Further memorandum submitted by London Councils (GLA 4)

 

Introduction

 

1. London Councils (formerly the Association of London Government) is the voice of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It is committed to fighting for more resources for London and getting the best possible deal for London's 33 councils. We develop policy, lobby government and others, and run a range of services designed to make life better for Londoners.

 

2. London Councils welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the Public Bill Committee under the new arrangements for the scrutiny of Public Bills. This paper sets out the matters of concern to the London boroughs, reflecting the consensus of all boroughs and the main political parties.

 

3. London Councils has taken a keen interest in the Government's plans to review the powers of the Mayor of London, since they were first consulted on in 2005, and has consistently made known the views of the boroughs to Government and Parliament. In addition, in September 2006 London Councils commissioned a GfK NOP survey[1] of a thousand Londoners on the key tenets of the proposed additional powers for the Mayor.

 

4. In that survey 54 per cent of Londoners opposed plans to award the Mayor of London extra powers to decide planning applications across the capital. Only 27 per cent supported proposals to award the Mayor further powers over planning, while, when asked who should be mainly responsible for planning in their area, an overwhelming 75 per cent of Londoners named their local council.

 

5. The survey also reveals that Londoners believe that their local council listens to them more than the Mayor does, and keeps them better informed of the services they provide.

 

6. The committee's terms of reference invite submissions from outside bodies on the substance of the Bill. London Councils believes the issues set out below are of key importance to the London boroughs:

 

Planning: Part 7, Clauses 29-35

 

7. Part 7 of the Bill sets out the statutory elements of the Mayor's new planning powers. During the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister for Housing and Planning Yvette Cooper said that:

 

"...the Government believed that the boroughs should continue to determine the overwhelming majority of planning applications. The Government wants a constructive working relationship between the boroughs and the Mayor on those development proposals that go to the heart of implementing the London plan. In the vast majority of those cases, the borough involved will still take the final decision, but in a small number the Government believed the Mayor will be best placed to decide the final outcome. The Mayor should be able to intervene positively, rather than just to say no. The Government intends to set out in secondary legislation detailing how the Mayor's new development control powers will work in practice, and will publish any such draft legislation to facilitate the Standing Committee's scrutiny of the Bill[2]".

 

8. Therefore, London Councils note that the Government's proposals around applications of strategic importance will be crucial in determining the extent of the Mayor's powers.

 

9. Clause 30 requires boroughs to send a copy of their draft Local Development Scheme (LDS) to the Mayor and introduces a power for the Mayor to direct changes to the draft or direct a borough to prepare a revision to their LDS.

 

10. Clause 31 allows the Mayor to determine certain planning applications which are of potential strategic importance. This moves away from the current position where he can direct only refusal. The definition of "applications of potential strategic importance" will be defined in regulations. Draft regulations were made available with virtually no publicity just before the start of the Committee. It is assumed that the Government will be formally consulting on these regulations in due course.

 

11. In the draft regulations provided to the Committee by the Government, an application of 'strategic importance' is one that meets the criteria as set out in the revised draft to the Mayor of London Order. London Councils is concerned that the definition as given in the draft regulations could significantly widen the scope of applications that need to be referred to the Mayor. One concern is the requirement that the planning authority take account of developments on adjoining land that has been granted permission or completed within the last five years.

 

12. Clauses 32 - 35 allow the Mayor to agree planning obligations (section 106 agreements) related to applications which he determines. London Councils does not believe it is necessary or appropriate to give the Mayor the power to grant approval for planning applications. The Government has, however, made clear its intention to give the Mayor some powers in this issue and the Bill sets the framework for this.

