39. Sustainable Communities: building for the
future did not give a definition of what a sustainable community
should be. However it did list what ODPM saw as some of the key
requirements for such a community:
A flourishing local economy to provide jobs
Strong leadership to respond positively to
Effective engagement and participation by
local people, groups and businesses, especially in the planning,
design and long-term stewardship of their community, and an active
voluntary and community sector;
A safe and healthy local environment with
well-designed public and green space;
Sufficient size, scale and density, and the
right layout to support basic amenities in the neighbourhood and
minimise use of resources (including land);
Good public transport and other transport
infrastructure both within the community and linking it to urban,
rural and regional centres;
Buildings - both individually and collectively
- that can meet different needs over time, and that minimise the
use of resources;
A well-integrated mix of decent homes of different
types and tenures to support a range of household sizes, ages
Good quality local public services, including
education and training opportunities, health care and community
facilities, especially for leisure;
A diverse, vibrant and creative local culture,
encouraging pride in the community and cohesion within it;
A "sense of place"; and
The right links with the wider regional, national
and international community.
40. Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that the language
of the SCP goes a long way to acknowledging the need for growth
which encompasses social and economic priorities, the same cannot
be said with regard to the environmental impacts of growth.
It is clear that the Sustainable Communities Plan does represent
a positive change in how the Government approaches growth and
regeneration. However, we are disappointed not to see set out
explicitly in the key requirements for a sustainable community
the need to comply with the principles of sustainable development;
and we deplore the absence of any reference to environmental protection,
or the need to respect environmental limits.
41. The document also set out how the Government
intends to tackle the problem of unaffordable homes in some areas
of the country and abandonment in others. The aim would be to
create decent homes and a good quality environment in all regions
through a step change in housing supply which would increase the
availability of affordable housing, ensuring private builders
build the right types of houses in the right places, while protecting
the countryside and rural communities from urban sprawl.
Under the heading of "sustainable growth", the plan
also sets out the rationale behind the four Growth Areas. The
aim of these areas is to accommodate the economic success of London
and the wider South East, thus ensuring that the international
competitiveness of the region is sustained. It is planned to deliver
sustainable growth through the provision of an additional 200,000
homes by 2016 in the Growth Areas, over and above the numbers
already set out in Regional Planning Guidance. The SCP also sets
out how these Growth Areas could potentially accommodate over
900,000 new homes by 2031. Nine Pathfinder areas were identified,
outside the South East, where strategic action plans will be put
in place for large scale clearance of old housing, refurbishments,
new build and improvement in local services.
43. Bearing this in mind we were particularly concerned
to see the ODPM's response to the first recommendation of the
Egan Review of Skills for Sustainable Communities (which is discussed
in some detail later in this Report). Egan's Review recommended
that all stakeholders involved in delivering sustainable communities
should adopt a common understanding of what "sustainable
communities" means. In its response the ODPM committed itself
to having a broadly agreed definition that could be used by everyone
engaged in the delivery of sustainable communities. This has not
yet been published. ODPM also announced that it was "considering
the links between sustainable communities and sustainable development
via a Ministerial sub-group of the Central Local Partnership".
This may be welcome, though if, as ODPM told us, the SCP already
encompasses the aims of sustainable development, it raises two
question: firstly, why this is necessary at all; and secondly,
how it can be possible to publish a definition of what a sustainable
community is before its links to sustainable development have
44. We would like to know if or when ODPM intends
to publish its definition of sustainable communities. This definition
must give a clear indication of exactly how sustainable development
underpins sustainable communities; and should explicitly give
the environment equal footing with social and economic goals.
45. The belated effort by ODPM to explore how
sustainable development is linked to the Sustainable Communities
Plan is a stark example of the failure of Government to place
sustainable development at the heart of policy making and of how
environmental considerations remain a bolt-on rather than a primary
46. This general failure has been set out in greater
detail in our recent report on the Sustainable Development Strategy.
We highlight in that Report how Government still places insufficient
weight on the environmental dimension of sustainable development,
inclining more towards an economic interpretation of the term,
and that insufficient emphasis is placed on the concept of environmental
limits. This is exemplified
by the statement in ODPM's memorandum to us that "the
economic and social effects of the current shortage of housing
supply are not sustainable in their impacts either on communities
or on individuasl. There are important environmental dimensions,
but they are not to be regarded as placing an effective veto on
addressing the problems of supply".
It is also vital that issues of increasing housing supply, important
though they are, should not place an effective veto on addressing
the environmental problems potentially associated with a major
increase in house building.
