Written evidence from Mills & Reeve
LLP (ARSS 37)|
1.1 Abolition of regional housing targets is
causing delay and uncertainty in the system.
1.2 There was more to RSS than housing targetsstrategic
planning, an important part of our planning system for decades,
has been weakened as a result of abolition and the Government
should be clear as to what will replace this.
1.3 Incentives may have some place, but there
is much to be done on this and in any event, it is doubtful that
they can provide the same outcomes as traditional planning.
1.4 We need more clarity around the role of incentives
and an understanding of how the potential disadvantages are to
1.5 Not enough is being done to explain the benefits
development can bring, and expectation (which is likely to be
unrealistic) has been raised that communities will not have to
accept development they do not want.
1.6 LEPs may have a role to play in forward planning
and this should be explored.
2. ABOUT THE
2.1 Mills & Reeve LLP is a top 50 national
law firm with 92 partners, over 460 lawyers and a total staff
of around 800. We have offices in Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds,
London, Manchester and Norwich and serve clients throughout the
country and internationally.
2.2 This submission is prepared by Mills &
Reeve's planning law team. The team is based in Cambridge, and
specialises in town and country planning, working for a range
of clients in both the public and private sectors.
3. RESPONSE TO
3.1 The implications of the abolition of regional
house building targets.
3.1.1 It seems apparent from what we hear that
a number of local planning authorities have, in reliance upon
abolition, already taken certain decisions which will have significant
impacts on housing development.
3.1.2 Authorities are taking their own views
depending on circumstances but we hear that:
(i) planning applications have been refused which,
prior to abolition, are likely to have been approved;
(ii) allocations are not being acknowledged or
are being reconsidered;
(iii) where shortfalls in supply had already
been identified, there is "no rush" to fill the gap;
(iv) work on emerging LDF documents is being
3.1.3 In addition, developers, land owners and
their advisers are uncertain as to what the next steps are to
be and how, in future, house building targets will be formulated.
3.1.4 Given the doubts which exist, developers
are likely to hold back on seeking additional strategic land options
and this too will mean further delay in the system.
3.1.5 The combination of all of this will inevitably
lead to a reduction (we suggest of some significance) in housing
supply at least in the short to medium term. This is to be regretted,
not least because house building rates were already below what,
as a nation, we had aspired to and have been so over a period
of some years.
3.2 The likely effectiveness of incentives.
3.2.1 This is difficult to judge without seeing
further detail but the following points occur:
(i) more than one kind of incentive has been
spoken of. Those incentives which focus on retention and "top
up" of Council Tax and business rates are incentives which
are aimed at the local planning authority. However, incentives
which are to persuade local communities to support development
need to be more direct and locally based. These may come through
in the usual way as section 106 contributions or as part of CIL
(or its substitute). However, in the case of CIL (as presented
by the previous administration), there may be no link between
the payment and the development so this could lead to a dilution
of that particular incentive.
(ii) we would encourage the coalition Government
to be more clear when it uses the term "localism" in
the planning context. The determination of planning applications
is likely to remain with the local planning authority, but much
is made in press releases etc about the increased role of the
"local community". It is important not to overstate
what the role and influence of local people is to be, so as to
avoid disappointment when "incentives" become more clear.
(iii) the best form of incentive should be the
positive aspects of developmentseen as such rather than
as a route to secure any financial incentives. Little has been
done, as far as we can see, to take forward the recommendation
of Kate Barker that development should be promoted as something
which is positive, and which can bring real benefits, and there
are still significant and persuasive voices against most forms
of development in many if not all "communities"
(iv) in areas where housing development is seen
as part of a desired regeneration or economic growth plan, then
the community view is more likely to be favourable, but in any
event, it is incumbent on "local leaders" to demonstrate
support where development is for the greater good.
(v) incentives may well workbut is the
outcome of that always desirable? Local authorities, keen to attract
the financial benefits of development, may be persuaded to approve
certain types of planning applicationbut we must be careful
to avoid inappropriate planning decisions.
(a) For example, if the incentives for housing
development are attractive, a local authority may be persuaded
to approve applications in locations which are not sustainable.
(b) Viewed strategically, the right location
for housing development might be a neighbouring authority's area
so whatever the scheme for incentives is, it must avoid unhelpful
"competition" between authorities as well as poor planning.
3.2.2 As with many types of development, housing
provision needs to be viewed in a strategic way. By this we mean
that the provision of a housing supply is not only a matter for
individual local planning authoritiesnor local communities.
