Memorandum by BURA Steering & Development
Forum (SDF) (PGP 48)
FUTURE OF PLANNING SET OUT IN THE GREEN PAPER
The Select Committee has announced that it to
hold an inquiry into the recent Green Paper on the future of the
Planning System. It is particularly interested in:
the effectiveness of the system of
local plans and the Government's proposals to replace them;
the role of regional planning bodies;
the procedures for scrutinising major
business planning zones;
proposed changes to planning obligations,
CPOs and compensation and use classes;
whether the Government's proposals
will simultaneously increase certainty, public participation and
faster decisions, particularly for business;
planning's contribution to the urban
The evidence presented below does not follow
these points in sequence, but does address most of them at some
The Steering and Development Forum (SDF) of
BURA is a broadly based group of business, public sector and not-for-profit/community
organisations, drawn together within BURA by a common interest
in, and experience of, Urban Regeneration. The Forum made a submission
to the DTLR prior to the publication of the Green Paper, and has
responded to the Green Paper. Our focus is naturally on the impact
that the Green Paper is likely to have on regeneration. The list
of SDF members is attached as an annex.
This document represents the shared views of
members of the Forum, without representing the formal policy of
any individual member organisation.
We welcome general tone and intent, and the
very fact that this debate is taking place. We also welcome much
of the content of the Green Paper and associated documents, which
reflect many of the aspirations in BURA's SDF submission made
The Green Paper attempts to bring about radical
change: to turn a system which has become perceived as essentially
negative into one which is positive in its support for and of
sustainable communities, and seen to be central to their wellbeing.
We welcome this aspiration and believe it will require strong
connections to be drawn between Economic, Environmental and Social
issues and objectives at national, regional and local levels.
These connections will need to be complemented by substantial
resources and training if the new planning system is to result
in efficient and effective delivery at each spatial level of authority.
1. Transition Plan
Despite our enthusiasm for the general aspirations
described in the Green Paper we are very concerned that it will
prove counterproductive if its delivery is not thought through
in greater detail before implementation begins. We understand
the need to maintain the momentum created by the Green Paper,
but our concern is highlighted by various reports of local authorities
believing that the system has already been changed, which of course
it has not, in any statutory sense. We would like the Government
to produce a Transition Plan as its next step, to show how the
new system would be brought in, allowing time and encouraging
contributions for each part to be properly thought through in
detail. The fine and courageous aspirations need to be translated
into robust mechanisms if their delivery is to stand a good change
of success. Without detailed thought the new proposals will become
bogged down in unresolved conflicts, some of which are inherent
in the Planning System, whilst the existing system will falter
and fail to deliver, even at its current level. This would produce
decay, not regeneration.
It is not clear to us to what extent this detailed
consideration has already happened or is happening. The members
of BURA's SDF are willing, and feel able, to support the process
of detailed consideration and would welcome a commitment from
Government to work in partnership with BURA and other relevant
interest groups when taking forward the various actions which
will be defined in its Transition Plan.
2. Commitment and Resources
The other "must have" for success
is a deep-rooted long-term and consistent support for the new
proposals from Government at national and local levels, plus the
resources necessary to enable the new approach to deliver. A change
of culture is called for, accompanied by a substantial increase
in the skill needed. Only then will we see real changes in behaviour
that are needed in many local authorities; though not in all,
since some have been able to exhibit much of the desired behaviour
already. (This shows that this is not simply a problem of changing
The following comments reflect some of our main
areas of concern. We would be happy to expand on these in direct
and open dialogue with Government and other stakeholders.
D. MAJOR AREAS
Major Issues arising from the Green Paper include:
1. The National/Regional/Sub Regional/Local
spheres of responsibility need to be clearer, and links between
them defined so that they embrace and carry through the commitment
to holistic planning, incorporating economic, environmental and
social aspirations at each level. Relevant stakeholders need to
be identified and involved in each level of plan making.
National infrastructure development,
such as national aviation, national freight and waste policies
must be steered by co-ordinated planning and investment decisions
by national government. Moreover there needs to be a recognised
inter regional element to planning policy and practice if the
north-south disparity is to be alleviated and regeneration is
to proceed in some of the most deprived parts of the country.
We agree that the volume and complexity
of national planning guidance should be reduced, and suggest that
there should be a clear distinction drawn between, on the one
hand "fundamental national planning policy" which should
be followed, and on the other hand "good practice guidance"
which can be interpreted more flexibly.
National and Regional Plans need
to tacklenot duck-the difficult issues which have typically
been avoided by collections of more locally-based bodies. In the
absence of directly elected regional bodies it is essential that
local elected authorities are represented on regional planning
bodies, but also that such bodies are expected to tackle the difficult
issues such as overall housing requirements and distribution.
In the past regional planning produced by collections of Local
Authorities has too frequently fudged such issues.
Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies
need thorough integration. Economic targets must fit with and
help drive forward planning objectives. RDAs need to be given
a formal role in relation to RSS approval and to be statutory
consultees on major development applications.
Sub Regional plans should be required
in areas where major change is called for, and where regional
bodies wish to see clear sub-regional frameworks, either within
or across regional boundaries.
2. At the Local level, we need the effective
engagement of communities whilst promoting efficient and effective
delivery of necessary change. This is a crucial issue, and needs
to be resolved. Government should produce firmer and clearer guidance
about how this process can work, and what constitutes "community".
We need terms of engagement and easy access to brokering systems.
