Memorandum submitted by TCPA (PB 25)

A submission to the Planning Bill Public Bill Committee

 

1. Summary: The TCPA welcomes the Planning Bill, especially the introduction of the National Planning Statement system and the Community Infrastructure Levy, as important reforms to the UK planning system. However we have concerns about details of the draft legislation. We are particularly concerned about the change to the right to be heard that we believe could be portrayed as being unnecessarily restrictive.

 

We also believe the provisions for publicity for a consulting on a new National Planning Statement are too restrictive. Finally we make some suggestions about the structure of the Community Infrastructure Levy and will be happy to work with the Government on its future development.

 

2. Introduction: The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is an independent, pro-development charity seeking a sustainable future through planning. The TCPA puts social justice and the environment at the heart of policy debate and inspires government, industry and campaigners to take a fresh perspective on major issues, including planning policy, housing, regeneration and climate change. Our objectives are to:

 

Secure a decent, well designed home for everyone, in a human-scale environment combining the best features of town and country

 

Empower people and communities to influence decisions that affect them

 

Improve the planning system in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.

 

3. The TCPA broadly welcomes many elements of the Planning Reform Bill as sensible changes to the planning system. The Community Infrastructure Levy reflects long standing TCPA policy that the increase in land value following the granting of planning permission for a development should contribute to the cost of the public infrastructure needed to support the development.

 

The proposed National Planning Statements are a welcome recognition that many issues such as transport, waste water infrastructure and nationally significant energy generation (ie electricity transmission lines) can only be addressed within a framework set at a UK wide level. They will be vital tools in reaching the goal of sustainable development for the UK.

 

4. A very similar proposal to a National Planning Statement was the principal recommendation of the TCPA appointed Hetherington Commission (with cross party support from the House of Commons) that reported in May of last year[1]. (See: http://www.tcpa.org.uk/press_files/pressreleases_2006/CONNECTING_ENGLAND.pdf for a copy of the report)

 

The Commission was set up to examine how key infrastructure improvements in England (the commission's remit did not extend to other countries within the UK) could be better delivered to support economic growth and regeneration. It concluded that developing a Development Framework for England should:

 

Create a shared national infrastructure of ports, traffic flows and networks (including education and skills networks) on which all regions depend,

Manage inter-regional impacts of 'local' decisions and region proof Government investment decisions,

Enable confident decision making based on evidence at national, regional and local levels,

Demonstrate joined up Government

Ensure best value from Government expenditure by reducing duplication and show how investments made in different sectors reinforce each other.

 

The Hetherington Commission called for a Development Framework for England to be developed through an open and participatory process from local government upwards. We hope that the Government will adopt this approach when developing a National Planning Statement and seek to reach the targets noted above.

 

5. Within this submission we would like to comment on four areas:

 

The Right to be Heard

Allowing the Planning Inspectorate to determine the method for considering a planning appeal

Publicity

Community Infrastructure Levy

 

 

6. Right to be heard: As we note above; the TCPA endorses the approach of drafting a National Planning Statement to set a national framework for development. However we are concerned about the absence of a statutory right to be heard in the development of a National Planning Statement or the alteration of an existing one. The only requirement within the draft legislation is that the Secretary of State must ' ....consult such persons, and such descriptions of persons, as may be prescribed.' (Clause 7, Sub section 4). We feel that is unnecessarily restrictive.

 

7. The TCPA is concerned that it will only be possible to challenge statements through judicial review within a limited 6 week period. This has the potential to exclude organisations and individuals with concerns about the proposed National Planning Statement and could be portrayed as an attempt to stifle criticism.

 

8. Additionally where a National Planning Statement does not refer to a specific location (ie a statement about the role of planning in reducing UK CO2 emissions) any decisions in relation to the content and recommendations of the statement will be made by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. This could be perceived as an attempt to reduce debate and stifle criticism. Our concern in this regard would be mitigated with greater Parliamentary scrutiny with guaranteed examination by a Select Committee and perhaps a debate on the floor of the House of Commons.

 

9. A qualified right to be heard is provided at the examination stage of a major infrastructure developments by provisions in the bill that set out how the Infrastructure Planning Commission (or a sub-panel of commissioners) will manage the hearing process (Chapter 4). The TCPA accepts the principle that the commission needs to have ultimate control of the process to prevent frivolous objections and time wasting by individuals and organisations opposed to the development.

 

10. However the wording used does not reflect the current established right in Section 20 of the Planning and Compulsory purchase Act 2004. This raises the concern about how the untested wording in the bill will be interpreted in practice and how many legal judgments will be required to settle the question.

 

11. Whilst written and oral submissions are encouraged; individuals or organisations will not be allowed to question the merits of the National Policy Statement under which the development is taking place. Given the restrictions noted above during their drafting these provisions could again be portrayed as an attempt to stifle criticism.