 

13. London Councils is concerned that the Government proposes to give the Mayor more powers over planning but is not at the same time ensuring that the decision-making process is transparent. If the Mayor is to make decisions on certain strategic applications like a local planning authority, he should be expected to act like a local planning authority. He should make his planning decisions in public, with a right of representation for all concerned stakeholders. His decisions should be based on published reports which are open to scrutiny and which demonstrate how he has taken account of all the relevant development plan policies and of responses to consultation on the application. These are all important aspects of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 which any additional planning powers for the Mayor must take account of. Furthermore, under current call-in arrangements, there is scope for the Secretary of State to resolve contentious cases under the scrutiny of a public inquiry. The proposed arrangements for London would remove this transparency from the most important and contentious planning applications, by allowing them to be determined by one individual (currently in private) with no external challenge. This will inevitably lead to more requests from local planning authorities and others for such applications to be called in by the Government. This is likely to delay rather than expedite decisions.

 

14. The draft revised Mayor of London Order 2007 does allow for the local planning authority and / or the applicant to appear before the Mayor and be heard by him. However, it does not state whether this hearing would be in public. London Councils strongly recommends that this is the case and that the Mayor's subsequent decision is made public. This would go some way to alleviating the concerns raised in paragraph 13 above.

 

15. During the debate on Second Reading, Yvette Cooper[3] said that "it would be better for matters to be referred to the Mayor later in the planning stage and intervention would only occur on major strategic applications that go to the heart of the London plan. London boroughs would have the initial lead on major developments".

 

16. This objective was designed "to decide a small number of the most strategically important planning applications in London so as to ensure decision-making takes place at the most appropriate level and regional planning policies are fully taken into account". This means that the focus of the policy test should be on the strategic importance of the development itself for implementation of the London Plan, and not for the application of individual London Plan policies. There are over 180 policies listed in the index to the London Plan. The policy test on which the Government consulted last year would allow the Mayor to take over an application if it would significantly impact on the implementation of any one of them.

 

17. The proposals in the revised Mayor of London Order 2007 state that "the Mayor must take account of the extent to which the council of the London Borough is achieving, and has achieved, the relevant targets set out in the spatial development strategy". This should be strengthened to identify the list of targets that the Mayor can take account of and the circumstances under which he can take different courses of action, for example reference could be made to relevant targets as set out in the Development Plan.

 

18. Since the introduction of the Mayor of London Order 2000, 291 applications have been classified as strategic and referred to the Mayor for comment. Of these, the Mayor has directed refusal on only four occasions. However, he has commented on many non-strategic aspects of the applications. For example, 42 applications in the City of Westminster have been referred to the Mayor solely due to the height threshold. Comments from the Mayor on a number of these applications were almost all on non height-related issues (i.e. non-strategic). This illustrates how the Mayor is getting involved in many aspects of planning applications which are outside his remit, which does not reflect the Government's intention for the revised Mayoral powers. This all suggests that far too many applications are currently being referred to the Mayor and the Government should perhaps have considered raising some of the thresholds.

 

19. London boroughs have a good record of negotiating highly beneficial deals with developers to provide facilities for the local area. The Mayor's potential involvement in section 106 agreements could further complicate what is currently a significant cause of delay in determining planning applications. London Councils has a concern that the Mayor may use his powers to take over an application even if there is only a small difference of view with the borough or simply to control the negotiations with the developer over section 106.

 

20. London Councils believes the following:

 

a) The Mayor's decision making process should be as transparent as the activities of borough planning committees and should address potential conflicts of interest.

 

b) Any transfer of development control powers to the Mayor should not make the planning system more complex, and create delays at a time when the Government wants to streamline the planning system.

 

c) The number of cases where the Mayor needs to intervene should be minimised - the Mayor should only be able to take over a planning application for a limited time after a borough has resolved to approve or refuse an application, or where after a specified time the borough has failed to make sufficient progress on the application. In support of this point, the organisation representing business in London, London First also supports the idea of only a limited number of planning applications being taken over by the Mayor.

 

d) Failure of a borough to determine an application within a set timescale should not automatically cause the Mayor to take it over. The Mayor should be required to show that any intervention on such grounds takes account of boroughs' views, such as the complexity of the case, any unforeseen factors and the behaviour of developers.

 

e) The Mayor should demonstrate that his intervention is reasonable in terms of being needed to ensure delivery of the London Plan, so any use of his powers here would be open to challenge. The proposed wording in the draft Mayor of London Order 2007 is too vague and open to interpretation.