47. ODPM seems to have taken the approach to sustainability
and the SCP that by simply calling it "sustainable"
and mentioning the environment occasionally, usually within the
context of local environment or the need to minimise the use of
resources, the Plan is inherently and obviously fully compatible
with the principles of sustainable development. This is clearly
not the case. As Jonathan Porritt told us during our recent inquiry
into the Sustainable Development Strategy, "the aspiration
to be less unsustainable is not the same thing as being sustainable".
This is not something ODPM appears to have grasped. This is reflected
in Ministers' comments to us during evidence sessions. We were
told that it was not possible to pin down sustainable development
in the Plan because it was "too high level";
we were given no explanation of what the ODPM sees as the differences
between sustainable growth, an economic concept, and sustainable
development, an environmental concept;
it was also implied that to ensure sustainable development the
most important issue is not to have growth without infrastructure
whilst at the same time we were told that sustainable development
and growth are not compatible.
48. For the Sustainable Communities Plan to be worthy
of its name it would have to have as its central aim the creation
of communities that are fully compatible with all the principles
of sustainable development. Under the Government's definition
of the term this would mean that effective protection of the environment
and prudent use of natural resources would be as important as
social progress and the maintenance of economic growth and employment.
Indeed we would argue that without the first two aims being met
it would be impossible to sustain either economic growth or social
progress. The Government needs to recognise that a good environment
is as vital to national prosperity as a sound economy or a cohesive
49. The feeling running through our evidence sessions
was that whilst some of the language in the SCP could be interpreted
as giving some weight to environmental concerns, this was not
something that was necessarily translating itself into practice.
For example, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told us that
there is a top line of rhetoric that runs through the SCP with
which it would be hard to disagree, but there has been very little
action to deliver anything to meet that rhetoric.
Friends of the Earth told us "it [SCP] is a piecemeal
approach to a housing crisis and [ ] it makes political judgments
about growth and where it will take place before any effective
assessment of environmental limits has been made"and this has led to people taking "'sustainable communities'
to mean a very pro-development agenda, particularly in the South
East, and that as a result sustainable development has been put
on the back foot."The
Local Government Association made a distinction between the housing
agenda, where they had concerns about the poor quality of new
housing and the proposed accelerated build rate, and the new approach
to proposed settlements. It is this second part, which is meant
to make the SCP more than a basic housing programme, that troubles
the LGA most, insofar as other Government departments, the Department
for Transport in particular, do not appear as yet to have taken
it on board.
50. Whilst there has been some attempt to address
environmental issues within the SCP, which representseven
if only at the level of its rhetoricimprovement on how
development has been approached in the past, the thinking behind
it appears to be only to take the environment into account in
ways that do not constrain plans for growth. This is of particular
concern because it contradicts the central tenet of sustainable
development: that growth should only occur within environmental
limits and anything beyond that is unsustainable. We are concerned
that the driving force behind the Sustainable Communities Plan
is to meet economic and social demands and there is little understanding
within ODPM of how the environment interacts with these.
51. The need for all Government departments properly
to incorporate sustainability into policy implementation is becoming
pressing. The Government Chief Scientist, Sir David King, is warning
with increasing urgency about the need to address issues related
to climate change. This can only be done if there is an understanding
amongst all those in Government departments of the global environmental
impacts of decisions made nationally and locally. Policies within
the Sustainable Communities Plan aimed at ensuring the quality
and sustainability of local environments are a wasted exercise
if they are not also explicitly aimed at addressing the wider
environmental impacts and consequences of growth.
52. The way the Government has taken forward the
recommendations of both the Sustainable Buildings Task Force and
the Egan Review of Skills contrasts starkly with how it has dealt
with the Barker Review. Responses to the former were published
within months, whereas ODPM and other departments intend to spend
a year and a half at least deliberating and consulting before
responding to Kate Barker's recommendations. It would appear
to us that many of the efforts directed towards achieving sustainability
within the SCP are little more than a window-dressing exercise.
This is unsatisfactory and bound to have severely detrimental
consequences in the long term.
54. The four Growth Areas were identified in Regional
Planning Guidance 9 (RPG9) for the South East which was published
in March 2001. Following on from this, various consultant studies
were commissioned to identify the level of growth that these areas
could accommodate. The findings of these studies concluded that
overall an extra 252,000 dwellings, above those already being
proposed, could be accommodated in the Growth Areas by 2031.
