Examination of Witnesses (Questions 22-49)
Chair: Thank you very
much indeed for coming before us to our second session this afternoon.
I am afraid we are really short of time. I think you sat in to
hear the previous witnesses, but I welcome the four officials
to the session this afternoon. I think it has to be said that
we had hoped to have a Minister, but we do understand that there
are other commitments that are being made. We want to try and
get straight in and understand where the sustainable development
priority is within all of this legislation, and I am going to
turn, first of all, to Peter Aldous.
Q22 Peter Aldous: Thank
you, Madam Chairman. The presumption of sustainable development
in terms of favourable sustainable development is very much key
in the coalition Government's planning reforms. With that in mind,
why is there no definition of sustainable development in the Bill?
The view has been taken that Ministers think that they can
Chair: Sorry, the view
I'm sorry; the Minister's view is the presumption of favourable
sustainable development can be put into policy, and that putting
it into legislation might be too restrictive. There are many ways
of defining an assumption in favour of sustainable development.
They think that by putting it into policy it enables us to talk
to peoplelike the witnesses you have just seenabout
what the definition is and how they perceive it, and we believe
that putting it into the policy statement is the best way of describing
Q23 Peter Aldous:
That is in the National Planning Framework?
The National Planning Framework.
Q24 Peter Aldous:
Remind me again, when is that due?
We have committed in our business plan to produce a draft by July
Q25 Chair: When
will it be operational?
I think it is April 2012.
Chair: In 2012, April. Thank you.
Q26 Peter Aldous:
Is there a worry that, in the interregnum between the Bill being
enacted and that coming in, people could be rather grappling in
the dark a little bit, or not?
I don't think so, and they shouldn't be, because let us not forget
that we are proposing a revision to the planning system, we are
not scrapping the planning systemthe existing planning
system is still there. There is still a requirement for local
planning authorities to have their local plans in place, LDFs.
There is still existing PPS advice. There is still advice within
them that is valid and relevant today. This is about revising
the planning system. We are not starting with a blank sheet of
Q27 Peter Aldous:
How do you plan to work up the definition of sustainable development
that local authorities and then others will use? Will you be using
the existing definition or will you be working up a new one?
The Minister has accepted that the principles of the definition
that are in the 2005 document will be underpinning the basic principles
of our definition. I would just make the point, which is again
answering a question that you asked of previous witnesses, about
our engagement here. We have called for evidence. The closing
date is 28 February. We have asked people to tell us what they
want in the NPPF and peoplelike the previous witnessesare
well-placed to make a contribution to that debate. It is quite
an open collaborative process. We want to hear what people have
Q28 Martin Caton:
As you have said, the Government already has a definition of sustainable
development in the 2005 strategy. It is to some extent the repetition
of a question, but I honestly cannot see why that, in planning
terms, cannot be put on the face of the Bill.
Quite a complex set of issues are encapsulated in the 2005 definition,
and I think it is open to questionand the previous Administration
took this view when this self-same debate was taking place in
relation to what became the 2004 Planning Acthow far in
the legislative framework you can encompass the complexity and
the dynamism of the idea of sustainable development. That is why
under the 2004 Act there was a high-level statement, and there
was reference then to planning policy as a way of fleshing that
out. That is very much a similar sort of concept to the policy-based
approach that the current Administration is taking forward.
I think it will be quite a challenge for ourselves
as policymakersand indeed lawyersto find a way of
encapsulating the quite complex ideas that are encapsulated in
the 2005 principles within the legislation that does not then
lead you to either unintended consequences or a constant need
to refine it as thinking develops and new ideas emerged about
how you can address sustainable development.
Q29 Martin Caton:
You heard our previous witnesses who are not strangers to planning
policy and planning legislation, and they saw no problem in using
the strategy as a basis for something on the face of the Bill.
However, I would like to ask something about cross-departmental
co-operation on this issue. Are you talking to DEFRA, for instance,
Yes, indeed. There is a lot of cross-Government debate going on
at the moment, not least in terms of finalising the Government's
response to the Committee's recent report on embedding sustainable
development. The Secretary of State for DEFRA is leading that
process. My Department, as with other Departments, is fully engaged
with DEFRA in terms of looking at the specifics as well as the
more general issues that are of interest to the Committee.
Q30 Martin Caton:
Are you near to reaching a consensus on what sustainable development
should mean in planning terms?
