Written evidence from Land Use Consultants
Land Use Consultants' submission draws on our experience
of work on RSSs in six regions.
RSSs did not "fail" because of top-down
housing targetsthey broke down because of the process.
Draft RSSs generally had the support of stakeholders
in the regions, including local authorities.
The final versions of the RSSs published by the Secretary
of State were often quite different, and with significantly increased
housing numbers, and this is why the system broke down.
The housing component of RSSs was given too much
weight and attention compared to all the other good and useful
aspects of RSSs.
RSSs should have been subject to tests of soundness
similar to LDDs, not fundamental re-writes.
There will be a continuing need for Sustainability
Appraisal, Strategic Environmental Assessment, and Habitats Regulations
Assessment, which need to address the scale of development as
well as the location.
It will be as important to consider the social and
economic implications of not delivering enough housing
as it will the environmental implications of delivering housing.
It is highly likely that housing development will
not reach the levels required to meet housing needthe strategic
need for housing, as opposed to local needs, could well be downplayed.
Resource management (water, waste, minerals, renewable
energy, habitats and landscapes, etc) requires a strategic and
joined-up approach that cannot be left to local planning authorities
Neighbouring authorities with different objectives
(eg an urban authority abutting a rural one) may well find it
difficult to co-operate, which could lead to inertia and desperately
needed housing not happening.
Where the duty to co-operate breaks down, there is
the possibility that, in the absence of any other body, the Secretary
of State will have to take over, which would be back to centralised
Although LEPs will have an economic focus, they must
give due weight to SA, SEA and HRA and environmental objectives,
in order to comply with the principles of sustainable development.
The wealth of regional data and research must not
be lost but must be built upon, even if vested in bodies apart
from Regional Assemblies, RDAs, or Regional Observatories.
1.2 Land Use Consultants (LUC) is a multi-disciplinary
environmental consultancy with offices in London, Bristol, Glasgow
and Edinburgh and over 100 staff. LUC's core disciplines include
environmental planning, landscape planning, landscape design,
ecology, and land management. LUC has provided a wide range of
regional-level planning services for a variety of public bodies
and organisations. This includes Sustainability Appraisal (SA)
incorporating Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and/or
Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) work for on Regional Spatial
East of England.
Yorkshire & Humber.
1.3 Other recent regional planning contracts
include research into Environmental Limits in the East Midlands
on behalf of the East Midlands Development Agency (part-funded
by Defra) and minerals apportionment work in the South East, Yorkshire
& Humber, South West and West Midlands.
1.4 We therefore have considerable expertise
and experience of the RSS preparation process and the legal requirements
regarding their preparation.
1.5 RSSs are to be abolished. Ostensibly, this
is because the new Government wishes to rid us of top down housing
targets that were "imposed" upon local authorities and
communities who did not want them.
1.6 But regional planning was not failing because
of this. In preparing draft RSSs, regional planning bodies worked
very hard gathering evidence and engaging with local authorities
and other stakeholders to understand the needs, challenges and
opportunities facing local communities. All were acutely conscious
of the need to invest in housing, the economy, infrastructure
and the environment for future well-being.
1.7 The result in almost all instances was a
hard-fought but negotiated settlement that was presented to the
previous Government as draft RSSs. Nearly all of the local authorities
and many other stakeholders signed up to these and the housing
figures they contained, albeit some more willing than others.
1.8 It was the next stage in the process where
democracy and ownership broke down. It was clear to us that Examination
Panels were under instructions to give considerable weight to
household projections published on a rolling basis by CLG. Invariably
these suggested that much higher housing numbers were required
in RSSs than were provided for in draft RSSs.
1.9 As a result, most if not all Panels recommended
to the Secretary of State considerable increases to the total
dwelling figures in the RSSs. For example, in the South West:
The draft RSS submitted on behalf of the region by
the South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) provided for c. 460,000
net additional dwellings over the period 2006-26, an increase
of some 20% in the total housing stock of the region over a 20
The Panel Report recommended a further c. 110,000
net additional dwellings (c. 2,850,000 in total), an increase
in the total housing stock of 25% over the 20 year period.
The Secretary of State"s Proposed Changes to
the draft RSS went one step further, recommending total net additional
dwellings of c. 2,873,000, an increase of c. 26% over the period
of the RSS.
1.10 As a result, the Secretary of State's Proposed
Changes were c. 123,000 (29%) above the net additional dwellings
recommended in the draft RSS, and 23,000 (4%) over those included
in the Panel recommendations.
1.11 Unsurprisingly, this massive increase in
dwellings caused considerable consternation in the region, and
was a large part of the reason why there were tens of thousands
of objections to the Proposed Changes.
1.12 It was our sense that the SWRA had gone
as far as was acceptable to local authorities in the draft RSS.
It is true to say that the Proposed Changes were more in line
with household projections. But it was clear that local authorities
did not think that the scale or pace of housing development proposed
by the Secretary of State was acceptable, and many parties including
ourselves had grave doubts about whether it was deliverable.