When the SCP was published in February 2003 it included a commitment
to build 200,000 dwellings by 2016 in the Growth Areas identified
in RPG9, over and above existing targets. It also included an
estimate that the areas had potential to accommodate a total of
900,000 new dwellings by 2031.
55. The impacts of focusing the majority of growth
in the South East were raised repeatedly in memoranda and in evidence
sessions. Friends of the Earth were very critical of the chronology
of development in the South East. Speaking for Friends of the
Earth, Dr Hugh Ellis told us:
"We approached the regional issue of
over-development in the South East through the SCP before we had
ever decided what the environmental limits of the South East were.
The DEFRA [Entec] report only arrived two years after that
point. So the process of strategic planning for England has been
to accept large-scale growth in the South East as a political
decision, then to begin to implement that in all sorts of ways,
then to commission an economic study from HM Treasury on Barker,
which in fact doubled that growth, and then DEFRA came along very
belatedly and say that there might be a problem or two with that.
Then at the very end we might actually begin to think about how
transport infrastructure and various other things, which should
have been central to the planning process, might only be delivered
years after." 
56. The Royal Town Planning Institute told us that
it was sure that, if a forum existed where there could be a debate
over in which parts of the country growth would be best placed,
the likely conclusion would be that some of the proposed housing
growth would benefit other areas of the country far more than
it would benefit the South East and East.
The LGA pointed out that the Government has been criticised for
a policy deficit in failing to promote northern cities as competitive
locations associated with urban renaissance.
Friends of the Earth called for strategic planning that ensured
communities in the North have a future and that communities in
the South have sustainable development in a way that upholds their
quality of life. To achieve this they called for a national spatial
framework that is in part redistributive.
The question of whether a model of unequal growth as seen in the
Sustainable Communities Plan can ever be considered properly sustainable
needs to be urgently addressed by the Government, as it is not
clear to us that in its desire to encourage a national economy
led by growth in the South East it has addressed this issue at
57. Sir John Egan, who was appointed as the Government's
adviser on the Thames Gateway in November 2003, told us in evidence
that "it is extremely important that communities are balanced
and that everyone who needs to work in that community can get
a house in that community and can afford to do so". However,
he went on to tell us that the principal driver for housing in
the South East was not the need for expansion or better housing
for existing communities, but rather the desire to accommodate
newcomers drawn to the area, for economic reasons, as a result
of London's position as a world-class city. He told us that "these
[newcomers] are people with world-class skills that are needed
in things like the financial services industry. They are coming
because they think they can earn far more money here than they
can earn anywhere else in the world".
He went on to say that "we have an urgent need to find
housing of high quality for some of the best people in the world
who want to come here".
In response to the question of whether the emphasis on the Thames
Gateway and the South East would exacerbate the general economic
division between north and south he told us he did not believe
this was the case and that people from the north of the country
"will want to come because of the wealth and prosperity
of the South East"
Sir John Egan was of the view that it will be very difficult,
and probably detrimental to the economy, to focus too much effort
on developing northern regions when there is such a draw to the
South East from all over the country and from the rest of Europe.
He implied that these other regions would develop of their own
accord if they had the potential. Whilst this argument may make
some sense from a purely economic perspective, it has few merits
from a social or environmental one. It is alarming to us that
a senior Government advisor should express such views: we believe
them to be wrong and would like to hear from Government to what
extent it supports them.
58. ODPM and HM Treasury must make clear at what
stage they will judge the South East region to have reached its
growth limits and what options they have considered to assist
social and economic development within sensible environmental
limits elsewhere in the country.
60. Lord Rooker presented the effect of the rejection
of housing targets set by the Government as "miniscule"
since the number of houses rejected by EERA is tiny in comparison
to the numbers that it had, until recently, accepted within its
Regional Spatial Strategy.
However should SEERA decide not to increase its annual target
following consultation, the shortfall taken with that of the EERA
region could over time be in excess of 70,000 homes. This is over
a third of ODPM's target of an extra 200,000 homes being built
in the Growth Areas by 2016. In our view this is by no means miniscule
and raises the question as to whether ODPM would be willing to
force through housing numbers on a significant scale should their
targets be rejected. Furthermore, should the Government accept
the Baker Review's suggestion that up to 120,000 extra homes a
year should be built to improve housing supply, it is likely that
these are exactly the regions, where there are currently the greatest
problems with affordability, which the majority of this increase
would be targeted at. Given the difficulties ODPM is having in
convincing the regions in the South East to take on current housing
targets, it is difficult to see how they would accept any further
significant increases in the future unless forced to do so by
61. The approach to housing advocated by the Government
at a local level in its planning guidance of "planning, monitoring
and managing" supply does not seem to apply when it comes
to housing provision at a regional and national level. The Government
has taken the approach of predicting significant levels of demand
for housing in the South East Region and planning to meet this
demand without any attempt to manage growth or to shift it to
other areas. The SCP simply predicts growth in the South East
and sets out to provide for it. This predict and provide approach
makes no attempt to rebalance housing demand and economic development
in the country as a whole. Given the limited ability and willingness
of the South East regions to absorb further growth, this reflects
a short-term approach from the Government to what is a long-term
problem. The undoubted result of the acceptance of such an unequal
model of growth can only be to exacerbate regional differences
in prosperity, to the detriment of the country as a whole.