I know that Ministers are very keen to get the response to the
Committee and also to get a more general statement on sustainable
development out very rapidly.
Q31 Chair: How
have things changed since yesterday on that? I am talking about
the deliberations of the Standing Committee on the Localism Bill.
I am not thinking necessarily that the deliberations in the Standing
Committee will have a direct influence to bear on the work that
has been done, particularly around
Q32 Chair: In
that case, why wasn't it in the Bill in the first place?
I think, as Mr Quartermain has explained, that Ministers took
the view that a detailed definition was not appropriate for the
Bill. What I am talking about at the moment is a statement of
Government policy that is being worked on and being led by the
Secretary of State for DEFRA, which the Government would wish
to publish in due course. That would actually help to provide
a broader policy framework for what may eventually go into the
National Planning Policy Framework.
Q33 Mr Spencer:
Could you convince us that the neighbourhood planning process
will fairly represent the needs of everybody in communities and
get across to all sectors of society?
I hope we can. It is not as though you are planning for a different
community. The community is living within a district that has
a local plan. It is the same community. It is an opportunity for
these people within a neighbourhood to have more say about their
particular area and to shape where they live.
I noted a question earlier about parish plans and
the like. I have previously been involved with the preparation
of parish plans and, as a local planning authority, we committed
ourselves to the adoption of a supplementary planning guide where
they had followed procedures, and it was in accordance with the
overall aims of our plan. We know that local communities have
an appetite to get involved with shaping where they live and I
think this is a really powerful opportunity for them to do so,
and do more, because they will be able to be involved in allocation
of sites and take it further than just parish plans at the moment.
This is a really good opportunity.
Q34 Mr Spencer:
You would have to acknowledge, though, that if you are wanting
to gain a planning permission or stop a planning permission and
you have key skills or key knowledge, that gives you a bit of
an advantage within the current system. I wonder how you are going
to give those communitiesnormal peoplethose skills
and that knowledge base to be able to influence the planning system
that they will have.
We have made provision for local authorities to support the neighbourhood
plan. There is a duty for local planning authorities to provide
support for neighbourhood planning.
Q35 Zac Goldsmith:
This is on the same issue. There does not seem to be a clear definition
of what constitutes a neighbourhood, and I don't think anyone
knows what powers are going to be accompanying these neighbourhood
plans. I think a lot of people are putting a lot of hope in these
plans for all kinds of local reasons, and it does not seem to
me that the neighbourhood plans are going to solve or answer any
of the concerns that people have, whether it is an inappropriate
development locally, whether it is the rapidly changing nature
of the high streets, whatever it happens to be. My question to
you is: are we going to have a definition of neighbourhood? Is
it going to be clear to us what constitutes a neighbourhood, how
one qualifies in order to be able to create a neighbourhood plan,
and what the value of those neighbourhood plans will be in real
In view of your time, I could just say yes.
Zac Goldsmith: We are going to have all
You will have guidance on it. There is guidance being prepared.
I believe that the Minister has made it very clear that they see
that this is about a neighbourhood plan that is in the context
of a broader plan. This is about consistency with a plan. This
is not an opportunity for people to block development. The Government
is very keen to be clear that their planning process is pro-growth;
it is about developing a culture that sees growth as a good thing.
Neighbourhood plans can play a very important part in that and
we will be issuing guidance about how people can get engaged.
That guidance will be targeted towards those people who will be
engaged with the process. In terms of the definition, there may
be different definitions of what a neighbourhood is, but there
is a safeguard in the local authority having a say in that.
Q36 Zac Goldsmith:
Could you give one example of a really tangible, radical area
where a neighbourhood plan will make a difference? Give an area
where local people will be able to flex their muscles and see
I don't think there is a neighbourhood in the country where that
opportunity will not be there.
Q37 Zac Goldsmith:
What kind of thing, though? At the moment, it seems to me that
people might be able to argue about how many car parking spaces
are arranged in the local supermarket lot, but it doesn't seem
to go much deeper than that. I am trying to understand in real
terms what communities and neighbourhoods will be able to do to
influence the shape, nature and form of the places they live as
a result of these neighbourhood plans, and I cannot yet imagine
what that is, because nothing seems to have been put forward.