 

f) The Mayor should not use his new powers to take over an application if there is a small difference of views with the borough over section 106, or simply to control the section 106 funding.

 

g) On waste, new powers will need to be in general conformity with the London Plan and relevant national guidance.

 

h) The Mayor should focus on strategic issues in cases where he intervenes and should not be permitted to comment on non-strategic matters. It would be disproportionate and unjustified to give the Mayor the discretion to take over a potentially large number of planning applications. The Mayor has not been able to prove that important strategic applications are frequently being hindered by local authorities. London Councils is concerned that if the Government proceeds with the draft Mayor of London Order it could still enable the Mayor to take over a larger number of applications than is appropriate (by having regard to adjacent sites that have been granted permission / completed building within the previous five years..

 

Environment Functions, Waste and Recycling: Part 8, Clauses 36-37

 

21. Part 8 of the Bill covers environmental matters. At this stage, London Councils would like to focus on the waste and recycling issues.

 

22. Clause 36 modifies the requirement for the boroughs to exercise their waste functions by having regard to the Mayor's municipal waste strategy, to a new requirement for them to act in general conformity with the Mayor's strategy. There is no requirement for the Mayor's municipal waste strategy to be in conformity with the national waste strategy or other relevant national policies.

 

23. Clause 37 changes the period for notification to the Mayor of certain waste contracts. The Government did not formally consult on this, and it is an unexpected inclusion in the Bill. London Councils has raised concerns over the potentially excessive nature of this clause with the Government. There is no evidence that the Mayor needs to be informed of all these contracts and this is an unnecessary extra piece of bureaucracy.

 

24. There has been much debate about a single waste disposal authority. London Councils welcomes the fact that the Bill does not seek to create a single waste disposal authority for London, taking the waste disposal function from boroughs and the four statutory joint waste authorities. Nor does it seek to place the proposed London Waste and Recycling Forum and Fund on a statutory basis.

 

25. Unlike the Mayor, London Councils does not believe that borough performance justifies the creation of a single waste authority in London. It also considers that it would be unhelpful to reorganise London's sixteen waste disposal authorities into a single waste authority by amending the Greater London Authority Bill currently before the House of Commons.

 

26. London has a mixed record on recycling, but it is unrealistic to compare London, an almost wholly urban region, with other English regions. The facts on London's record on recycling, disposal of waste and litter are attached at Annex A (Waste in London - the facts) of this memorandum, with accompanying graphs at Annex B.

 

27. London Councils believes that borough led waste disposal authorities are best placed to be flexible and deliver appropriate local solutions. The Government clearly agrees. When it announced its proposals for new powers for the Mayor in July 2006 it decided against a single waste authority. That is why the Greater London Authority Bill does not legislate for a single waste authority, and London Councils continues to support this position unanimously.

 

28. London Councils believes the following:

 

a) The GLA Bill should not be amended to create a single waste disposal authority headed up by the Mayor, particularly since this was rejected by the Government when it announced its proposals for new powers for the Mayor in July 2006. Boroughs' performance is comparable with equivalent urban areas of England and boroughs are not "failing". There is no justification for saying that the Mayor needs to take over the waste disposal function in London.

 

b) The Government's proposed London Waste and Recycling Forum should be set up as soon as possible, and be a partnership between the boroughs and the Mayor, with at least 50 per cent borough membership.

 

c) If the Government considers that boroughs should act in general conformity with the Mayor's waste strategy then the Mayor's waste strategy should be in general conformity with national waste policies and strategies.

 

d) The power in clause 36 for the Secretary of State to issue guidance in relation to "general conformity" and "imposing excessive additional costs" appears an unnecessary elaboration.

 

e) Under Clause 36, the Mayor should not impose additional cost burdens if he believes a borough does not meet his criteria.

 

f) The Mayor should take into account how a borough is providing for the treatment of London's waste before he can determine a waste related planning application.