The Agency also told us that it estimates that, if
the trend continues, quantities of municipal waste produced in
the South East could grow by 67% to 2031 (from 4.1 million tonnes/yr
to 7 million tonnes/yr). The anticipated new homes would generate
an estimated further 1.7 million tonnes of municipal waste per
63. The ODPM Select Committee inquiry into the SCP
identified in April 2003 the problems of water availability and
infrastructure provision for the South East, particularly in the
Growth Areas, calling for impacts on water supply to be assessed,
and expressing dismay that water companies were not involved in
any discussion about proposed housing targets for the South East.
The Select Committee's report also called for an independent comprehensive
review of the environmental impacts of the proposed housing in
the Growth Areas.
It is astounding that despite the clear need for an assessment
of the environmental impacts of the proposals for the Growth Areas
as a whole, nothing has been done to date by ODPM or DEFRA to
address this issue.
64. The East of England Regional Assembly published
the Strategic Environmental Assessment of its Regional Spatial
Strategy in November 2004. This found that there were serious
environmental impacts associated with the proposed growth plans
in their region:
"The rate and intensity of economic,
housing and infrastructure growth envisaged for the region, especially
its southern parts, is intrinsically damaging to many aspects
of the environment and quality of life. Particularly serious problems
include water resources, flood risks, quantity of movement to
be accommodated, urbanisation and conflicts and competition for
land (both inside and outside settlements) between development
and public interests."
65. In September 2004 the Southern Region Environment
Agency office (which covers most of the South East of England
Region) published a press release to accompany the publication
of the State of the Environment 2004 report, with the heading
"The development of 800,000 new homes in the South East
could set off an environmental time-bomb".
The Regional Director for the Thames Region, was quoted as saying:
"This State of the Environment report
shows the fragility of our environment - in some parts of the
region we are reaching our environmental limits. Unless
the environment is built into plans for development now we will
seriously threaten the quality of life in the South East."
On being questioned about this Mr Morley told us
"it was a regional office. It was not the Environmental
Agency centrally that said that".He went on to say that the Agency's views were based only
upon what it perceived as a lack of forward planning. The Agency
told us in its supplementary memorandum that development on the
proposed scale would result in environmental pressures in the
region if environmental issues are not considered as early as
possible in the planning process. It stressed that it had not
stated the view that environmental limits are close to being reached
which appears flatly to contradict the opinion expressed in the
It is not satisfactory that there seems to be a degree of
confusion within the Environment Agency as to the environmental
impacts of further large scale development in the South of England.
Ministers should take steps to ensure that any remaining concerns
within the Environment Agency are fully explored; and the Agency
itself clearly has a responsibility to make sure that it is offering
frank and consistent advice.
67. The Thames Gateway is the Growth Area where plans
for development are at their most advanced. It is therefore of
real concern to hear the LGA tell us in evidence that with regard
to the SCP plans for the Thames Gateway "there is a very
real danger that the current strategy in the Communities Plan,
which started off with the Treasury model of envisaging about
50,000 or 60,000 new homes would produce exactly the kinds of
problems [ ] talked about before: poor infrastructure,
low community facilities, relatively low density, high environmental
impact or low environmental sustainability" and went
on to suggest a different approach "if we take a longer
term strategy to developing the Thames Gatewayperhaps
up to 2030at higher density with infrastructure
development up front something like 120,000 to 150,000 new homes
could be created with much higher environmental standardsaiming
for standards like carbon neutral and so on, a much higher quality
design and the way to do that is to build out now
from town centres with the existing infrastructure [...]
and to take a more measured view about what can be delivered over
the next fifteen or twenty years."
