Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by CABE (L 178)

1.1 CABE is the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space. Over the last eleven years CABE has strengthened capacity and offered expert advice on national planning policy to ensure that design quality, sustainable design and quality places are secured through the planning system. Going forward, as agreed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), CABE will merge with the Design Council to create a single voice for design quality across all sectors.

1.2 Good planning is fundamental to the production and maintenance of well – designed good quality places. Good design goes beyond the visual or aesthetic quality of a building, it creates conditions for a well-planned built environment and ‘makes a positive difference to people’s lives and helps deliver homes, jobs, and better opportunities for all whilst enhancing the natural and historic environment, and conserving the countryside and open spaces that are vital resources for everyone’. [1] The design process is a problem solving tool, which should be made available to the people who can use it most effectively to create and contribute to the places they live.

1.3 CABE welcomes the opportunity the Localism Bill offers local communities to proactively plan their areas. Debate is necessary to ensure that clever choices are made in straitened times, and that they are driven by local people directly engaged in improving the places where they live and work. Over 87 per cent of the public believe better quality buildings and public spaces improve their lives. [2] This is the surest way to cut resource use and equip local economies to flourish through creativity and innovation.

1.4 Neighbourhood Plans have the potential to enable people to reconnect with their surroundings and shape their future. For these plans to create sustainable and well designed places, CABE believes there needs to be a clear thread linking neighbourhoods to local plans and to strategic and national planning policy.

1.5 Through CABE’s work with local planning authorities it is evident that high quality places are achieved through both strong leadership and a clear vision in the local plan. Our work on large scale urban design such as rural master planning has also demonstrated that some planning questions need collaboration across boundaries. Our experience informs our view that achieving good quality design and places is more likely if we have an accessible and trusted planning process that is clearly there to help guide good development for the benefit of all.

Good Design is indivisible from good planning (PPS1)

2.1 In order to create successful places design quality must be embedded in the planning system at all levels, from statute law to the National Planning Policy Framework, the Local Development Framework and Neighbourhood Plan.

2.2 The Planning Act 2008 sets out commitments and duties relating to sustainable development, climate change and good design. Specifically:

Part 2: 10. Sustainable development

(1)This section applies to the Secretary of State's functions under sections 5 and 6.

(2)The Secretary of State must, in exercising those functions, do so with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

(3)For the purposes of subsection (2) the Secretary of State must (in particular) have regard to the desirability of-

(a)mitigating, and adapting to, climate change;

(b) Achieving good design.

Also, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states:

Section183. Good design E+W+S+N.I.

In section 39 (sustainable development) after subsection (2) insert -

"(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2) the person or body must (in particular) have regard to the desirability of achieving good design."

2.3 It is not clear whether the existing statutory duties relating to sustainable development, climate change and good design introduced by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008 apply to the new Neighbourhood Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.

2.4 Indeed, Schedule 9 of the Localism Bill, which sets out many of the requirements of neighbourhood planning, will be introduced by amending the 1990 Planning Act (the Principle Act). Therefore the clauses on neighbourhood planning in the Localism Bill do not fall under the general requirements of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008 in relation to the plan making process.

2.5 Consequently, none of the duties placed upon local planning authorities in relation to the Local Development Framework preparation on sustainable development, climate change and design would apply to the process of neighbourhood planning.

2.6 The Bill should explicitly retain these sections (set out in paragraphs 2.2 and 2.3) in order to apply them at every level of the planning system including neighbourhood plans.

National Planning Policy Framework

3.1 The government has proposed a National Planning Policy Framework for England, which is an essential part of the package for planning reform.

3.2 The National Planning Policy Framework should provide a clear vision for the planning system. As such it should maintain Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development’s (PSS1) positive approach to planning and the commitment to improving quality of place through change. It is also essential that the Framework retains PPS1’s key principles regarding sustainable development and design. In particular sections 33-40 which include:

33. Good design ensures attractive usable, durable and adaptable places and is a key element in achieving sustainable development. Good design is indivisible from good planning.

34. Planning authorities should plan positively for the achievement of high quality and inclusive design for all development, including individual buildings, public and private spaces and wider area development schemes. Good design should contribute positively to making places better for people. Design which is inappropriate in its context, or which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, should not be accepted.

3.3 The Localism Bill does not provide a statutory basis for the National Planning Policy Framework leaving it vulnerable to challenge. Instead the Government is relying on a general provision in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 which refers to ‘national policies and advice contained in guidance by the Secretary of State’ (Schedule.19).

3.4 It is also unclear how the National Planning Policy Framework will relate to other government policy including the National Policy Statements on significant infrastructure projects.

3.5 CABE believes it essential that the National Planning Policy Framework should include an element of spatial awareness as to how the various elements of infrastructure fit together and what effect this will have on the country as a whole. CABE’s strategic urban design methodology provides a proven spatial approach to cross boundary planning. [3]

3.6 The Bill should provide a statutory basis for the National Planning Policy Framework and place a duty on the Government to regularly review and consult on it.

Strategic Planning

4.1 CABE has worked with many of the cross-boundary organisations set up to tackle big scale challenges, whether economic, financial or social and our strategic urban design methodology provides a spatial approach to cross boundary planning. Our research has demonstrated that the approach to strategic planning benefits from focusing more on the physical aspects of place. Indeed, one of the strengths of planning at a larger than local level is the way that it focuses on improving the quality and distinctiveness of a place by considering social economic and environmental performance at the same time as its physical characteristics. [4]

4.2 With the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies (Part 5, Chapter. 1 Clause 89) there is now a gap in planning at a strategic level. The Bill contains two measures in terms of voluntary strategic planning.

