Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by The Institution of Highways & Transportation (PGP 49)



  1.  The Institution welcomes the Committee's inquiry into the Planning Green Paper and related consultations.

  2.  The IHT's response to the Government's Planning Green Paper acknowledges the need to reform the planning system but highlights three over-arching concerns about the proposals:

    —  "transport" and "transport and land-use integration" are not given sufficient weight;

    —  there is a need to specify existing weakness more clearly and demonstrate that the proposed new system would be swifter and lead to better quality decisions; and

    —  Local Transport Plans and Local Development Frameworks need to be produced by the same accountable body otherwise integration and strategic vision may be compromised.

  3.  We note that our consultation response will be made available to the Committee. This submission will address the questions set out in the Inquiry Press Notice (Number 38).

The effectiveness of the system of Local Plans and the Government's proposals to replace them

  4.  We do not defend structure plans as a statutory plan, but we do believe that—in most cases—the county level is sufficiently strategic to deal with broad-brush issues in Local Development Frameworks (LDFs), and sufficiently local to address local concerns. It is important to avoid divorcing town from country, especially in the context of trip making.

  5.  There is no consensus that Local Plans are a major part of the problem or, more importantly, that they have achieved their potential. There is a question, however, over whether unitary plans are more effective and integrated.

  6.  This brings us to the question of whether the Green Paper provides any hard evidence for the proposals being made. Is it the process that is at fault rather than the site-specific plan-led system? If there were some form sanction or penalty for "tardy" planning authorities, would the system speed up in the way we desire? How are lower tier authorities incentivised? Like the Government we wish to see improved performance. Use of sanctions must be a consideration in "failing" authorities. Furthermore, there is no regulatory inspectorate for planning or transport: a stronger more effective national inspection regime should be considered to help achieve targets. The Green Paper could usefully attempt answers to these points.

The role of regional planning bodies

  7.  With respect to the proposed Regional Spatial Strategies, democratic accountability is important and we await the Green Paper on regionalism with interest. However, as a guiding principle, it is important to ensure that the planning system is in the hands of elected bodies that can be held to account.

  8.  It will be important to ensure the capability, competence and capacity of regional bodies to develop credible sub-regional strategies. In particular, it will be important to ensure that they are not perceived to be too remote. They will need local knowledge to make local decisions. They will need to attract and retain sufficient staff of the required quality. There will need to be adequate controls of the potential for regional bodies to be seen as too politically driven. All of this will depend on the strength of national guidance.

The procedures for scrutinising major development proposals

  9.  We support the need to streamline the system and speed up delivery. But we do not believe the proposals will offer significant benefits if the present adversarial inquiry system is retained without any of the present issues being excluded.

  10.  We welcome and support the package set out in paragraph 6 of the consultation document. A clear and unambiguous statement of national policy is important.

  11.  It is essential to face up to the fact that the price of greater speed may be less community involvement. There is no escaping this inherent dilemma and the Government needs to be honest about the reality that the proposals will not safeguard public debate about the principle of a project.

  12.  However, on the positive side, based on the definition of major transport infrastructure projects at Annex C of the consultation document, we do not believe that there will be many cases in which the proposed measures would be invoked. In this respect we do not think that the proposals will have a significant impact.

  13.  We have some concerns about definitions. In Annex C, we consider the definition at paragraph 7 to be unclear and unsatisfactory for linear transport projects. At paragraph 6 of Annex C, we think that "30 km" seems very long, and that very few schemes will be captured by this definition.

  14.  The proposed approach gives the impression that the new arrangements for Parliamentary approval in principle will be relatively strategic. However, sufficient detailed design work will need to have been done to permit an adequate Environmental Statement (ES). In this regard the ES is an important safeguard. But, if a full ES is to be included, will it actually save time? Notwithstanding approval of a scheme in principle by Parliament, local people will want to have their say. It is our experience that local communities that are affected by a particular project want to question the overall need (as it applies at the local level), alongside matters of relative detail, like the type and location of fences, streetlights, road crossing points etc. We have seen this in Transport and Works Act Order applications. While the procedures require the specification of the limits of deviation for proposed engineering works, in reality the Environmental Statement must, in effect, show the scheme in substantial detail. The resultant Public Inquiry then focuses on very detailed matters of concern to local people who may be directly affected by the proposals. Inevitably, there will be important questions of intricate detail that Members of the House of Commons would need to determine if "justice" is to be seen to be done.

  15.  We doubt that the Parliamentary procedure would be better than having a national rail strategy, but perhaps the national policy statement will address this. But where does the national policy statement get scrutinised and approved? It is not clear how the "upper-tier" policy will be formulated and presented.

