The proposal in paragraph 4.24 appears to us
to entail the introduction of an "affordable housing use
class". We would support this if it represents an extension
of the principles of the "rural exception scheme" to
non-rural areas (further work would be needed to determine the
practical application of the scheme).
However we would not support the more general
introduction of an affordable housing use class on sites that
are released, because of the inflexibility that this will build
into the system (for example, it would be difficult to integrate
it with the operation of the Right to Acquire that is granted
to tenants of newly developed registered social landlord properties).
Securing the use of empty homes
We support the Government's proposal (para 4.25)
that the proceeds of a tariff or obligations could be spent on
bringing empty property back into use, or other steps that will
boost the supply of affordable housing.
Co-operation between authorities
We agree with the proposals for co-operation
between local authorities on the use of the proceeds of a tariff
system or of obligations. On significant flaw of the current system
is that the level of contributions that can be obtained is minimal
in areas of severe planning constraint (eg Green Belt areas) where
the need for affordable housing may nevertheless be high. Co-operative
arrangements, working in tandem with a sub-regional planning framework,
would help to overcome this problem.
Transparency and speed
We agree with the Government's proposals in
respect of greater openness and efficiency within the system of
planning obligations, contained in paragraphs 4.30 to 4.40.
27 ROOM, the National Housing Federation, the Chartered
Institute of Housing, the Local Government Association, and Shelter. Back