 

12. This limiting approach is in stark contrast in contrast to the examination process for a Development Plan Document (that currently provides the basis for planning decisions by local authorities) and which every local authority must have. The process, set out in Section 20, Sub - section 6 of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, states:

 

(6) Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development plan document must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination.

 

13. Allowing the Planning Inspectorate to determine the method for considering a planning appeal: We are also concerned by the provisions in Clause 160, sub section 1 that could restrict the right to a public inquiry at an appeal against a planning decision. The clause, as it is drafted, allows the Secretary of State to determine how an appeal against a planning application will be carried out. This could be via a local inquiry where witnesses give evidence and are cross examined, a hearing or simply on the basis of representations in writing.

 

This appears to have the sole objective of reducing the number of planning appeals rather than asking what it is within the current planning process that is causing so many appeals. In particular the TCPA is concerned about the drift towards an increased reliance on written appeals. While bureaucratically convenient for the Planning Inspectorate; they do not allow for the element of debate that is often essential to get to the bottom of the issues between parties.

 

We believe that it should be a fundamental right of landowners and local communities to be able to voice their concerns before an independent inspector. Given the importance of the right to be heard the TCPA believes that it should not be left to the discretion of the Inspectorate

 

Giving the Planning Inspectorate the right to determine how a planning appeal will be heard therefore appears to put hitting performance targets, convenience and financial efficiency of the Planning Inspectorate above the achievement of justice in determining a planning application. The TCPA believes that this is wrong. We believe that Clause 160, sub - section 1 is unnecessarily restricting and should be dropped.

 

14. Publicity: Clause 7 states that the Secretary of State must carry out and arrange for the publicity she thinks appropriate in relation to the proposed National Planning Statement when it relates to a particular area. However the draft legislation only defines publicity in terms of consultation with the local authority (Clause 8).

 

15. While this is entirely appropriate - as the elected representative body for the local area - the TCPA would like the publicity requirements for a local area to also include local newspapers, radio and television. This will help ensure that local people are properly engaged with the development proposals affecting where they live. Indeed the objective of ensuring that everyone should have a fair say in the future of their neighbourhood was one of the Secretary of State's opening remarks in the Second Reading Debate.

 

16. The principle of using the local news media is accepted in Clause 42 where the draft legislation requires developers of nationally significant infrastructure projects to publish their proposals in the local newspaper.

 

17. Community Infrastructure Levy: The TCPA welcomes the proposed Community Infrastructure Levy. We believe that the levy is a fair way forward that recognises the responsibility of a developer to contribute towards public infrastructure costs without being an onerous burden

 

18. The TCPA also believes that its simpler structure will allow the Community Infrastructure Levy to be more widely applied than Section 106 arrangements. Too often these are complex and poorly understood by planners. Currently a staggering 93% of all planning applications do not include a Section 106 agreement. Continuing with such an approach would not generate the sums necessary for the infrastructure provision required to support housing growth.

 

19. To allay concerns that have been expressed about the impact of the Community Infrastructure Levy on the operation of Section 106, TCPA urges the Government to guarantee that affordable housing will continue to be provided by this route and the levy will be separate.

 

20. The TCPA recognises that the detailed operation of the Community Infrastructure Levy needs to be further developed. We are happy to assist the Government in this work and have already organised one seminar later this month with leading experts.

 

21. However the TCPA would suggest the following as important principles that need to be incorporated:

 

Local authorities should not be required to calculate infrastructure costs from scratch before setting a tariff. The Government should provide support to local authorities by developing a common approach that can be used across the country. Indeed we understand that some local authorities have already called or this. Developing a common approach

 

A banded approach to the setting of tariffs would make implementation of the Community Infrastructure Levy speedy and less onerous. The TCPA believes that there will be sufficient similarity in infrastructure costs across a region for standard tariffs to be applied across that region (perhaps expressed as ranges). The bands could differentiate between the increase in land value following consent where it is:

 

i. Substantial: For example a greenfield site.

ii. Moderate: For example some brownfield sites.

iii. Very Limited: For example a tract of derelict land requiring substantial remedial work.

 

Allocations in a development plan should identify the band into which the site falls

 

A portion of a local authority's levy income should be used to support regional or sub-regional projects. We were disappointed to note that during the Second Reading Debate on the Planning Bill objections were raised to this principle. Involvement in cross boundary infrastructure is essential if Growth Areas, Growth Points, Eco-towns and significant in-town developments are to proceed and make major contributions to the 3 million housing target.

 

January 2008



[1] Connecting England: A framework for Regional Development Needs and Priorities of England, TCPA, London, 2006