68. The SCP has been put forward by the Government
as a way of meeting changing demographics largely due to the expected
increase in single person households. It was with surprise therefore
that we heard from Sir John Egan, the Prime Minister's adviser
on the Thames Gateway, that this is not in reality the principal
reason behind the plan. He referred, as previously mentioned,
to an expected influx of 1 million people by 2010, from all over
Europe, attracted by the prosperity in the South East. He also
told us that the purpose of development in the Thames Gateway,
in particular, is to provide high quality housing for the most
highly skilled people, who are attracted to London as one of the
most successful cities in the world. He was adamant that the purpose
of development in the Gateway and the rest of the South East should
be to allow anyone to live in any part of the region and commute
into any part of London.
This approach to development in the Region is not only contrary
to many of the key requirements for sustainable communities set
out in the SCP, but would have significant environmental implications.
69. We also heard from Sir John that vital infrastructure
projects in the Thames Gateway are already suffering from delays.
He expressed concerns regarding delays in determining how rail
infrastructure will be provided for the area, pointing out that
it is important to get transport systems established in order
to know which communities can be developed.
When questioned as to how the Government intends to deal with
the problems of rail infrastructure which is antiquated, already
running to capacity and with little physical space for expansion,
in order to bring people to work into London from the Thames Gateway
he was unable to answer, other than referring to the Crossrail
proposal (which has yet to be properly approved and will not be
in place for at least another eight years). Despite this thousands
of homes are already being built in the Thames Gateway, with a
total of 120,000 planned.
70. Development as proposed in the Thames Gateway
will result in a long commuter corridor, where most residents
will travel to London to work, unless every effort is made to
create jobs in the area, provide local infrastructure and ensure
a significant proportion of new housing is affordable. Lord
Rooker in evidence to us acknowledged that this would be an undesirable
outcome. And yet the reduction in commuting times to central London
that are proposed are likely to result in increased house prices
and will have little benefit for local communities, unless equal
effort is made to develop infrastructure and jobs at a local level.
71. Also of concern to us is the scale of development
that will take place in the Thames floodplain as a result of the
growth in the Thames Gateway. The ODPM has recognised this and
emphasised the need for developments to meet the requirements
of existing planning guidance on flooding. Despite this commitment
the Environment Agency has raised concerns with us about the level
of development that will be at high risk of flooding in the South
East as a result of the SCP. It told us that of the 2,811 planning
applications to which it objected in 2003 and for which it knows
the outcome, 323 were permitted by local planning authorities
against the Agency's advice. Of these at least 21 were major developments.
The Association of British Insurers was also concerned about the
impact of flooding on any future development in the South East.
It drew attention to the Environment Agency's estimates that development
in the Thames Gateway will cost at least an extra £4000-£7000
per property to pay for the additional flood defences required.
72. Despite there being strong planning guidance
against developments on land where there is a high risk of flooding,
local authorities are still allowing significant numbers of such
developments to go ahead. The proposals for growth, particularly
in the Thames Gateway, are likely to result in a dramatic increase
in the number of properties being flooded unless the Environment
Agency's advice is heeded. We support ODPM's proposal that the
Agency should become a statutory consultee for applications in
areas notified as at risk of flooding or likely to add to flood
risk. In the meantime, local authorities should be strongly encouraged
to notify the Agency of the outcome of applications to which it
had objected on the grounds of flood risk.
74. This is, of course, a step in the right direction.
However it is not anywhere near enough to meet the infrastructure
needs of all the housing that is envisaged in the SCP. A report
published in November 2004 by consultants Roger Tym & Partners,
assessing the public costs of all the infrastructure and affordable
housing required by the housing growth proposed in the South East
Plan and the East of England Plan over the next 20 years, found
there were significant costs associated with the proposed housing
targets. The report found that there would be a need for between
£2 to £2.5 billion public sector funding a year in the
region, adding up to between £40 to £50 billion over
the next twenty years, to meet the required infrastructure demands.
The sheer scale of investment need is also illustrated by the
East of England Regional Assembly's bid for £1.5 billion
of investment needed to support the growth proposed in its region,
and the subsequent withdrawal of its support for housing targets
in its region as a result of what it sees as lack of adequate
funding for transport infrastructure by the Government.
Kent County Council published a business plan for its area entitled
What Price Growth? that set infrastructure costs for development
envisaged by the SCP in its area alone at £1.65 billion..
75. CIF funding of £200m should be seen in the
above context. In addition, the fact that the CIF funds are only
available in the Growth Areas raises the question of whether other
parts of the country may suffer as a result of lost funding.
