Memorandum submitted by Local Government Association (PB 21)
1.1 The Local Government Association is a cross party organisation representing over 400 councils in England and Wales. The government and the LGA have committed to a new relationship which moves closer to recognising that central and local government are equal partners in delivering services for people - through a Central-Local Concordat. Councils are already leading the way in tackling the challenges of planning and want to see a planning system that is efficient, flexible and puts people first in shaping decisions on the future of the places where they live.
2.1 The LGA will support proposals to streamline and improve the handling of major infrastructure proposals provided they are limited to a very small number of projects of genuinely national significance, and councils and the people they represent have a strong role throughout the process. We are proposing a number of key areas where the bill must be improved if it is to achieve these objectives:
· Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects
o The LGA is prepared to work with these proposals, provided the legislation guarantees councils and local people an opportunity to influence the National Policy Statements at an early stage and an entrenched role throughout the process
o The legislation must provide an absolutely clear definition of a 'nationally significant project', the number of projects covered should be few and decisions on projects falling outside this criteria but currently subject to national approval must be fully devolved
· Community Infrastructure Levy: The bill must give councils the flexibility and powers to provide the local infrastructure needed to support development and public confidence.
How would councils like to see the bill improved?
3. National Policy Statements (NPS)
3.1 In cases where the National Policy Statement identifies particular areas in a development proposal, the Secretary of State should be required to commission from those councils involved an assessment of local 'community impact'. The Secretary of State should pay for this work to be undertaken and the assessment must be taken into account in finalising the policy statement. The identification of particular areas for what will be controversial new developments will often give rise to serious local concern and it is vital that affected local people and their councils be given a specific voice in the process.
3.2 The LGA would expect the new planning processes to be more, not less, responsive to the views of local people.
3.3 The LGA has supported the establishment of clear National Policy Statements for each type of infrastructure providing that those councils affected have a genuine opportunity to influence their content at an early stage. Only by enabling councils to undertake a full assessment of impact on local areas will we be able to ensure that the concerns of local people are taken into account from the start of the process. We believe that the legislation should ensure the period that the Secretary of State can 'suspend' the NPS to review the policy is limited.
3.4 The LGA will be looking to ensure that there are clear processes for designating existing documents as National Policy Statements. We will be seeking an explicit reference to impacts on climate change in each of the policy statements.
4. Nationally significant infrastructure projects
The LGA wants to ensure that the bill sets a clear definition for 'major infrastructure projects' whereby the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is restricted to a handful of nationally significant projects.
A national infrastructure project: a project that is of genuine national economic significance, including national economic security, and cannot be managed by a network of local authorities taking individual or collective decisions.
4.2 The bill must be amended so that the Secretary of State cannot change the criteria for a national infrastructure project without primary legislation.
4.3 The bill must be amended to remove trunk roads from the definition of a national infrastructure project and the legislation must not prohibit councils from developing light rail schemes.
4.4 Groups of councils working together would also be best placed to make decisions about the infrastructure needed to support and grow their economies - in keeping with the spirit of the government's Sub National Review.
4.5 Sub-regional decisions
The LGA has presented comprehensive mapping of England's sub-regional economies using housing market, migration, labour market, and other data. We made a compelling case for the fact that the "sub region" is in fact the sub-national level at which broader economic decisions should be taken. Sub-regional working on planning issues is already happening in places like North Northamptonshire, Berkshire and the Black Country.
4.6 Planning application process
Councils should not simply be statutory consultees but have a special status throughout the process with a responsibility to consult their communities wherever specific local issues arise. The LGA will be looking to ensure that the final legislation creates a 'legally entrenched' role for councils at every stage of the process.
4.8 LGA model for council role in Major Infrastructure Project Planning Proposals
4.9 Pre-application procedure
When making an application the bill should place a duty upon the applicant to take all reasonable steps to reconcile any differences with the Local Development Framework.