  16.  If, say, light rapid transit and guided bus schemes are identified in proposed Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks, and therefore already endorsed in principle, would the Parliamentary procedure prove necessary? This raises questions over the role of Regional Transport Strategies, which should cover many of the strategic decisions.

  17.  There is a human resource implication here too. Project team resources would be tied up in new ways, ie in lobbying MPs. MPs would need to be ready for what might turn out to be a flood of additional representations and lobbying in significant and controversial cases.


  18.  We are very worried about the Business Planning Zone proposals based on experience of Special Planning Zones. We are concerned that, if there is no need for planning permission, there would be no mechanism to negotiate transport improvements and planning obligations in relation to individual developments that may have detrimental effects on transport safety and efficiency, both inside and outside the BPZ.

  19.  We are particularly concerned that there would be no mechanism to control parking; this would be detrimental to, and compromise, wider sustainable development objectives. Many of the impacts of a BPZ would be off site, outside the Zone and possibly in a separate administrative area.


Planning obligations

  20.  Our primary concern about the planning obligation proposals relates to whether or not transport needs would get a fair share of revenues raised through a new tariff. Planning obligations presently exist to overcome impediments that would otherwise render development unacceptable. We do worry that the proposals are designed to direct funds to social housing. While social housing is undoubtedly important, it may not represent an impediment to development in the way that ensuring safe, sustainable and efficient access undoubtedly will in many cases.

  21.  We believe that it will be important, despite the proposed area wide tariffs, to negotiate on a site-by-site basis, over and above the tariff, since transport/access costs vary and one overall formula would not work. Accordingly, we believe that a new system should be flexible and that, early in the development process, infrastructure costs must be understood and taken account of in the application of any tariff.

  22.  We are also concerned that, if tariffs were to be introduced on a national or regional basis, then poorer or more needy areas may be disadvantaged if development no longer becomes viable. Furthermore, if there is local discretion then bartering may occur between areas for the same or mutually exclusive development.

  23.  It will be important to ensure transparency over where and how and revenues are used.


  24.  We believe that the general thrust of the CPO proposals is about right as part of a wider package to speed up project delivery. We welcome the greater flexibility offered by comparison to current regulations, which we feel are too narrow.

  25.  We also welcome the proposals for a more acceptable approach, especially loss payments. But we worry whether this goes far enough. In order to reach a firm conclusion we would need to see the proposed regulations and engage in more consultation on the detail.

  26.  We believe that the compensation clauses could go further and suffer from a lack of detail.

  27.  The proposed arrangements would still retain a significant role for valuers and accountants in settling claims, hence their professional fees are unlikely to reduce to any significant degree. The overall principles of the proposals are laudable, but selecting to go to inquiry, or settling by agreement in view of compensation, would still remain a value judgement for individuals.

  28.  We recommend a "Best Value" approach that balances the cost of compensation against the cost of an inquiry and related delays. This might reasonably require compensation at 15 per cent over market value, yet still offer value.

  29.  We recognise the hardship that CPO represents and it must always be a technique of last resort. Therefore we question the timetable following confirmation (set out at paragraph 3.10 of the consultation document). We feel that, once the CPO is confirmed, the property owner should be entitled to serve notice and require the authority to purchase within three months. This will require efficient performance by the promoting authority.

Whether the Government's proposals will simultaneously increase certainty, public participation and faster decisions, particularly for business

  30.  We are concerned that the Green Paper does not address the fundamental conflict between increasing community engagement on the one hand, and speeding up the process on the other. It is far from clear whether the Green Paper is talking about more public consultation or less. It talks of "more focused" consultation but we really need to know what this means in practice to determine the consequence for speeding up planning while respecting the need for inclusion and accountability.

  31.  There is, plainly, a balance between community leadership, efficiency and democracy, yet the Green Paper makes inconclusive inferences in this regard.

  32.  The Committee has asked a crucial question concerning certainty. Where in the Green Paper proposals does it guarantee more certainty? There is no evidence for this. Similarly, the proposals do not demonstrate that the new system would be swifter or lead to better quality decisions. If Action Areas form part of Local Development Frameworks, and decisions need to flow from one to the other, then it is unlikely that it will be swifter. It would depend on the nature and coverage of Action Areas, and whether Action Area Plans need to be approved first in the approvals hierarchy.

  33.  We believe that the proposals in the Green Paper could, in some cases, lead to potentially more development plan tiers, rather than less. In this respect we find the proposal to be very unclear.

  34.  Care should be taken that removal of outline planning applications does not add a burden on business when they are seeking initial confidence that a proposal is acceptable in general terms.

Carlton Roberts-James

Director of Technical Affairs

March 2002

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