 

g) Any changes to the Mayor's waste planning powers must take into account borough planning performance in relation to London Plan objectives. In addition, any new powers will need to be applied in accordance with the London Plan and cannot be used to go outside the policy framework set by the London Plan.

 

h) Clause 37 which doubles the notification period for certain waste contracts from 56 days to 108 days is excessive and unnecessary and there is no evidence that the Mayor actually needs to be informed of all these contracts.

 


Annex A: Waste in London - the facts

 

 

1. London recycling performance

 

It is unrealistic to compare London, an almost wholly urban region, with other English regions.

 

The top performing London boroughs such as Bexley, Sutton and Richmond are amongst the best in the country. Nine London boroughs (but only one metropolitan borough) are in the top half of national recycling performance.

 

Some inner-London boroughs do perform relatively below standard but not when compared with equivalent authorities in other parts of England. Comparing government statistics for London and metropolitan areas, nine of the top ten performing authorities were London boroughs in 2005/06, the latest year for which audited figures are available. Places like Liverpool, Wirral, Knowsley and Rochdale have poorer recycling rates than almost any of the London boroughs (See Annex B, Chart 1). If the same comparison is made for weight of recyclables collected per head of population, seven of the top ten performing authorities were London boroughs in 2005/06.

 

Looking at just "dry" recyclables (that is taking out garden and food waste) nine of the top ten performing authorities were London boroughs in 2005/06 (See Annex B, Chart 2). If this comparison is made against weight of dry recyclable collected per head of population, eight of the top ten performing authorities were London boroughs in 2005/06

 

London Councils' position is supported by the Chartered Institute for Waste Management who have said: "Many of the local authorities outside of London that are recycling 20 percent and above have higher socio-economic wards and benefited from previous Government funding. If London is compared to other metropolitan areas it has a much higher recycling rate, for example Liverpool's recycling rate was 7 percent for 2004/05" [4].

 

This indicates that all urban local authorities (particularly those with a high percentage of tower blocks and multi occupancy buildings) struggle to achieve high recycling rates, and that London authorities are performing better than most.

 

2. Disposal of London's waste

 

London does not rely heavily on landfilling its waste.

 

London authorities actually collect less waste per head of population than many other local authorities. Taking London and metropolitan areas together, nine of the lowest ten authorities for the number of kilograms of household waste collected per head of population were London boroughs in 2005/06 (Annex B, Chart 3).

 

In 2005/06 London sent about 362 kilograms per head of population of municipal waste to landfill - about the same as North East England and less than that of Yorkshire, South West and North West regions. The average figure across England is 370 kilograms of waste produced per head of population - that is higher than for London.

 

Only one London borough failed to meet its landfill target in 2005/06, while five metropolitan boroughs failed to meet theirs. Comparing London and Metropolitan authorities on landfilled waste per head of population for 2005/06 (the first year of the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATs)) only two of the top ten authorities for the total amount of municipal waste landfilled per head of population were London boroughs (with one of those being the Corporation of London - a special case due to the population demographics) (Annex B, Chart 4).

 

All other London waste authorities realised bankable landfill surpluses for the first year of LATs (2005/06), including two authorities which traded excess allowances.

 

3. London authorities making the step change

 

London's waste authorities are working together to develop a greater strategic approach for the future waste management requirements in London to achieve the Landfill Directive's target for 2010.

 

Four south London boroughs (Croydon, Merton, Kingston-upon-Thames and Sutton) are working in partnership to develop future joint waste management arrangements to achieve their landfill targets. The Government has particularly commended this approach as it involves co-operation across political parties.

 

The East London Waste Authority (Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham and Redbridge) is embracing new waste technologies as part of its new integrated waste management contract at the Frog Island Waste Management Facility at Rainham.

 

The Western Riverside Waste Authority (Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth and Wandsworth) is developing plans for the Belvedere Energy from Waste Plant despite the Mayor's continuing attempts to prevent its development. The proposed new facility will be London's first river-served energy-from-waste plant. The plant is designed to process up to 585,000 tonnes per year of residual waste after reuse and recycling processes and should be operational in 2010.