When I was a Director of Planning and Environmental Services in
a North Yorkshire authority, a village came to me and said they
wanted to develop 30 houses. They wanted eight of them to be affordable;
they wanted new access to their playing field and they wanted
a new village hall. The local plan at the time was contrary to
that. It said, "No, no, you are not a village where that
development can take place; in our hierarchy of settlements, you
would not be expected to get 30 dwellings." In a neighbourhood
planning world they would be able to do that. They would be able
to get their plan together; they would be able to draw up their
proposal; they would be able to get the community to vote for
that; and if more than 50% of people wanted it, they would be
able to do it. That is for me a really powerful example of how
a community can achieve development that suits their requirements.
Zac Goldsmith: Even if
it conflicts with the local plan.
Q38 Sheryll Murray:
Can I take you back to where you were talking about training of
local neighbourhood people to participate and draw up the plans?
How much sustainable development training will that include? Planning
training has always existed for quite a while now for parish councils,
but will you be incorporating any training with regard to sustainable
development on that, or do you envisage that local authorities
will be introducing that sort of training?
I think aspects of sustainable development and environmental issues
are already being accommodated within the professional training
that is being provided by the professional institutions. There
are other services that have been funded to provide guidance and
help for planning authorities.
Q39 Sheryll Murray:
Is that compulsory at the moment?
It is not compulsory in the sense that local authorities have
to provide the training. It is a service that has been available.
There is a requirement for Royal Town Planning Institute members
to have 50 hours of CPD every two years. Sustainable development
is part of that training, but I want to stress that this is not
just a process for planners; it is for people who plan. So there
will be a whole range of people who are
Q40 Sheryll Murray: I
was referring to people who participated in the neighbourhood
planning authorities, setting up their neighbourhood plans. Will
you be providing them or will you be introducing a requirement
for local authorities to provide them with adequate training,
taking into account sustainable development?
I think it is fundamental to the support that local authorities
can be expected to give that they would be addressing sustainable
development as part and parcel of that, because that is central
to the planning system and what planning is trying to achieve.
Q41 Chair: On
that process: while previous witnesses were sitting there, they
did refer to the abolition of certain pieces of expertise, and
I would include the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit
and the environmental data there. With all of that gone, how are
these local practitioners at local authority level going to be
able to link up with the local people to have regard to information
or to be able to make informed decisions on sustainable development?
The Government has done a couple of things in that respect: first
of all, it has made some funds available to local Government for
the support of neighbourhood planning, but it has also
Q42 Chair: Are
Chair: No, not ring-fenced, okay.
There is a fund that they have just offered to organisations who
want to bid to be part of a scheme to support the delivery of
neighbourhood planning. That is plainly different from training,
but it is about delivering capacity and trying to ensure that
people understand how neighbourhood planning will work, and the
Government is hoping to issue a number of grants to a number of
organisations who can work with the community to help them achieve
Q43 Mr Spencer:
What I cannot understand isit comes down to this definition
of neighbourhood and local, I supposewhat happens where
you get communities that are close together and an application,
for example, for a wind turbine that one village favours because
it will benefit them but the neighbouring village sees the wind
turbine and doesn't want it, or if one village wants to expand
its school but the neighbouring village thinks that that will
put its school under pressure. How do you balance those?
Chair: And what mechanism
is there to balance that?
You have to remember that the neighbourhood planningthis
was mentioned earlierhas to be in conformity with the plan.
There is always an element of numbers. The housing numbers in
particular were never a floor target, and there was always some
flexing in numbers. I come back to my earlier point that neighbourhood
plans have to be seen in the context of a local plan, so it will
be the local planning authority who is likely to make decisions
on that, and there will be policies within the local plan. I think
Hugh Ellis referred to it; there will still be a plan that will
determine things such as wind farms.
Q44 Caroline Nokes:
I want to take you back to your comments about hierarchy of settlements.
When local planning authorities are deciding the hierarchy, they
do tend to look at issues of sustainability in terms of access
to local services, schools, pubs, shops, and so on, and if your
village falls very far down that hierarchy then obviously the
presumption is not for development. If villages were to come forward
with proposals for quite a significant level of housing in terms
of some smaller villages of, say, 30 or so, how would the sustainability
of that be assessed against the local desire?
That partly brings us full circle to where we began, which is
why it is not on the face of the Bill, because I think the Government
recognises that sustainable development may differ in terms of
your circumstances. What is sustainable for a smaller settlement
is different from a larger place in a different part of the country,
and there needs to be this flex. You will find that most local
development plans already have a view about what is sustainable.
