Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Staffordshire County Council

Response to the Select Committee’s question—Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to co-operate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

Summary

Support the requirement and guidance in the NPPF relating to cooperation on strategic priorities which includes the provision of minerals and the development of new facilities to manage wastes;

Agree with the guidance in the NPPF to encourage early cooperation so that cross border issues that need to be addressed through local planning are identified at the beginning of the plan making process and that options to resolve those issues can be fully tested and subject to public scrutiny;

Agree to Aggregate Working Parties as advisory bodies supporting a system whereby the level of provision for aggregate minerals is determined through the local plan process by Mineral Planning Authorities;

Requirements for cooperation on determining levels of mineral provision should not prejudice the ability of a Mineral Planning Authority to choose alternative figures;

In relation to the provision of nationally or regionally important minerals, cooperation between Mineral Planning Authorities beyond immediate neighbouring authorities will be necessary; and

Future review of national waste policies should consider the benefits of replacing Regional Technical Advisory Groups to support cooperation on strategic waste planning issues.

Comments

My response relates to cooperation between local planning authorities in matters relating to the provision of minerals and the development of facilities for sustainable waste management. In these matters, the Select Committee has recognised that these matters reside well with upper tier local authorities and recommends retention of partnership forums such as the Aggregates Working Parties. In response to the Committee’s report on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies, the Government has confirmed the role of Mineral Planning Authorities to plan for aggregate minerals and has indicated that it is reviewing arrangements for long term aggregates mineral planning.

Referring to the response made to the Committee on behalf of Staffordshire County Council in relation to the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies, cooperation for the purposes of local planning is supported and it is recognised that cooperation between local planning authorities could be assisted by the establishment of technical groups that could offer advice, particularly in relation to cross border issues, to local planning authorities in determining provision for minerals and waste management facilities.

In relation to co-operation on minerals planning matters, paragraph 101 of the draft NPPF provides policy guidance in relation to planning for firstly, aggregate minerals and secondly, industrial and energy minerals. The draft policy provides opportunity for local planning of minerals and in respect of this guidance I wish to comment as follows:

The County Council proposes an approach to planning for aggregate minerals whereby targets for the level of provision are set locally by the Mineral Planning Authority (MPA) and would encourage the Government to endorse this approach avoiding the imposition of targets on MPAs by groups such as Aggregate Working Parties.

To assist MPAs, however, an advisory role for Aggregate Working Parties is considered appropriate on the basis that they would provide technical advice and information to MPAs. To some extent participation of neighbouring local authorities with the relevant Aggregates Working Party would help to meet responsibilities under the duty to co-operate and would provide a forum by which relevant evidence could be agreed. I contend, however, that participation with such a body should not prejudice the ability of a MPA to choose alternative figures for the level of provision of aggregates which is an option recognised in the NPPF.

In view of the duty to co-operate, it would be important that Aggregate Working Parties are seen to work openly and that subject to respecting commercially sensitive information, evidence provided by such parties should be made publicly available.

For aggregates planning, co-operation between planning authorities will take place at a relatively local level in most cases involving neighbouring authorities but in relation to industrial and energy minerals, there may be a need for wider co-operation. For example, brick clays and minerals used for the manufacture of cement will have either a national or regional significance and assessing the economic importance of these minerals will extend beyond the evidence that can be ascertained by local MPAs. In circumstances whereby a shortfall in the production of a nationally important industrial mineral occurs in one part of the country, pressures for the development of similar resources elsewhere in the country could arise and there would be a need for MPAs to liaise with other MPAs beyond adjoining boundaries. In relation to specialist minerals and the need to assess economic importance, there will be a requirement for the continuing support of the British Geological Society to provide independent verification of economic circumstances.

Referring to waste planning, the draft NPPF indicates that national waste planning policies will be reviewed and published alongside the National Waste Management Plan for England. Previously, cooperation on waste planning matters has been promoted through the Regional Technical Advisory Bodies. I would support the replacement of these groups with bodies to support cooperation on strategic waste management issues.

The following paragraph was appended to the submission from Staffordshire County Council at a later date:

Referring to paragraph 101 of the NPPF, there is an associated footnote stating that “Local planning authorities can choose alternative figures for preparing their plans if they have new or different information and a robust evidence base”. County Council Members support this guidance and consider that the footnote should be included in the main body of the text under paragraph 101. The footnote is consistent with guidance provided in a letter recently received by Councillor Winnington from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Bob Neill MP.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011