There is disturbing evidence that the sum so far allocated
for infrastructure funding will not be anything like sufficient
to meet the requirement generated by the Growth Areas. The Government
should revisit this issue as a matter of urgency and make clear
exactly what level of public funding for infrastructure it intends
to make available in the Growth Areas over the next twenty years,
and assure us and the public that this will not result in other
parts of the country suffering a lack of resources as a result.
76. In building new homes there is a real need to
ensure infrastructure provisions are provided in a timely way
from the very beginning. Local infrastructure and sustainable
transport provisions are vital from an early stage in order to
ensure that car use is minimised. Badly planned, poorly funded
infrastructure, particularly for transport and local amenities,
would be completely contrary to the general principles contained
in the SCP. Lord Rooker's statement that there would be no
growth without infrastructure was welcome. However, if this is
so then the Government needs to make clear how it intends to ensure
timely development of infrastructure to keep pace with housing
construction. This does not yet appear to be happening.
78. European Directive 2001/42/EC "on the assessment
of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment",
known as the Strategic Environmental Assessment or SEA Directive,
came into force in July 2004. The Directive only applies to statutory
documents of a national, regional or local nature, such as Regional
Spatial Strategies, and therefore is not applicable to the SCP.
However, the Directive does raise the question whether environmental
appraisals should be carried out on all plans on a national scale,
whether statutory or not, as a matter of best practice. The Scottish
Executive, for example, has committed itself to carrying out SEAs
on all its major national plans, regardless of legal status and
including its National Spatial Planning Framework.
79. The SEA that was carried out for EERA on the
East of England Plan concluded that it was possible that development
as proposed in the plan would be less detrimental to the environment
if situated in other parts of the country, though it was not formally
within the remit of an SEA carried out on a regional basis to
be able to determine this.
Lord Rooker argued when before us that the SCP was not sufficiently
detailed to be analysed using the method outlined in the SEA Directive.
Whilst the particular approach may not be appropriate for assessing
the impacts of the SCP, it would still be possible to apply the
general principles. That this is feasible is supported by the
work carried out by Entec on the proposals of the Barker Review.
Entec was able, from the level of detail available, to conduct
a scoping study on the impacts of increasing housing numbers and
densities, which is just one of the components of the SCP. Likewise,
from the detail available it should be possible to carry out an
assessment as to whether the selection of the Growth Areas is
beneficial from an environmental perspective or whether other
parts of the country would benefit more from investment and growth.
It should furthermore be possible to assess whether the approach
of large-scale demolitions taken in the nine Pathfinders, and
indeed the selection of these areas, is the most beneficial for
the country as a whole.
80. Of even greater benefit would be the production
of a National Spatial Framework, as proposed by the Royal Institute
of Town Planners and similar to those already in existence in
Wales and Scotland, in which the principles and aims of the SCP
would clearly be given a spatial dimension within the context
of the whole of England. This would not only make it possible
to address inter-regional issues but it would also allow a Strategic
Environmental Assessment and Sustainability Appraisal to be carried
out on the implications of the Plan for the country as a whole.
It is imperative that something as significant as the Sustainable
Communities Plan should be assessed for its environmental and
other impacts on the country as a whole, not only for its impacts
on the areas where growth and investment are planned. With this
in mind, the Government should strongly consider a National Spatial
Framework similar to those already in place in Scotland and Wales.
"All key stakeholders
should adopt a common goal of creating sustainable communities.
Local authorities should
have the lead responsibility for working in partnership with others
to deliver the common goal. They should encapsulate the vision
for their area in a Sustainable Communities Strategy.
Further changes to planning
processes are needed, especially the adoption of a pre-planning
All occupations involved
in delivering sustainable communities should possess generic skills,
to different degrees and different levels depending on their roles.
A new National Centre for
Sustainable Communities Skills should be established to work with
others in developing world class generic skills, to contribute
to research and national and international debate on sustainable
communities, identify skills gaps, review formal education available
for core occupations, and encourage more entrants into these professions"
82. The report included its own definition of what
sustainable communities were, with the aim of creating a goal
to work towards, and set out seven vital components all of which
need to be addressed to ensure sustainable communities (social
and cultural; governance; environmental; housing and the built
environment; transport and connectivity; economy; and services).
We welcome the Egan Review's work, which despite the fact that
it was not part of the original brief, makes some progress towards
a definition of what a sustainable community might be and which
gives greater prominence to the environment than anything as yet
put forward by the Government.
83. The Egan Review found that there were in total
over a hundred occupations relevant to sustainable communities.
