Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Law Society (ARSS 63)

The Law Society is the representative body of over 100,000 solicitors in England and Wales. The Society negotiates on behalf of the profession and lobbies regulators, governments and others. This consultation response has been prepared by members of the Law Society's Planning and Environmental Law Committee. The Committee comprises 20 practitioners expert in these areas of law from a cross section of the profession, both public and private sectors, and from across the UK nations.


1.1  The Society believes that the abolition of regional housing targets will mean fewer dwellings are built.

1.2  Incentives may have some place, but there is much to be done on this. The Society has doubts that the current proposals will prove sufficiently attractive to make developments palatable to local communities. They may also lead to poorer decisions as planning permission is granted to the proposal which yields the greatest advantage for a community, or is even bought and sold.

1.3  It would be helpful to look at the sub-national systems which existed before the regional government experiment for examples of ways to cascade national figures down to authorities.

1.4  The duty to co-operate needs an effective sanction against non-compliance.


2.1  The implications of the abolition of regional house building targets

2.1.1  There is no particular legal aspect here, but common sense suggests that without a steer from Central Government as to how many dwellings are needed authorities will be reluctant to accept many new houses. The regional function simply splits the national figure down to individual authorities. Without that national and regional allocation, how are local authorities to decide how much they should take and whether they have reached an appropriate level? Are they for example to commission their own economic research?

2.1.2  Common sense suggests that there will be a reduction (the Society suggests of some significance) in housing supply at least in the short to medium term.

2.2  The likely effectiveness of incentives

2.2.1  This is largely a socio-economic and behavioural issue. Is the carrot tempting enough? There is a danger that this will turn into the buying and selling of planning permissions. The development which yields the highest will stand the best chance of obtaining permission. The matching of council tax sounds generous but it has been pointed out to us that this will take a long time to be felt tangibly by the electorate. The full effects will take more than six years. It will be a very far sighted councillor in a very safe seat to vote for a needed but unpopular development on that basis.

2.2.2  The Society would encourage the coalition Government to be clearer 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 clearer.

2.2.3  Incentives may well work—but 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 application—but 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.

2.3  Arrangements for cooperation between authorities in relation to certain strategic matters

2.3.1  Before RSSs we had Regional Policy Guidance (RPG), but no regional government. Issues which had to be sorted out at sub-national level, but higher than counties, were arranged by groupings facilitated by central government. RPGs were informed by that process. And in the minerals field, the regional aggregates working party split up the national minerals requirements. Similar arrangements are obviously necessary.

2.4  Existing proposals on a duty to cooperate and the possibility of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) fulfilling a planning function

2.4.1  The effectiveness of a duty to cooperate depends (sadly) in the last analysis on the effectiveness of the sanction. All administrative decision making has to take relevant issues into account. So if a relevant issue is raised late it does not cease to be relevant. In the planning field there is the additional requirement to comply with EU law on environmental assessment, both strategic and particular; where failure can lead to invalidity. Effective penalties for failure to co-operate will be needed.

2.5  Research and data

2.5.1  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.

September 2010

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Prepared 31 March 2011