Localism Bill

Submission from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) (L 38)

About the RIBA

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members. It has been promoting architecture and architects since being awarded its Royal Charter in 1837. The 40,000-strong professional institute is committed to serving the public interest through good design, and represents 85% of registered architects in the UK as well as a significant number of international members.


· We support the Duty to Co-operate but do not believe that, as it stands, the Duty is robust enough to ensure effective strategic planning across the country

· Neighbourhood planning has great potential. However, we believe the Bill should set out a responsibility on neighbourhoods to pay regard to good design to ensure a lasting legacy for local communities

· To ensure that neighbourhoods are able to map out a coherent vision for their area, we would like to ensure that neighbourhoods have access to the appropriate professional expertise and support which should be outlined in guidance from the Secretary of State

· We very much support the desire to ensure more pre-application consultation take place. However, this must be meaningful and not be used as a PR exercise by developers. Further clarification is needed on how this will work in practice

· We believe that significant developments should undergo further pre-application scrutiny through a Design Review Panel, to ensure that the design quality of new development is properly assessed prior to applications being submitted

· We believe that the role and scope of the proposed National Planning Policy Framework and Local Enterprise Partnerships should be made clear within the Localism Bill


The Localism Bill represents a significant recalibration of the planning system and will have real implications for communities and those professional s working in the system. However, much of the crucial detail has been reserved for regulation and guidance, making it difficult at this stage to offer a comprehensive appraisal of the Government’s planning reform agenda or to fully understand how the constituent parts of the new system will operate alongside one another.

The RIBA supports the Government’s desire to devolve power to local authorities, to enable communities to shape a vision for their area and to tackle the adversarial nature of planning. We also very much support the Government’s stated ambition to streamline and simplify the planning system, but believe that thi s must be done in a meaningful way, removing unnecessary bureaucracy but not undermining the core principles of the system. We want to see reform that is fair, consistent, balances competing needs and priorities (both within communities and between communities and business) and provides a degree of certainty for applicants and professionals working within the system .

Our overriding objective is that the planning system helps promote and does not unnecessarily hinder the delivery of high quality, well-designed new development. We believe that localism and the planning reform agenda provides a great opportunity to achieve this and look forward to working constructively with Government and parliamentarians throughout the passage of the Bill.

RIBA Response

The Duty to Co-operate

Whilst we support the Government’s intention to give greater weight to Local Plans and intention to introduce a new National Planning Policy Framework, we believe it essential that strong mechanisms are in place to ensure that planning considerations are also made at a "larger than local level". This will be cru cial in enabling delivery of housing and infrastructure that is needed to support economic growth and in order to ensure that coordinated strategies are in place to tackle climate change and that the Government delivers on its legally binding emissions targets.

The Government has attempted to address this issue through the introduction of a "Duty to Co-o perate" Although we support the broad intent of the Duty to co-operate, we believe that as it stands, it will not be robust enough to ensure that effective strategic planning takes places across the country . As drafted, the Bill requires planning authorities to "engage constructively" with one another. However, this term could be open to interpretation and the Clause does not specify in sufficient detail, how planning authorities should work together.

Key points:

· We very much support the broad intent behind the Duty to Co-operate – effective cross-boundary planning is essential if we are to deliver the homes and infrastructure needed to support economic growth and to develop coordinated energy strategies to meet climate change obligations.

· The Bill should set out more explicitly how planning authorities should seek to co-operate. i.e. the development of joint Infrastructure Plans /Core Strategies or agreements on areas of particular strategic importance at a sub-regional level

· The Bill should also set out how compliance with the Duty to Co-operate will be monitored and adjudicated upon and the sanctions that will apply should authorities fail to co-operate

Neighbourhood Planning

The planning and design of new developments is compl ex and new developments authoris ed through the neighbourhood planning process will have an impact on a community for generations to come. We believe the Bill needs to set out more explicitly, the responsibilities of a local neighbourhood and outline how neighbourhoods will access the professional expertise that will be required to help them meet these responsibilities and translate a coherent vision for their local area.

We acknowledge that localism by its definition will work differently in different areas. However, we are concerned that, whilst the neighbourhood planning system may work well in some communities – those with greater access to expertise and resources, with established community networks and/or Parish Councils – many communities will not be in a position to capitalise on the new rights and powers that the Bill provides.

Key points:

· We would like the Government to consider p rovisions within the Bill which would ensure that neighbourhoods have access to the appropriate professional expertise and support prior to a neighbourhood plan being submitted

· A provision should be included which requires neighbourhoods to pay regard to the design quality of any new development

· Provisions should be contained within the Bill which require scrutiny of development proposals proportionate to their scale and impact on the local area. For example, some such schemes could be of civic importance at a local level and such schemes should be considered by a local Design Review Panel

Pre-application consultation

We believe that pre-application consultation is key to delivering developments that people want and are designed for their needs. We therefore support the provision in the Localism Bill to place a duty on developers to consult with the community on significant developments.

At present, the planning system relies too heavily on development control as a form of scrutiny and we want to see a re-balancing of the system, to ensure that important design considerations are made before planning applications are submitted and to free up resource in the planning system at a later stage. In addition to genuine community consultation, we also want to see greater scrutiny of new developments at this stage, using important tools such as Design Review Panels, which we believe should have greater weight in the system.

Key points:

· Consultation must be meaningful and not be treated as a PR exercise by developers. It must involve design professionals, a broad cross-section of a local community and take place at an early stage in the process.

· We want to see further clarification (potentially within the Bill but certainly through guidance) as to how the process will work and the responsibilities of developers

· We believe that Design Review should play a crucial role in pre-application consultation. This may include proposals being scrutinised by a panel, involving professionals, and potentially councillors and members of the local community.

Community Right to Build

The provisions in the Bill on Community Right to Build will make it easier for new development to come forward in rural areas. This could help sustain some communities particularly those where there is a shortage of housing and local community infrastructure. However, we do believe that if not properly managed and scrutinised, the new right could produce unintended consequences.

· We are concerned that the new right could potentially be open to abuse by private landholders, previously unable to gain planning permission, who potentially have a lot to gain from the new right

· We also want to ensure that developments are of a high quality and believe that design charettes should be used to help achieve this.

Further considerations: beyond the Localism Bill

National Planning Framework

It is difficult to make a clear judgement on the Government’s proposals for planning reform in the absence of any detail in regards to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is not referred to in the Localism Bill.

Key points:

· We believe that the NPPF should be referred to within the Localism Bill, although would not support a definition of sustainable development being incorporated within primary legislation

· With the absence of any detail on the NPFF, it is extremely difficult to make a clear judgement on the Government’s overall package of planning reforms, particularly on how it relates to and will set out the parameters of neighbourhood planning.

· We believe that the desire to promote and pay regard to good design should be included prominently within the NPPF. We would also like greater weight to be placed on Design Review within the planning system so that developers and Local Authorities are incentivised to use this valuable tool at pre-application.

Local Enterprise Partnerships

As with the NPPF, the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are not referred to in the Bill. Whilst we understand the desire of the Government to ensure that LEPs are flexible, we are concerned that, without reference in statute, their impact may be limited and a big opportunity could be missed.

Key points:

· LEPs have great potential, particularly if they can be genuine partnerships between business and local government

· Formalising joint working in this way at a sub-regional level is a positive step – it should provide a vehicle for strategic decisions to be made, but decisions that are grounded in a local context

· LEPs will have very little resource at their disposal and no statutory powers. We believe their role should be clarified within the Localism Bill, possibly as a means of coordinating strategic planning activities through the Duty to Co-operate

January 2011