Memorandum Submitted by Kennet District Council (PB 6)

 

Executive Summary

 

1. This memoranda proposes that the Planning Bill be amended by the addition of a Section that would vary Sections 67 and 73 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to give a local planning authority a wider choice over publicity for planning applications.

 

2. This change to primary legislation could enable local planning authorities and their council taxpayers to potentially save tens of thousands of pounds each year by utilising their web sites to advertise planning applications in place of the more costly and less effective local newspaper. It would also reduce the burden on the economy by shortening the time in which planning decisions could be made.

 

3. This change would implement the recommendations made by both the CLG 'Lifting the Burdens Task Force Report on housing and planning' (February 2007) and the 'Review of Publicity Requirements for Planning Applications', published by ODPM in June 2004 that there should be greater flexibility for Local planning authorities to publicise planning applications.

 

4. Background

 

5. The current statutory requirements for publicising applications for planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent are mainly set out in secondary legislation, namely the General Development Procedure Order 1995 (as amended) and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Regulations 1990. However, the requirements governing publicity for planning applications that affect the setting of a listed building or that affect the character or appearance of a conservation area are set out in Sections 67 and 73 respectively of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. This is an aberration and means that if action is not taken now when the primary legislation is under review, it will be difficult to bring about the much-needed change to harmonise and update the statutory requirements for publicity for all planning applications.

 

6. Sections 67 and 73 put a duty on a local planning authority in relation to planning applications that affect the setting of listed buildings or the character or appearance of a conservation area, namely that:

 

67 (2) The local planning authority shall -

 

(a) publish in a local newspaper circulating in the locality in which the land is

situated; and

(b) for not less than seven days display on or near the land,

 

a notice indicating the nature of the development in question and naming a place

within the locality where a copy of the application, and of all plans and other

documents submitted with it, will be open to inspection by the public at all reasonable hours during the period of 21 days beginning with the date of publication of the notice under paragraph (a).

 

7. The issue here is that the compulsory requirement to publish in a local newspaper is now outdated, having regard to modern means of communication and the investment that local authorities have made in online planning services, funded through the Planning Delivery Grant. The 1990 Act should be amended to give the local planning authority discretion to publish either in a local newspaper or by online advertisement on its web site. This would simply require the following minor change of wording to Section 67 (2)

 

(a) publish in a local newspaper circulating in the locality in which land is situated or

online on its own web site; (change highlighted in bold)

 

8. Justification for the amendment

 

9. The publicity requirements in the 1990 Act are taken directly from the 1972 Town and Country Planning Act. At that time, local weekly newspapers were a popular source of local information and the requirement may have been justified. However, between 1970 and 1998 the circulation of local weekly paid for newspapers fell by almost 49%. There is therefore a prime facie case for reviewing this requirement to see if it is still serving its purpose.

 

10. ODPM commissioned just such a wide-ranging study into the current statutory requirements for publicising applications to establish whether they were effective and providing value for money. The resulting 'Review of the Publicity Requirements for Planning Applications' was published in June 2004. This research found that 'newspaper advertisements were considered to be the least effective form of publicity'. It also found that 'newspaper advertisements were considered to be expensive and cost ineffective in relation to generating interest in applications.' Costs ranged from 8,000 per annum in small authorities to over 100,000 in large urban areas. The study recommended that local planning authorities be encouraged to use their websites rather than newspapers for advertisements and that the Regulations be amended to enable newspaper advertisements or online advertisements. Despite this recommendation, nothing has been done to change the national requirements.

 

11. In February 2007, CLG published 'Lifting the Burdens Task Force report on housing and planning - Government response to recommendations. In relation to Simplification of community engagement requirements, the Task Force recommended:

 

'The Department should act to remove out-moded prescriptive requirements for communication, such as those statutes which require public notices in newspapers open to retail sale to the general public' (Recommendation 17)

 

12. The CLG response alongside was that 'We will consider this as part of the review of the General Development Procedure Order (GDPO) referred to in the Planning White Paper'. This response fails to recognise that not all the publicity requirements are set out in the GDPO and that unless the primary legislation is changed as suggested in this memorandum, the aims of the Task force will not be achievable.

 

13. Since the publication of the 2004 study, local planning authorities have invested heavily in their online planning services, using the Planning Delivery Grant. The English authorities now display the planning applications they receive on their web sites and allow for communication by e-mail. In some rural areas, such as Kennet in Wiltshire, over 4,000 unique users access the site each month and both neighbour notification letters and site notices draw attention to the web site where not just the plans, but all the correspondence and consultation responses are viewable online. The scanning of applications and responses costs money, but despite the fact that just about all of the responses now received are generated either by the neighbour notification, site notice or web site, Kennet District Council still has to pay 40,000 a year to meet the statutory requirement to advertise in a local newspaper. The situation is made worse by the fact that, as in most other areas, there is only one local newspaper, meaning that is has a monopoly control over the prices it can charge for this advertising. The person losing out in all this is the local council tax payer who has to fund this charge, particularly as many of the applications that have to be advertised in the local newspaper do not attract a fee from the applicant. Kennet is not unusual, with other authorities, such as Lichfield, spending 30,000 per annum. Overall, with 395 local planning authorities, it could be costing local taxpayers over 10 million a year nationally in newspaper costs alone. This figure could be even greater when the staff time required running and despatching the advert and dealing with the necessary invoices is also taken into account.

 

14. The requirement to advertise in the local newspaper can also extend the determination period of a planning application. This is because newspapers have a deadline for submission of adverts that is usually several days before publication. In Kennet, for an application to appear in the weekly newspaper advertisement on a Thursday, it has to be sent in to the newspaper on the preceding Monday. This means that applications requiring advertisement that are not registered until the Tuesday will not be advertised in the local newspaper for 9 days, meaning that the 21 day period for response cannot finish until 30 days have passed. In contrast, applications can be placed on the Council's web site the day that they are registered, reducing the time required to make a decision. Thus the current arrangements are imposing unnecessary delays on applicants and, by implication, the local and national economy.

 

15. How Could the Change be made?

 

16. The Planning Bill contains at Part 9 'Other Changes to Planning Regimes'. Chapter 2 contains a number of Sections (150-154) dealing with the Determination of Applications. These include a Section (153) where the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act is proposed for amendment. I would suggest that an additional clause be added to this Chapter amending Section 67 (2) as suggested in paragraph 7 above. If this change is made, Section 73 will automatically be changed, as it refers back to the requirements for publicity in Section 67 (2).

 

17. Conclusion

 

18. The Planning Bill is focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system. The small amendment proposed in this memorandum would assist in no small manner in achieving these aims and saving residents, applicants and Councils significant amounts of money. It would enable the Government to review the remaining publicity requirements in the promised review of the GPDO and secondary legislation to achieve the holistic approach sought by Kate Barker in her Review of Land Use Planning.

 

January 2008