Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by Association of Consultant Architects (L 128)


I have set out below brief comments of the Association of Consultant Architects on the above, following a meeting of our Planning Advisory Group. As the only association specifically representing architects in private practice, with a remit that concentrates on the practicalities of running a business in the private sector but with considerable experience in the operation of the planning system and development control, we feel that our comments provide a unique perspective. We are happy for them to be made public.

We endorse the amendment proposed by the RTPI; and we trust that the revitalised proposal for third party rights of appeal, which in our view would be disastrous and a step backwards in the aim to improve an open and more certain planning system, will be firmly rejected (see comment 4, below).

1 We note that there has been considerable concern that the Bill proposes the abandonment of strategic planning in the form of Regional Spatial Strategies. We share this concern in respect of coordination for national planning aims but feel that if the Bill and its associated secondary legislation is properly related to the mechanisms for infrastructure provision, clear national planning policy statements and effective Local Enterprise Partnerships - in line with the principles of Localism – the removal of a regional dimension is acceptable.

2 We believe however that these mechanisms need to be properly consulted upon and should be put in place before the removal of RSSs to avoid a vacuum in planning policy. We are particularly concerned, following experience of past consultations, that they should be realistically set up, effectively detailed and fully considered before the enactment of secondary legislation, etc.

3 We are concerned about the key proposed use of neighbourhoods for the basis of planning control. Neighbourhoods must be properly and realistically defined, effectively monitored and independent of local authorities when appeals or conflicts arise. We are concerned that local authorities may not be sufficiently resourced or able/competent or to carry out the actions and duties in respect of neighbourhoods as proposed in the Bill at present. [We would point out that the duty to manage conservation areas that is contained in section 71 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 is rarely observed.]

4 We are pleased to note that the Bill restricts neighbourhood control over Local Plans to positive actions and only allows promotion of development and the lifting of restrictions, not the blocking of new initiatives. We trust that this positivity will be retained and reinforced in the Bill - for example by emphasis of a clearly stated presumption in favour of sustainable ( ie well-designed) development.

5 In this respect we also anticipate that the Bill will include "default approval" arrangements for Local Plans and Neighbourhood Constitutions in the absence of a proper local authority response.

6 Similarly, we do expect that the Bill will include effective sanctions – or even (possibly financial) incentives - to back up the proposed duty to cooperate and other initiatives designed to improve the performance of local authorities in planning matters. [Over several years we have provided case examples of how the planning system has been abused to DCLG and we would be happy to pass these on, especially as relating to pre-application procedures.]

7 We welcome the emphasis on pre-application discussions and suggest that this should be extended to medium-scale development, not restricted to large-scale projects as at present. We are concerned that a proper system for pre-application mechanisms and charging should be laid down and that local authorities must not be able to avoid or ignore them. [We have previously proposed that pre-application charges should be directly related to application fees, for example with a preliminary application fee that is refundable if (a) the local authority fails to provide and/or act upon pre-application advice and (b) the application goes on to a full fee submission.]

8 We are also concerned about how the revised Community Infrastructure Levy will work. Attempts to "claw back" the increase in value that results from granting planning permission have always failed and the current section 106 agreement system still effectively allows local authorities to charge for planning permission. The secondary legislation in this respect needs to be very carefully drafted. [We note in passing that the removal of "twin-tracking" in section 43 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 was – after Parliamentary debate and as promised in a July 2002 consultation paper - to have been mitigated by section 50, which was intended to introduce a "crossover period" allowing negotiations to continue after an appeal has been made, but secondary legislation to bring section 50 into force has never been enacted.]

9 We welcome the New Homes Bonus arrangements, ostensibly designed to overcome Nimby tendencies, but are concerned that meaningful payments will need to be properly related to the local community, so that Mrs Brown who lives next to a proposed development feels that she has received a direct benefit. We believe that these payments must not only be very carefully monitored/audited but also framed so as to avoid the "unlawful" accusation (as made by CPRE).

10 We are also concerned that unless the details are realistically framed the Bonus will encourage local authorities to provide executive housing at the expense of more modest homes because these will attract larger payments: the summary of responses to the consultation on the New Homes Bonus Scheme just published acknowledges this problem but does not suggest a remedy. We are unclear about what weight the Bonus payments will be given in the planning system generally, for example at appeal.

Finally, we are keen to see the proposed new National Planning Policy Framework documents (that are to replace the existing PPG/PPSs and RSSs) in draft for consultation, again, as noted above, before the Bill becomes law so that there is not a policy vacuum. The balance between these NPPF statements being too general and not specific enough to be meaningful is a critical challenge.

February 2011