Some occupations, mainly those professionals working in the built
environment (such as planners, architects and engineers), officials
from all levels of Government and voluntary and community organisations,
are at the heart of delivering sustainable communities, but there
are also many more associated occupations, such as police officers
and teachers, that are also involved in delivering sustainable
Evidence Based Review of Skills carried out by Ernst & Young
to support the work of the Review found that there were particular
shortages emerging in four areas: civil and structural engineers;
town planners; transport planners and engineers, and conservation
officers. The report also highlighted the fact that approximately
half of Chartered Civil Engineers are expected to retire in the
next 10 years and numbers applying to study civil engineering
at university are falling, down 56% from 1994 to 2002.
According to the Construction Industry Training Board, the construction
industry as a whole needs a "staggering" 76,000 new
entrants a year to meet demand.
The Barker Review also found a shortage of skills, reporting
that 90% of house building companies are already experiencing
a shortage of skills, and concluded that even a modest growth
in output would require 70,000 more workers in the house building
industry. A more substantial expansion could increase this up
to as much as 280,000 people.
84. Egan's Review concluded that the lack of skills
amongst built environment professionals and the people shortages
in the four areas mentioned above have the potential to hamper
severely the ability of government, local authorities and the
housing industry to deliver the SCP. We would like to see the
Government set out how it intends to improve the skills base of
those professionals already practising and also improve the recruitment
to relevant professions. It is imperative that the Government
addresses the lack of skills and need for training, identified
by both Egan and Barker, in all those professionals involved in
delivering sustainable communities and regeneration, including
outside agencies and consultancies.
85. The main recommendation of Egan's Review was
the creation of a National Centre for Sustainable Communities
"which should be at the forefront of innovative thinking
to develop the world class skills to create communities fit for
the 21st century". The Government has taken up this recommendation
and has set up a task group which is expected to make an announcement
by early 2005 as to how the National Centre will be taken forward.
Whilst we welcome the creation of the National Centre for Sustainable
Communities this will not be enough to address the problems at
hand. There is a need for a large-scale training programme for
those professionals and officials at all levels already involved
in delivering sustainable communities.
86. If the shortages of skills are not properly
addressed as a matter of urgency it is increasingly likely that
we will end up with a large number of badly built houses in poorly
designed communities with limited transport infrastructure that
have severe environmental impacts, rather than the "sustainable
communities" that are the Government's stated aim.
88. As an audit committee we would be very interested
to hear from the Government how it intends to measure its success
at creating sustainable communities and how it intends to, if
at all, compare communities' achievements without the use of a
common set of indicators for sustainable communities.
94. It is imperative that the final version of
PPS1 adopted by ODPM, together with the promised guidance on its
implementation, makes clear that minimal environmental standards
of new houses, and all other buildings, together with their wider
environmental impacts, should become material considerations for
96. Using the same assumptions as the Review, the
need to provide the 180,000 homes a year already proposed under
the SCP will result in a requirement for 28,050 hectares of undeveloped
land. The total of 46,750 hectares is the equivalent of 25% of
Buckinghamshire or 1.9% of the South East of England. These figures
are broadly in line with those used by Entec in its report on
the environmental impacts of increasing housing supply. Whilst
we would accept that not all of this development would take place
in the South East it is undoubtedly the case that the majority
of house building in England over the next ten years is planned
within the Growth Areas and therefore has significant implications
for land use in these areas. Indeed, one of the conclusions of
the Entec report was that the greatest burden of environmental
impacts of increasing housing supply, with relation to land use,
would fall on the Southern regions of the UK.
97. The Government has set a target that 60% of all
development should take place on previously developed or brownfield
land. Figures published for 2003 show that this has been met,
with 66% of development nationally on brownfield land. This is
very welcome news and we support this target being kept or even
increased, although we acknowledge that there might be some difficulties
with raising it. However, this level of development on brownfield
land will still not be enough to meet the requirements of housing
targets in the South East Region, and therefore there will still
be a requirement for undeveloped land if they are to be met.
98. The Government has encouraged higher density
developments in planning guidance, stating that local planning
authorities should encourage developments which make more efficient
use of land (between 30 and 50 dwellings per hectare) and should
also seek greater intensity of development at places with good
public transport accessibility.
According to ODPM figures for years up to 2001, densities were
generally much lower than this, particularly in the South East:
"In 2001 the overall density of residential
development in England was 25 dwellings per hectare. This has
remained unchanged since 1996. Over the period 1997 to 2001, more
than half of the land used for housing was built at densities
of less than 20 dwellings per hectare and over three-quarters
at less than 30 dwellings per hectare. In the South East, an area
of high demand for housing where pressures for land are acute,
the average for 1997 to 2001 was 23 dwellings per hectare."