4.10 Examination of applications
The LGA believes that the Independent Commission should resource affected councils to produce a 'statement of local community views and impact' which the Commission must have regard to at the beginning and throughout the process. This statement should be made publicly available.
4.11 Examination of applications
With a special status within the process, affected councils must have the opportunity to conduct a cross-examination of evidence from other parties or require the Commission to take it into account in their own cross examination.
4.12 Suspension of the decision making process
The LGA is concerned that the bill does not provide sufficient safeguards to prevent the Secretary of State from taking an unreasonable amount of time to review the National Policy Statement during the application process and we would like to see the bill amended to place a limit on this.
The bill must ensure that local authorities are able to seek compensation from the Government in order to carry out any new burdens placed upon them in enforcing the provisions in the legislation.
5. Community infrastructure levy
5.1 The proposed Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) shows that the Government has listened to councils.
5.2 The proposals reflect concerns expressed by councils and others, and the successful experience of councils in making best use of their existing section 106 powers. However, the bill should be amended to provide councils with:
- the power to define local infrastructure requirements
- discretion over how and when CIL funds are used
- the ability to drive decisions about funding for sub-regional projects
5.3 Local areas have very diverse infrastructure needs. From crèches, crematoria and cycle paths, to combined heat and power plants. Town halls working with the local community are best placed to determine what facilities are needed. Access to funding is essential and councils must be allowed to define and secure the local infrastructure needed. In doing this we can work to overcome the suspicion and hostility of local communities towards developments such as large scale house building.
5.4 More than 25 councils are already pioneering forms of standard charges and/or tariff systems as a means of securing developer contributions to projects identified by local communities. They should be allowed to build on this work without the threat of national definitions frustrating their efforts.
5.5 Ashford District Council is developing a tariff that will require all residential development to contribute to infrastructure costs. Site specific requirements will be addressed using Section 106 agreements, with the tariff being used to fund the provision of strategic infrastructure. Residential development on brownfield sites will be encouraged by a reduction in the full residential tariff rate, as will changes of use to existing buildings or conversions of existing houses to create more homes. The tariff rate will be set at a level which should not undermine the viability of development and will be reviewed every 3-5 years, following consultation with landowners and developers. Where there are abnormal circumstances, the council will encourage an 'open book' approach and where necessary will operate the policy flexibly.
5.6 Hull City Council created a specific standard charging mechanism in order to help provide the necessary infrastructure for the regeneration of its city centre. The system was introduced to help speed up Section 106 negotiations, provide developers with the certainty they required, help provide the city centre with a quality public realm, which is needed in order to sustain its growth, and deliver a fair and transparent mechanism by which this could all be achieved. Each year the council details the works that have been undertaken, indicating how the contributions gained have funded these works, the works that will be undertaken in the coming year and the extent to which they will be funded via the standard charge and other sources of funding, and also reviews the standard charge, making changes if necessary.
5.7 Winchester City Council operates a local tariff in support of its 'Open Space Strategy.' It sets out prescribed levels of developer contributions towards the provision of children's play areas and sports pitches, with the amounts varied to relate to the size of dwellings proposed and the level of need in the parish/settlement. It provides a transparent and reliable guide to costs which developers can take into account at an early stage when negotiating deals with landowners.
6. Other issues of concern for councils
6.1 Local Development Framework
We support the changes to Local Development Framework set out in the bill. However, it is essential that these changes are made in tandem with wider proposals contained in the draft replacement Planning Policy Statement No 12 and the Draft Regulations. The LGA will be responding to the Government's consultation in due course.
6.2 Local Member Review Bodies
The LGA supports the proposals for Local Member Review Bodies contained in the bill. Local Member Review Boards (LMRB) could provide a welcome opportunity for councillors to have the final say on appeals for minor planning applications that have previously been decided by council officers. However, it is vital that councils opting to operate LMRBs are able to fully recover the costs of establishing and running local appeals service.