Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Maidstone Borough Council Liberal Democrat Group (GIB 01)

Para 1 We support the governments aspirations but with reservations.

Para 2 The Bill should only fast track infrastructural projects of national significance. It must put in place robust safeguards to protect quality, prevent environmental degradation and maintain community involvement.

Para3 The Bill at odds with Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and will overburden the Planning Inspectorate

Para 5 We support changes to energy consents with reservations – this must not lead to any diminution in qualitative standards.

Para 6 Concerns about changes to the award of costs system

Para 7/8 Changes to s106 agreements unlikely to produce the intended outcome.

Para 9 We have concern about establishing benchmark for what is ‘reasonable’

Para 10 Broad Band could have regime similar to that currently used for Mobile telephone consents. What is proposed is disproportionate and unnecessary

Para 11 We oppose the proposals to limit the right to register land.

Introduction:

1 The Bill’s stated desire is to boost the National Infrastructure and to remove obstacles to economic growth and prosperity. This is a commendable objective and worthy of support. However, whilst some of the measures within the Bill may well have this effect, not all of them will, in fact, produce the benign consequences that are predicted, and some of the proposals appear to be either unnecessary, or likely to lead to unintended consequences unless appropriately amended. It is also important to ensure that the Nation’s future economic prosperity is not undermined by the short term pursuit of environmentally damaging development.

Detailed considerations:

2 Maidstone Borough Council Liberal Democrats support the Government’s aspirations to promote sustainable economic growth and national prosperity. We recognise that there have been occasions in the past where it has been difficult to deliver vital national infrastructure projects. It is important however, that any proposed Infra Structure fast track system concentrates on those infrastructural projects that truly are of national significance and that robust safeguards are in place to protect quality, prevent environmental degradation and maintain community involvement.

3 The development of the Infra Structure fast track system, which is of national significance, seems to be at odds with the proposal to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to allow planning applications direct to the Secretary of State. This is likely to mire the Secretary of State, or more precisely the Planning Inspectorate, in many non strategic and very local issues of little or no economic importance to the country as a whole. Indeed, unless the power is very sparingly used, it would place a significant burden on the time and resources of an already overly busy Planning Inspectorate. This pressure would make it difficult to maintain, let alone improve, the speed and quality of decision making within the development control process and would inevitably be perceived as inherently more centralised and undemocratic. Additionally a loss of local knowledge and contextual understanding would seem to be a concomitant risk.

4 If a significant application was to be at risk due to a local authority’s slow determination of the application there are already remedies that can be adopted.

5 The Group support the proposed changes to energy consents and to the reconsideration of conditions relating to Mineral Sites as introducing a necessary element of flexibility. However this must not lead to any diminution in qualitative standards. Similarly the aim of combining and stream-lining the other consent regimes is admirable but will depend in large degree on how the detailed regulations are structured. This is also the case with the proposed changes to the disposal of local authority owned land retained for planning purposes.

6 We do, however, have significant reservations about the practicality and necessity of a number of the other proposed measures. We query the justification for the proposed changes to the award of costs system and are concerned that this could lead to pressure to approve poor quality developments which would not necessarily be in the Country’s long term economic interests. Many areas of the country have large quantities of unlettable 1970’s offices, built at a time of lower standards, overhanging and distorting the commercial property market. Any changes to the cost system must bear equally on Planning Authorities and Applicants. However, it may be reasonable to impose costs for a sudden cancellation of an inquiry caused by either party.

7 The proposed changes around the renegotiation of Section 106 Agreements in relation to Affordable Housing again seem unlikely to produce the intended outcome. It is hard to disagree with the principle that the Government is suggesting. However, the evidence actually suggests that, in most cases where development has not been possible due to economic issues, renegotiation is already taking place and schemes coming forward. The changes that the Government is proposing may speed up a few cases, but in general look likely to cause further significant delays in the system.

8 The risks are twofold: firstly, developers may delay development in the hope of receiving more favourable consideration at a later date anticipating future legislation. Secondly, proposals that are dealt with directly by the Government will require yet more input from the Planning Inspectorate which, as previously mentioned, is already overly busy.

9 We welcome the Government’s aim of reducing the burden of paperwork in planning applications, but note that there may be some considerable difficulty in establishing a bench mark for what is "reasonable". Additionally, we note that many of the most serious issues occur in other parts of the planning system than development control. For example the preparation of Parish Plans has been hampered for years by the disproportionate burden of Environmental Impact regulations.

10 In addition, whilst we acknowledge that one or two Councils have been unhelpful to the roll out of the broad band capacity, the Government’s suggested response of removing this issue from Planning Control is disproportionate and unnecessary. A regime similar to that currently used in relation to Mobile Telephone Consents would overcome most of the potential issues, whilst retaining some control over particularly sensitive landscapes and locations.

11 Finally we cannot support the proposals to limit the right to register land as a Village Green. This appears to be a solution in search of a problem and conflicts strongly with the stance on community assets taken by the Government in the Localism Act. At the very least the prohibition on registering land which has been included in a draft local or neighbourhood plan should be removed as this undermines part of the very rationale for developing and consulting on a local or neighbourhood plan in the first place.

Conclusion:

12 Maidstone Borough Council Liberal Democrat Group welcomes the Government’s aim and aspiration to improve and enhance the National Infrastructure and to streamline the system. However we must express some reservations on the need for, and the effectiveness of, some of the proposed remedies which, in part, run counter to the philosophy set out in the Localism Act and the National Planning Policy Framework and will be economically damaging to the country’s prosperity.

November 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012