Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the County Councils Network


1. The County Councils Network is a cross-party special interest group of the Local Government Association which speaks, develops policy and shares best practice for the County family of local authorities, whether unitary or upper tier. CCN’s 38 member councils, with over 2,500 Councillors, serve 24 million people over 45 thousand square miles or 87% of England.

2. CCN welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence, having undertaken significant work on reform of planning in the past, including contributing to debate on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, and the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

3. CCN welcomes the Draft National Planning Policy Framework, and strongly supports the Government’s objectives of simplification and localism. Comments below should be read in the light of this support, and the importance of ensuring that the new planning process is clearer, simpler, and faster, and deals fairly with the competing interests between which it exists to arbitrate.

4. As a special interest group of the LGA, the CCN endorses the response made by the LGA to the Committee’s Inquiry. The CCN would also draw the Committee’s attention to responses made by individual CCN members.


5. CCN particularly wishes to endorse the LGA’s highlighting of the importance of using a widely accepted definition of “sustainable development”, which can be applied in an appropriate way in each local area, and the value of setting in place a clear transition system from old to new arrangements which avoids creating a “planning hiatus”.

6. The CCN would be keen for the Committee to address the question of how “viability” is defined; taking paragraphs 39 and 70 together the current definition appears solely to address the question of whether development is viable for the developer. The CCN would prefer a symmetrical definition of viability, where viability is also called into question if a development would impose disproportionate capital or revenue costs on the public purse.

7. The CCN takes a strong view on the Committee’s question “Does the NPPF, together with the ‘duty to cooperate’, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?”. The CCN supports amendments to the Localism Bill which have been introduced in the House of Lords seeking to establish a locally flexible “Strategic Infrastructure Assessment” which will ensure that consideration of the future strategic infrastructure needs of a local area is undertaken effectively and with the full co-operation of partner organisations. Given the importance to local people of getting correct infrastructure in place for development, to meet transport, health, and education needs, policy should aim to ensure that this co-operation takes place early in the process. The CCN is concerned that taking Examination as the only point at which the adequacy with which the Duty to Co-operate has been discharged is assessed creates a blunt instrument, which potentially comes into play too late.

8. There is also an absence in the draft of a recognition that where strategic priorities for an area are determined at a level larger than that of the Local Planning Authority, a mechanism should also exist for consultation with the public on that larger scale.

9. Without this amendment, the CCN welcomes the emphasis in the document on joint working across authorities, but feels that the current wording suffers from a lack of clarity about the mechanisms for ensuring this takes place. One example of this is the document’s statement that the Community Infrastructure Levy should place “control over a meaningful proportion of the funds raised with the neighbourhoods where development takes place”. The CCN would recommend that the Government should either set out their definitions of “control”, “meaningful proportion” and “neighbourhood”, or explicitly state that they are matters for local negotiation and determination. It must also be recognised in this context that the overwhelming majority of the cost of infrastructure falls on principal authorities and, in two-tier areas, on the upper tier.

10. Across much of the country local solutions will be found and partnership working is already highly effective, but the CCN would welcome more specific references to vertical integration in two-tier areas, as well as clarity about the level of flexibility to be given to local areas to undertake joint arrangements, for example where small unitaries border county areas, or where authorities wish to co-operate at the level of the Local Enterprise Partnership. The CCN also feels that the definition of “relevant issues” for the purposes of planning strategically across boundaries contained in paragraph 45 is vague, and would be improved if it made reference to the “strategic policies” set out in paragraph 23.

11. The CCN has in the past spoken of the value of more visually sympathetic development, particularly in rural areas. In this context the CCN welcomes the draft NPPF’s references to the value of design, with developments which respond to the local character and identity of their surroundings, and are visually attractive, make good use of open space, and are likely to be well maintained.

12. Given the importance attached to simplification by the Government, the CCN believes it would be advantageous if the NPPF could be accompanied by a list of those policy areas which are specifically repealed by virtue of being replaced by the NPPF when it enters into force, and of those areas which are specifically excluded from the scope of the NPPF (for example waste).

13. The CCN also believes that the new planning system should aim to avoid the trap of “creating policy on appeal” where local plans aim to match the concise, simplified nature of the NPPF and are therefore silent on a specific issue. A simple system must include some discretion for locally elected representatives to engage in community leadership and negotiation, exercising qualitative judgements in some cases.

14. The CCN is concerned that the current version of the NPPF contains an excessive amount of “hedging language”, making around 20 references to actions being undertaken “when practical”, or in a “reasonable” manner. These have the potential to create hostages to fortune, and greater clarity would be welcome.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011