Since then there has been a gradual increase in density
with an average national housing density figure of 30 dwellings
per hectare in 2003.
However, this is still the lower end of the Governments stated
target and will need to increase further given the pressure to
increase the numbers of dwellings being built. In order to
limit the amount of undeveloped land being built on to meet housing
targets, ODPM should use every effort to maximise both development
on brownfield sites and housing densities.
Green Belt Land
99. The policy to date for designating land surrounding
large urban areas as Green Belt, where there is a presumption
against any kind of development, has been very successful in controlling
the spread of development and preventing urban sprawl in the areas
surrounding England's towns and cities. Although the overall amount
of land designated as Green Belt has increased since the Government
came to power, the situation is not the same across the whole
of the country.
100. There have been growing calls for a change in
approach as to how Green Belt land is used. The Countryside Agency
told us that increased house building is likely to result in the
need for development on greenfield sites in some areas and it
accepts "that this might involve minor revisions to Green
Belt land boundaries where this would result in the most sustainable
option for the development in a particular location".It also argued for an intermingling of urban and rural areas
using more convoluted boundaries and the development of the urban-rural
fringe in a way that strengthens the links between both.
Organisations such as the Countryside Landlords Association and
the Town and Country Planning Association have called for a more
imaginative use of Green Belt land that takes full advantage of
its potential for rural communities, and improves sustainability.
Whilst there may be some advantages to exploring these options
we would be strongly opposed to any changes that could affect
the presumption against inappropriate development on Green Belt
land. We are also concerned at any approach that would soften
the boundaries between urban and rural land in a way that resulted
in a slow encroachment of development into previously rural areas.
101. It is vital that the increased pressure for
development in the South East of the country does not lead to
a gradual erosion of Green Belt land. Neither would it be acceptable
for the Green Belt boundaries to be moved increasingly further
out to compensate for urban encroachment.
104. It emerged during the course of our inquiry
that ODPM and HM Treasury did not consult DEFRA on the terms of
reference of the Barker Review. Despite this, the remit of the
Review did include reference to sustainable development, asking
Barker to consider the interactions between housing supply, and
factors affecting this, and the Government's sustainable development
objectives. This would be welcome were it not for the fact that,
as already highlighted, there appears to be little understanding
within ODPM of sustainable development. The fact that these issues
were not properly taken into account is exemplified by the conclusions
of Barker Review's interim report:
"UK economic well-being could be improved
by increasing the supply of housing. Set against this, consideration
needs to be given to the associated environmental costs. This
gives rise to difficult choices, and the Government needs to weigh
carefully its different policy objectives to determine its overall
approach to housing. Making a real difference to housing supply
may require a robust set of policies".
The Review only briefly mentions environmental issues
in either report, leaving them on one side as an area for Government
policy. In our view this is a reflection of the fact that despite
sustainability being included in Barker's remit little emphasis
seems to have been placed on it by departments. Mr Morley acknowledged
to us in evidence that the Review did not address environmental
and sustainability challenges in detail and that this was disappointing.
We would hope that had DEFRA been given a role in commissioning
and setting the terms of reference for this report the result
would have been greater awareness by Kate Barker of the need to
address these issues. We also found that DEFRA is not involved
in the taskforce set up by ODPM and HM Treasury for taking Barker's
proposals forward. We regard this as a serious omission.
105. DEFRA is the department with responsibility
for taking forward the Government's policies on sustainable development.
We therefore find it highly unsatisfactory that when embarking
on the Sustainable Communities Plan and the Barker Review - both
of which clearly have major implications for the ability to meet
sustainability targets - the Government did not feel it necessary
to give DEFRA a more prominent role.
106. The problems that have resulted from the separation
of departmental responsibilities for land use and the environment,
following the break up of DETR, are exemplified by the lack of
any serious consideration that has been given to potential environmental
impacts of development, as proposed in the SCP and the Barker
Review. A further concern is the prominence given by the ODPM
to sustainable communitieson a par with sustainable developmentwithin
PPS1, which further highlights the lack of weight currently being
given to environmental considerations within planning and land
use policy. Environmental considerations and sustainable development
are central to land use and planning policy and it is inexplicable
that responsibility for these areas was separated into different
departments. It is a matter of urgency that they are once again
integrated into a single Government department at the earliest