1.13 The result was that there was no longer
any sense of ownership amongst regional bodies over the Proposed
Changes RSSwhereas the draft RSS was supported by and large
in the region, the Proposed Changes were not. This mood was exacerbated
by other policies in the draft RSS, such as those relating to
tough standards on carbon emissions, also being watered down by
the Secretary of State.
1.14 In our view, it was a great shame and a
missed opportunity that the draft RSSs were subject to such fundamental
changes by the Secretary of State. The RSS preparation process
became too focused on the delivery of housing. There is no doubt
that housing needs do need to be met, and that there are significant
social and economic implications of not doing so. However, planning
is about balancing priorities and it is also about deliverability.
The delivery of housing needs to be weighed against other material
considerations, such as the protection and enhancement of the
1.15 Unlike Local Development Documents (LDDs),
which are subject simply to tests of soundness, RSSs could effectively
be re-written by the Secretary of State. If similar tests of soundness
had applied to RSSs, then we are sure that their passage to adoption
would have been much smoother, and we would not be left with the
strategic planning crisis that we now find ourselves in.
Implications of the abolition of regional house
building targets for levels of housing development
1.16 Without RSSs we are left with a policy void.
There is a desperate need for strategic planning - for making
difficult decisions in the wider interest of the country. The
housing crisis is not going to go away. If we are not careful,
we will be left with local authority pitted against local authority.
This is most likely to be the case where, as a historic quirk
of administrative boundaries, any strategic growth of major settlements
supported by a City Council will need to take place in neighbouring
authorities, often more rural, and with different political priorities.
1.17 Since the announcement that RSSs were revoked,
from our own experience we have seen delays to the preparation
of a number of LDDs while the local authorities determine the
housing targets they want. Recent articles in Planning magazine
quote a study undertaken by the National Housing Federation which
found that over 85,000 homes have been taken out of local authority
house building targets, while the Home Builders Federation has
compiled figures indicating more than 100,000 homes have been
1.18 So in our view it is highly unlikely that
the delivery of housing will reach the levels that are needed
to deal with housing need, notwithstanding any incentives that
local authorities will be given. The most vulnerable are those
who are likely to sufferthose who cannot afford market
1.5 Even in the absence of RSSs, there is a statutory
obligation for housing targets and their distribution across local
authorities to be subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment.
The consideration of "reasonable alternatives" is a
requirement of the SEA Regulations:
The identification, description and evaluation of
the likely significant effects on the environment of implementing
reasonable alternatives taking into account the objectives and
the geographical scope of the plan or programme (SEA Regulations
An outline of the reasons for selecting the alternatives
dealt with (SEA Regulations Schedule 2(8)).
1.6 The inadequate consideration of reasonable
alternatives in RSS preparation was the justification for the
successful legal challenges on the adopted East of England Plan,
and caused the Secretary of State to subject components of the
South East Plan to further assessment.
1.7 The consideration of reasonable alternatives
as far as housing is concerned falls into four main categories:
(i) The scale of housing (how much housing needs
to be delivered).
(ii) The location of housing (where it should
(iii) The standards applied to housing delivery
(densities, design, etc).
(iv) The phasing of housing (when should it be
1.8 It is important that local planning authorities
consider all the above categories of reasonable alternatives when
preparing their LDDs. In particular, they should consider the
social, economic and environmental implications of different levels
of housing. It is as crucial to understand the social and economic
impacts of not delivering enough housing to meet strategic
as well as local need, as it is to consider the environmental
impacts of delivering the levels of housing that the local planning
authorities would like to happen.
1.19 In numerous instances, reasonable alternatives
for the distribution of housing development locations will need
to cross local authority boundaries, due to housing market areas
or travel to work areas (eg in south Bristol/North Somerset, north
Bristol and South Gloucestershire or Stevenage/North Hertfordshire).
Without the strategic considerations applied during preparation
of RSSs, there is a risk that these sort of reasonable alternatives
may not be tested.
Likely effectiveness of the Government's plan
to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development
1.20 We suspect that the incentives will not
prove to be a sufficient mechanism to deliver the scale of housing
that is needed. It is not clear how it will work, or who will
benefit. If the proceeds go to local authorities, there is no
guarantee that those most likely to be impacted by housing development
will receive adequate compensation.
1.21 Similarly, there is likely to be considerable
difficulty in persuading local communities of the need to provide
strategic housing that is not obviously linked to local needs.
Housing development required to support the local
The delivery of strategically important housing development
in locations that are more likely to reduce the need to travel
and hence reduce carbon emissions and the need for costly investment
Provision for gypsies and travellers.
1.22 Those with an interest but without a voice
(eg households who would like to move to a different community,
for example to be closer to where they work), could easily be
missed out from the equation.
1.23 In our view it is a policy fraught with
risks. It will therefore be important that the tests of soundness
applied to LDDs give considerable weight to housing needs assessments
and to the household projections in order to determine whether
the need for strategic housing development as well as local housing
need is being met.