What we are hoping to achieve through neighbourhood planning is
some flex in the system that will allow people to be more self-determining
about what is sustainable for their community.
Q45 Dr Whitehead:
Taking it up the other end, isn't there just a fundamental problem
that, on the one hand, we are going to have a presumption of sustainability
in the National Planning Policy Framework, but if all the intelligence,
planning and organisation at any level between the very local
and the national level has gone, how does anybody know at local
levelor indeed at national levelwhether any of the
various activities going on at local level do cumulatively lead
towards benefits as far as climate change, sustainability and
biodiversity, for example, are concerned, or lead away from it?
In principle, it looks as though you have a presumption of sustainability
that could be completely meaningless because no one can monitor
or understand what that presumption may mean.
I think my starting point there is the assumption that the evidence
was collected at a higher level. A lot of this evidence was already
being collected by local authorities and fed into a higher level,
so I think it is quite wrong to assume that all this evidence
has disappeared. The evidence is there and the duty to co-operate,
which the Government is promoting, will ensure that this evidence
is shared. It is part of the duty to co-operate: sharing of evidence
and providing evidence to other people. This evidence is not just
held at a
Dr Whitehead: They may do that.
There is a duty for them to do that.
Q46 Dr Whitehead: Yes,
there is a duty to co-operate in general terms. People may co-operate
in general terms but, as far as I can see, there is no duty to
provide that information upwards and collaboratively in a way
that could produce the outcome that you are suggesting.
I think there are two things here. We know from the past, before
we had the current round of regional planning, that authorities
have collaborated naturally on that sort of thing because it is
in their interest to do so and to share information about common
issues and interests. The other thing is that the Minister for
Decentralisation emphasised yesterday that he did recognise there
was an opportunity to strengthen the duty to collaborate. He said
he will go away and look at that. That may be part of your answer.
Q47 Sheryll Murray:
Without a strategic planning tier, how will you monitor the cumulative
impacts of local decisions on climate change, biodiversity and
wellbeing across the nation?
Chair: Mr Quartermain?
Sorry, I will lead on that one. There is a hierarchy of assessment,
so while you may not have the formal regional planning tier, of
course plans produced at the local authority level are still going
to be subject to sustainability appraisal that incorporates the
requirements for strategic environmental assessment. That cannot
be done in isolation. Local authorities have to think about the
wider impacts and consequences of the plans and strategies that
they are producing and, as we have just been talking about, they
will still be producing information. There are still annual monitoring
reports where these impacts and how plans are being implemented
over time will be reported. Again, we expect that it will be natural
for local authorities to want to share information and for that
information to come together where it is reasonable to do so.
Again, the duty to co-operate will strengthen that expectation.
I think it is through those mechanisms that this will happen.
Q48 Chair: Can
I just cut through that? I was at a presentation that was given
by the Climate Change Committee to Parliament yesterday on the
implications of the fourth carbon budget. One of the points that
was made there was that Crossrail, in terms of how it is currently
being planned, is planned for a 20-year future programme. But
how will local authorities know at the strategic level the kind
of timeline and the needs of the carbon agenda that they need
to address in planning terms as well, so that we are not planning
infrastructure, for example at that local level, which is going
to be out-of-date or affected by climate change, in respect to
the point that Ms Murray was making?
There are other elements of the process that were introduced under
the last Administration that are still retained. In terms of the
sorts of issues and examples you have just mentioned, the National
Policy Statements are the answer. They are still part of the process
and they will set out the long term infrastructure requirements
that the country needs in relation to climate change or any other
issues. Clearly, as part of the process of developing the NPSs,
particularly on those relating to energy infrastructure, for example,
then the Government will be thinking about the issues that the
Climate Change Committee has raised in relation to the long-term
requirements for energy supply, grid decarbonisation and so on.
Q49 Chair: I am
afraid we have been defeated by the bell. I would like to raise
one last issue before we all leave: the issue of the European
Union fines. That was something we wanted to cover. I don't think
we are going to be able to have the time for you to give us a
verbal response to that, but I think we would be most grateful
for a note on what the implications are for local authorities.
Should it be in the Bill in respect of the recovery of funds?
I am sorry about this noise. What happens about infringement fines?
Are they going to be aggregated generally? It would be really
helpful to have a note from you about apportionment of payment
We will provide a note.
Chair: I am really sorry about this.
We are all going to go, but thank you very much indeed for your
time and for coming along this afternoon. Thank you.