Whereas local communities may be attracted by the idea of "a
few more houses in the village for local people", housing
provision is a key element of economic growth and success for
geographic areas which comprise more than a single local planning
3.2.3 The planned growth of Cambridge is a good
case in point. Surrounded by a tightly drawn green belt, the recent
review of that green belt came about (as directed by RSS) once
the case for it was made by important local employers including
the University of Cambridge. It was clear that the price to be
paid for leaving the green belt untouched was too greatvery
high house prices and traffic congestion (as workers came into
the City from their homes beyond the green belt), were making
Cambridge unattractive for many employees and potential employees.
Without a significantly increased supply of housing, and much
improved infrastructure, Cambridge's future economic success was
3.2.4 The review of the Cambridge green belt,
and the removal of significant areas of land from it, was not
without dissenting voices but the benefits of this kind of strategic
planning and the developments, and infrastructure, it brings forward
3.2.5 The reality is that some local communities
will have to face significant housing growth, far in excess of
what ideally they would have wanted, and at levels which local
people find unacceptable. Incentives may be inadequate to make
large developments acceptable to local communities. The impression
is being given that local communities will not have to face levels
of development they feel uncomfortable with, or that incentives
will make development acceptablebut, if these expectations
are to be met, there will inevitably be a significant reduction
in our aspiration for levels of housing development, which in
turn will hinder economic growth.
3.3 Arrangements for cooperation between authorities
in relation to certain strategic matters.
3.3.1 There seems to be a reluctance on the part
of the Government to acknowledge any level of planning decision
making (including forward planning) which is above that of "local".
However, it should be recognised that forward planning has, for
many years (and well before the arrival on the scene of the "region")
had both a strategic and a local element. The Town and Country
Planning Act 1971 established county structure plans with local
plans being done at district level. Structure plans came to an
end following the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 which
introduced the concept of the region and RSS. Cooperation on structure
planning was well established and its benefits well understood.
3.3.2 Some issues must be viewed strategically.
These include waste, minerals. renewable energy, infrastructure
and also housing. In fact most forms of development. beyond the
minor, will have some strategic relevance and role. Waste and
minerals are dealt with at county level so there is at least a
certain level of strategic planning for those developments.
3.3.3 Without an obligation to produce development
plan documents (DPDs) dealing with certain issues, it must be
open to doubt whether relevant policies will be produced.
3.3.4 Local planning authorities will however
be under an obligation to produce their own DPDs and Government
guidance could require, as part of the test of soundness, appropriate
coverage of certain issues following consultation, say, with authorities
included within the same LEP. This is not ideal, since there would
still be no single body with the obligation to take a more strategic
view, but it would offer some control.
3.3.5 The relevant LEP could take on a role of
ensuring these matters are covered but much depends here on the
part played by the LEP in the planning context (see below).
3.4 Existing proposals on a duty to cooperate
and the possibility of LEPs fulfilling a planning function.
3.4.1 Duties to cooperate can be valuable, but
their value can also be overstated. A number of authorities do
now cooperate on planning and a number of different arrangements
existbut the extent and success of these arrangements depend
on "local circumstances". For example, Cambridge City
Council and its single neighbour South Cambridgeshire District
Council have a joint committee to consider those planning applications
for major developments which cross the boundary between the authoritiesbut,
up to now at least, they have preferred to take their own course
as far as development plans are concerned.
3.4.2 Local councils owe duties to their constituents
and will tend to look at issues from a local perspective. Often
this will be what is required, but there will be tensions when
certain issues fall to be decided. Some of the LEP proposals,
we understand, suggest that the relevant LEP may take on a planning
role. The proposals are in outline but it is difficult to see
how these more strategic planning questions are to be taken forward
if not by the LEP.
3.4.3 Even with a planning role, the LEP should
not be the local planning authoritybut there must be merit
in seeking to establish a credible role for the LEP in undertaking
research, gathering parts of the evidence base for LDFs and coordinating
the forward planning of the LEP area.
3.4.4 We would recommend that LEPs be asked to
consider this role and comment further on how it could contribute
to good planning within its area. However, in making that suggestion,
we recognise that LEPs are not proposed to be elected bodies.
3.5 Research and data
3.5.1 There should be no barriers to dissemination
of existing material, and the LEP could take responsibility for
ensuring work is kept up to date. This is likely to mean that
different authorities within the LEP area are asked to take responsibility
for different pieces of research, with the LEP coordinating. This
may assist cross boundary cooperation.