Appropriate cooperation between local planning
1.24 LUC has considerable experience of planning
for waste, minerals, renewable energy and the natural environment.
Although there will always be a need for local policy responses,
these are again strategic issues best dealt with at the sub-regional,
if not regional scale. For example:
The National Character Areas, which have been defined
by Natural England and break down the landscape character of England,
a provide a useful strategic planning tool but bear no relationship
to administrative boundaries.
River catchments often link a number of local authorities,
and the protection and management of biodiversity often requires
strategic planning for habitats across administrative boundaries,
particularly given the need to allow biodiversity to adapt to
the impacts of climate change. Development proposals in one local
authority can have an impact downstream in another, or an impact
on habitats and species outside the authority where the development
is to take place (eg arising from abstraction for water supply
or waste water treatment).
Planning for waste management facilities needs co-operation
between local authorities in order to achieve efficient waste
management, and to ensure strategic facilities that provide a
service to a number of authorities are located in the most sustainable
Minerals can only be worked where they are found
(which is why counties such as Somerset provide strategic supplies
to minerals to markets well beyond their boundaries), and many
strategically significant renewable energy opportunities are dependent
upon certain locational characteristics to be viable, and to minimise
adverse impacts (eg on the landscape).
1.25 All the above needs strategic planning,
which the RSSs were well placed to provide. In the absence of
a national spatial strategy, there is a real risk that that Local
Development Documents will not deliver what is needed. Existing
Regional Aggregates Working Parties and Regional Technical Advisory
Bodies (for waste) will have an important role to play, but the
loss of the regional planning tier is likely to make things more
rather than less difficult.
1.26 Planning for aggregates illustrates the
point. The apportionment of a regional total to sub-regions (mineral
planning authorities) can be controversial, and has benefited
enormously from democratic scrutiny at RSS examinations in public.
This was most recently the case with the review of Policy M3 in
the South East Plan. Removal of the regional tier has in effect
removed this scrutiny of options for apportioning aggregates.
Ultimately this might frustrate the steady supply of aggregates
to the building industry, something that has never happened before
and which could seriously constrain economic growth.
Adequacy of proposed duty to co-operate and the
suggestion that Local Enterprise Partnerships might fulfil a planning
1.27 It is too early to say whether the proposed
duty to co-operate is likely to be adequate without knowing how
this duty might operate in practice. One would hope that most
local planning authorities would take this duty seriously. However,
there will always be some that do not see eye-to-eye.
1.28 For example, if local planning authorities
are refusing to co-operate, or if their co-operation is not all
that it should be, or simply is resulting in protracted and painfully
slow plan preparation, when and in what form will the Secretary
of State intervene? What powers will the Secretary of State havewill
they just be an instruction to co-operation or could these extend
to taking over the planning function? What will be the sanctions
if local planning authorities continue to refuse to co-operate?
Will there be third party rights to petition the Secretary of
State if it is felt that co-operation is not what it should be?
1.29 This leaves so many unanswered questions
that it is difficult to answer the question set. However, it implies
that where co-operation is not what it should be, then the Secretary
of State will intervene. If this intervention extends to taking
over plan preparation, this almost brings us back to square one
with the RSSswhich ultimately became the Secretary of State's
plans, not those of the regions.
1.30 We are not in a position to comment in detail
on whether it is appropriate for Local Enterprise Partnerships
(LEPs) to have a planning function. However, LEPs are supposed
to be economically led with strong business interests/representation.
In their work, we would not want to see a watering down of the
weight given to the principles of sustainable development, not
only reducing carbon emissions but also protection and enhancement
of the natural and historic environment. LEPS will also need to
be aware of their obligations to carry out SAs, SEAs, HRAs in
accordance with European and national law, and to draw on these
to inform the planning process.
Regional data and research
1.31 Regional bodies, whether Regional Assemblies,
Regional Development Agencies, or Regional Observatories, have
built up a tremendous amount of knowledge and data on the assets,
challenges, opportunities, form and function of their regions
1.32 It is essential that this work does not
go to waste, and that continued collection, interpretation and
monitoring takes place in a co-ordinated and consistent way, which
goes beyond simply local planning authorities doing their own
thing. This could take place at a functional sub-regional rather
than a regional level, but the most important thing is that it
124 See Table 10.1 in Land Use Consultants in association
with Collingwood Environmental Planning and Levett-Therivel Sustainability
Consultants, South West Regional Spatial Strategy Proposed Changes.
Sustainability Appraisal Final Report. July 2008. Back
Adding up home options. Planning. 20 August 2010. Back
Early court date for CALA homes hearing. www.PlanningResource.co.uk.
13 September 2010. Back
European Directive 2001/42/EC (the SEA Directive) "on the
assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the
environment" as transposed into UK law through "The
Environmental Assessment of Plans and Regulations 2004" (SI
2004 No. 1633). Back