 

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has a new waste disposal contract which includes proposals for an 'Autoclave' waste processing facility, (a new technology) which is set to handle up to 160,000 tonnes per annum of municipal solid waste.

 

The London Borough of Southwark is currently in the last phases of developing a major PFI contract for the management of the borough's waste.

 

The London Borough of Greenwich has a state of the art Materials Recycling Facility and an easy to use modern, Recycling & Re-use Centre on the same site.

 

4. Mayoral intervention

 

London Councils believes that the Mayor already has sufficient powers with which to influence waste management provision for London.

 

Since the creation of the office of Mayor of London in 2000 the Mayor of London has used his powers to intervene in waste management strategy decisions and planning proposals across the capital. London Councils believes that many of these have been ill informed and, in some cases, pose a risk to London achieving EU waste targets.

 

Most recently the Mayor has issued a statement criticising the London Borough of Southwark for its "plans to incinerate their rubbish rather than looking at new technologies", even though the project had been developed in consultation with the Mayor's advisers. Additionally, Southwark intend to build a mechanical biological treatment (MBT) plant to process waste left over once recycling has taken place. This would represent a comparatively new technology for waste in the UK and one previously supported by the Mayor for the East London Waste Authority.

 

The Mayor's intervention has also delayed the London Borough of Tower Hamlets 'Autoclave' waste processing facility, because of water, energy and design issues. This intervention has also affected the financial viability for the facility.

 

The Mayor has also intervened in West London Waste Authority's intention to use excess capacity at the energy from waste plant being built in Colnbrook, Berkshire (less than 2 km from the Greater London boundary).

 

The Mayor has made continuous attempts to stop the river served Belvedere Energy-from-Waste Plant for Western Riverside Waste Authority, despite the Secretary of State granting the plant planning permission. This has recently culminated in a failed attempt by the Mayor to seek a judicial review of the Secretary of State's approval. Judge Andrew Gilbart QC refused permission concluding that the application was without merit and unusually, awarded costs against the Mayor.

 

5. London performance on litter and cleansing

 

Londoners see litter as less of a problem now than in previous years.

 

The Capital Standards 2004/5 survey revealed that 92 per cent of the surveyed areas of London boroughs had less litter and detritus compared to the previous year. On litter, the best value performance indicators suggest that overall there was 5 per cent less litter in London in 2004/05 compared to the year before.

 

London Councils' annual Survey of Londoners shows that this improvement has continued over the last two years. In our 2004 survey, 57 per cent of people identified rubbish and litter as a problem in London; whereas in our 2006 survey this figure had dropped to 42 per cent. Also, when asked to name their three biggest concerns about living in London, only 17 per cent of respondents identified litter as one of the three, compared with 23 per cent last year.

 

6. No need for a Single Waste Authority

 

London Councils does not believe that the current performance of boroughs justifies the creation of a single waste authority (SWA) in London.

 

An SWA would divert valuable resources at a time when London's waste disposal authorities are already getting to grips with the twin challenges of reducing the amount of waste going into landfill and increasing the rate of recycling.

 

Borough led waste disposal authorities are best placed to be flexible and deliver appropriate local solutions.

 

The link between waste disposal, waste collection and street cleansing is important in ensuring an integrated approach to waste. As has been seen in the two tier shire county areas, making different authorities responsible for different parts of this process leads to confusion, inefficiency and dispute

 

The Government clearly agrees. When it announced its proposals for new powers for the Mayor last July it decided against a single waste authority. That is why the Greater London Authority Bill does not legislate for a single waste authority, and London Councils continues to support this position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2007



[1] A summary, and the full report is available from the London Councils website - http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/londonplanningsurvey

[2] House of Commons Debate, 12 December 2006, c756

[3] House of Commons Debate, 12 December 2006, c756

[4] The Greater London Authority Bill Parts 7 and 8 - Planning and Environmental Functions: RESEARCH PAPER 06/61: 07 December 2006: House of Commons Library