Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Branch of the
Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) (L 103)

Plans and strategies

It is not clear to us how the Duty to Cooperate will work in practice. How will cooperation be measured as successful? Here in Cambridgeshire we have some councils likely to argue against growth (South Cambridgeshire) yet may have sustainable locations whilst others (Fenland) will be seeking substantial growth despite locations being inaccessible and unsustainable. In the previous system the tensions between these were resolved transparently through the RSS process and independent examination. Some mechanism will be required to enable decisions to be taken at strategic level consistent with an agreed definition of sustainable development – which needs to be precise and not "all things to all men".

The Branch considers that it is admirable to aim to have a local solution for resolving planning issues but it has to be made within the correct structure. In the new system this has to be the Local Plan prepared by the Local Planning Authority which can take into account strategic as well as local matters. There also needs to be context for agreeing disputes between various councils’ local plans across boundaries and differing aspirations. Is this to be voluntary? Given the current patchwork of LEPs it is difficult to imagine that they will have much clout in resolving differences within sub-regions.

The abolition of Inspectors having the ability to amend Local Plans is welcomed, but does this mean that councils will again have to re-consult publicly on proposed modifications based on Inspectors’ recommendations?

Neighbourhood Planning

This is perhaps where the Branch has its greatest concerns.

A material point will be how LPAs will determine "general conformity" with Neighbourhood Plans – it is important that there is clear guidance/regulations on this, as the Branch cannot find it in the Bill documents. General conformity is inevitably at a broad level and allows for considerable variety of policy formulation between the higher and lower order plan, which can lead to conflict. Where there is such conflict – or there is an interpretation of conflict, which will prevail? Is there going to be a right of appeal against "non- conformity"? Does the LPA have the last word on this?

The Branch is concerned that the expectation from local communities will be that they will have the power to reject large scale development proposed in Local Plans, whereas our understanding is that they can only propose additional growth. It needs to be made very clear that neighbourhoods do not have the ability to reject strategic locations of growth required by the Local Plan even if they are within their area. In rural communities, any such growth – even if welcomed by the local community – is unlikely to be sustainable unless on a very small scale in which case there would be little departure from the Local Plan. There is a danger of the whole process leading to a pepper-pot approach to development which will result in unsustainable travel and problems of increased traffic on rural roads and through rural communities.

A considerable threat for Neighbourhood Councils (in rural areas assumed to be Parish Councils) lies in the potential for legal challenge and judicial review with associated costs. Is this so, or does the responsibility lie with the LPA?

Neighbourhood Development orders also worry the Branch in that they appear to bypass the checks and balances and participation on a wider front than exists for planning applications. There is a danger that the critically important aspect of design to ensure compatibility with local character for instance, could be over-ruled to the immense damage to the quality of the rural built environment.

It is also unclear as to when any inappropriate proposal would be rejected by the LPA. It is understood that the LPA will first check to see that it conforms to basic conditions – but this appears not to involve matters of detail. It then appears to pass to examination with an inspector (?) able to suggest but not make modifications. The referendum then follows and development is approved and must be adopted by the LPA. Thus the opportunity to refuse on grounds of design is lost. Similarly, we are aware that locations can be identified in Local Plans and the basic transport requirements will appear satisfactory – but it is at the detailed planning application stage that a full transport assessment is required to ensure it is satisfactory. Again there appears to be no provision in NDOs for such as a comprehensive and detailed check or assessment.

There appears to be some confusion as to the extent of the powers of NDOs. Presumably it covers all types of build development, but excludes the ability to create local designations which we assume lie with Neighbourhood Plans. It would be helpful to have clarification on the ability of neighbourhood Plans (and indeed Local Plans) to create local designations for the protection of valued assets such as landscape and wild life which would then as part of the Development Plan have statutory basis.

The question has also been raised about the responsibility for Conservation areas and Listed Buildings. It is assumed these remain with the LPA and not the Neighbourhood Authority. Does this mean that Neighbourhood Plans would be unable to create or extend Conservation Areas? We have examples in Cambridgeshire where the LPA’s proposed CA has been opposed by Parish Councils reflecting householder concerns about the restrictions on their permitted development rights.

So on balance the Branch agrees that the principle of Localism is worthy but much remains to be clarified in the practice.

We are also concerned that Neighbourhood Plans etc could go the way of Parish Plans which appeared in the beginning to offer much, and which involved a great deal of volunteers’ time but which, in the end, led to a great deal of frustration and disillusionment.


The complex matters surrounding the Community Infrastructure Levy and its relationship with S106 Agreements needs to be unravelled if this is to enable local communities, parish councils and neighbourhoods as envisaged in the Bill to take part in a transparent process. At the moment all is lost in confusion.

The New Homes Bonus also causes concerns. It appears to us that this approach to funding local authorities will require them to continually bring forward new housing in order to maintain their finances – regardless of whether they are environmentally acceptable. Additionally, what happens if the local authority is eager to grant planning permissions in order to maintain finances, but the development industry is unable to deliver because of market conditions (nationally or locally)?

Right to Build Orders

The Branch has great concerns about this potential "free for all" approach to development without adequate checks and safeguards in place. It is not clear what types of development might be covered by these Orders. Is it just community projects such as village halls? Does it extend to affordable housing? Could it include market housing? The difference between the detailed information required for this and that for gaining detailed planning permission could lead to unacceptable developments. We have seen in Ireland what can happen when planning controls (plus a lax attitude to credit) are relaxed – a splatter of development across countryside ruining views and local character.

Pre-application Consultation

Again in principle, this requirement has to be valuable – but only if there are sufficient rules in place to ensure that the information given by the applicant/developer is giving clear well founded information based on the proper policies applicable. Such requirements need spelling out in legislation such as the information being vetted by the LPA as accurate and unbiased.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project

The Branch agrees with NO that this should be supported as it returns the ultimate decision to someone who is democratically accountable (the Secretary of State) acting upon impartial advice (given by the Planning Inspectorate).

Third Party Right of appeal

The Branch supports CPRE in its campaign to create a limited community right of appeal accompanied by the introduction of restrictions on the existing right of appeal for developers. The latter is especially needed now that LPA’s finances are being cut and there will be the temptation to avoid costly appeals.

February 2011