There are now several models available of good practice (eg Urban
Villages, New Deal etc), which should be examined, summarised,
codified and recommendations produced. It would be immensely helpful
if the adopted approach were common to all aspect of Government
work with communities, representing a consistent attitude, enabling
wider understanding of what the term "community engagement"
All participants in the local planning process
need to acquire a shared understanding of what is and is not required
or considered good practice. Mediation should be used as much
as possible to achieve final agreement to a Local Development
Framework, with the ultimate process being through examination
before an independent chair. It needs however to be acknowledged
that the proposed process is very likely to increase front end
costs for regeneration.
The Local Development Framework and the Community
Strategy should be formally linked together. The process and timetable
for the production of these two vital cornerstones of regeneration
should be unified, leading to the publication of separate but
clearly linked and consistent documents. This process should take
on the roles of both interpreting "top down" policies
from National and Regional levels, and providing "bottom
up" input to regional and national policy making. The points
in the process and the communication lines for doing both of these
need to be spelt out in a clear and unambiguous manner.
Local Action Plans, including the more widespread
and positive use of Planning Briefs will need a more pro-active
approach from Local Authorities. This is recognised in the Green
Paper, but in many places it will need LPAs to be better resourced
and in many cases to undergo cultural and behavioural change.
There is a real anxiety that the necessary resources, both financial
and human, will not be available for the task in sufficient quantity
or quality. The other anxiety is that Local Authorities will not
have the confidence to engage in positive planning. Whilst there
will always be a need for proper scrutiny and objective appraisal
of plans and applications at the point of approval, this must
and need not inhibit a proactive approach by LPAs to create realistic,
deliverable development plans in those areas which need substantial
regeneration. LPAs will need to discuss and engage in processes
with potential developers and investors, as part of plan making
as well as through pre-application discussions. This should not
be seen as prejudicing LPAs' ultimate responsibilities to judge
the suitability of plans or applications, as long as such activity
is transparent, is complemented by wider community involvement,
and takes place within a set of objectives, which have been established
in the Local Development Framework and Community Strategy. Government
must take action to encourage and empower LPAs to engage in these
positive processes and overcome a deep-rooted anxiety felt by
many, by guidance, by supporting existing best practice and possibly
through legislation. (There are good examples and precedents already
in some more enlightened planning authorities and in former public
bodiessuch as New Town and Urban Development Corporationswhere
radical and beneficial change has been stimulated through a pro-active
approach without falling foul of legal responsibilities to act
For large regeneration schemes, which may often
have a delivery timescale of 10 plus years, the replacement of
Outline Planning Permission with a Certificate raises serious
concerns. It needs careful attention if the effect is to avoid
damaging their viability. The planning permission has the effect
of fixing the value to the site, and often it is essential to
secure this as soon as practicable in the regeneration process
to enable a flow of further funding. There are completely acceptable
techniques for aligning the environmental assessment process with
the outline planning application format. To abolish it will create
the potential for very significant new up front costs for regeneration
as schemes have to be produced in more detailed form. It is not
at all clear that the proposed certificate system would provide
the necessary flexibility economy and speed.
3. The need for legislation, and the extent
to which much can be achieved without waiting for it is another
area needing careful attention. The SDF is fully supportive of
making progress as quickly as possible, subject to our opening
caveat that the resolution of conflicting parts needs thinking
through in some detail first in the form of a Transition Plan.
To encourage change without this detailed thought would be courting
disappointment through failure and ultimately would set back the
causes to which the Green Paper rightly aspires. However, some
objectives cannot be fully achieved without legislation, even
though a start may be possible in advance. Below we give an initial
list of those areas, which we believe need legislation:
Regional Spatial Strategies
Compulsory Purchase and Compensation
We believe that most other objectives embraced
in the Green Paper would better be achieved through guidance and
4. PLANNING OBLIGATIONS
Our concerns about premature implementation
apply very strongly in the area of Planning Obligations. In general
we support the use of tariffs, but foresee many dangers in their
Some national control is imperative,
but needs to recognise local circumstances, to reflect local development
values and allow some flexibility.
Tariffs should not regularly be supplemented
by additional negotiated payments, but there will be circumstances
where such supplementary payments are justified. These circumstances
need to be defined and easily understood.
Tariffs could be a regressive form
of taxation unless there is sufficient flexibility to transfer
funds across boundaries from richer to poorer areas.
The tariff system should be used
to support good quality sustainable development, not simply to
encourage brown field reclamation.
The question of tariffs is of particular concern
to some members of the Forum. The nature of these concerns are
described in a fuller note on this subject which is appended to
5. OTHER POINTS
Targets are generally welcomed, especially
their application to Government Departments.
More delegation to officers in LPAs
needs to be balanced by adequate community safeguards.
Limiting Planning Consents to three
years is not supported, because it would undermine investor/developer
appetite for larger and more difficult regeneration schemes.
LPAs will need more resources if
the aspirations are to have any chance of success.
Support for nominated officers for
Support for a "one stop shop"
approach for planning, listed building and other consents.
Higher planning fees supported as
long as they are used to resource the positive planning service.
Lack of flexibility in the Use Classes
Order could discourage investors in projects such as "research
parks" in marginal areas where agencies are trying to use
such developments as drivers of regeneration.
E. TO CONCLUDE
Finally, we repeat our wish to see a Transition
Plan, through which BURA and other interested parties can engage
with Government to agree the detailed operation of the proposals,
through which the shared aspirations of the Green Paper can be
Chief Executive of BURA
18 March 2002