4.3 The ‘duty to co-operate in relation to planning of sustainable development’ (Part 5, Chapter 1 Clause 90) requires a person to ‘engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis in any process by means of which activities within subsection (3) are undertaken’. The ‘duty to cooperate’ should ensure not only a duty to respond to neighbouring authorities’ consultations, but to bring about a culture change for collaborative planning across boundaries to achieve strategic goals, such as large infrastructure delivery.

4.4 The ‘duty to co-operate’ also requires engagement ‘constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis’ particularly on issues to do with ‘sustainable development and use of land for or in connection with strategic infrastructure’ (Part 5, Chapter 1 Clause 90 (4)). The Bill should include new arrangements in terms for the ‘duty to co-operate’ in strategic planning beyond local authority level taking into consideration further issues such as housing, climate change, large scale urban design and economic development.

4.5 The Bill does not offer any further information on Local Enterprise Partnerships and their role in strategic planning. The ‘duty to co-operate’ will not apply to LEPs at present as it will only apply to ‘a person or persons’ who ‘exercise functions for the purpose of the enactment’ (Part 5, Chapter 1 Clause 90 (6)). Consequently, Local Enterprise Partnership’s planning role remains entirely voluntary and informal and they are not bound by any duty including sustainability, climate change and design. While some Local Economic Partnership Bids have requested planning powers, it is unlikely that this will provide a consistent geographic coverage.

Local Plans

5.1 The Bill states (Schedule 10 8 (2)) that the Neighbourhood Plan will have to be in ‘general conformity with the strategic policies’ contained in the Local Plan ‘for the area of the authority (or any part of that area). This clearly implies that Local Plans remain the primary planning document and as such this should be stated in the Localism Bill.

5.2 The approach towards Neighbourhood Plans in the Bill is to give as much flexibility as possible to neighbourhoods to determine what is in their plan. But all neighbourhood plans should contribute to creating sustainable places and CABE considers the conformity to ‘strategic policies’ in the Local Plan should be better defined and include issues such as transport, good design, and quality of the environment.

5.3 The relationship between the Neighbourhood Plan and Local Plan and consistency between them will be key to the delivery of good quality housing and other development providing a clear policy context for communities and the development industry.

Neighbourhood Plan criteria

6.1 CABE welcomes proposals to engage local communities directly in the planning process. Neighbourhood Plans offer an opportunity for local people to determine and define the quality of future development.

6.2 The introduction of Neighbourhood Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders (NDOs) and Community Right to Build Orders (CRtBOs) will have a direct impact on property rights and therefore on property law. The Bill does not take this into account and does not state who will be accountable and the associated rights/processes of appeal. The Bill should therefore be amended to clarify where accountability lies and what the process for appeal will be.

6.3 The Bill states that there can only be one Neighbourhood Plan for an area, and that the level of detail in the plan will be for the community to determine. If the Neighbourhood Plan fails to identify the quality required for new development there is a risk that a poor unsustainable environment could be the result. The duties relating to sustainable development, climate change and good design laid out in the Planning Act 2008 the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 need to be applied Neighbourhood Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders (NDOs) and Community Right to Build Orders (CRtBOs).These processes are a means of engaging local people in the design and delivery of new development in their area. As these new instruments are intended to be permissive (rather than obstructive) CABE therefore believes it is essential that communities have access to advice and expertise with the scope of the plan so that they fully achieve their aspirations.

6.4 The Localism Bill must ensure that Neighbourhood Plans provide a fair, inclusive and transparent approach to community participation and local decision making. Neighbourhood Plans will need to involve all those who may be affected by a decision, including for example, neighbouring areas, amenity bodies and infrastructure providers.

6.5 Local authorities will be asked to determine whether the boundary of a neighbourhood plan is acceptable. Guidance will be necessary so that decisions are based on how an area functions and its character. The Bill should therefore provide a clear intent of what defines a neighbourhood expanding on Schedule 9 1 61G.

6.6 To ensure consistency in scope and quality, there should be criteria for the appointment of the examiner of Neighbourhood Plans. CABE has experience in this area and would be well placed to offer advice on the experience and attributes of an examiner through its extensive work on enabling panel assessments.

Skills

7.1 The Bill represents a welcome culture change for communities, but one which requires new skills – the skills needed to come up with a clear vision, planning strategies and procure good design for example. Additionally local authorities will require skills to successfully broker this new process without undermining community aspiration.

7.2 The resources required to implement this new tier of planning will be significant for local authorities, particularly at a time of budgetary restraint. Both authorities and communities will therefore require independent advice and support in order to enable this system to run smoothly and deliver good quality results. If neighbourhood planning is to be successful in engaging people with the planning of their place, there will need to be support provided to all communities.

7.3 CABE currently provides support for local authorities in preparing statutory Local Plans and we are well-placed to extend this capacity building service to local communities and groups through support from DCLG.

7.4 Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build offer the opportunity for development to come forward with automatic planning permission. Design expertise will be needed for these proposals and consideration should be given to how that will be provided.

7.5 The use of national and local Design Review could play an important part in ensuring good quality design for all new development including Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build. Advice from Design Review can help decision makers, be they local authorities or communities, to achieve good quality development. It is one of a range of methods that could be used to achieve the objective of good design; these include using design codes, design charrettes.

March 2011


[1] http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/planningpolicystatement1

[2] http://www.cabe.org.uk/publications/ordinary-places

[3] http://www.cabe.org.uk/large-scale-urban-design

[4] http://www.cabe.org.uk/large-scale-urban-design