Response to Planning Green Paper
Remnantz, West Street, Marlow, Bucks SL7 2BS
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Planning Green Paper Responses
Department of Transport,
Local Government & the Regions
London SW1E 5DU
Planning Green Paper
This Association has a membership of sixteen civic/amenity societies in the North Thames region. We have reciprocal arrangements with the Chiltern Society and the London Forum and we are registered with the Civic Trust. We have studied the above Green Paper and offer the following comments.
In General. A number of the objectives set forth in this Paper are to be commended. We would welcome the simplification and speeding up of the planning process, the involvement of interested parties at an early stage, and the provision of greater transparency. We do, however, have serious questions about the ways in which some of these are to be achieved. The Paper is weighted too heavily towards the business sector with not enough regard, it seems, for protection of the environment. Moreover, in the attempt to streamline the process some important checks and balances have been allowed to fall by the wayside.
Specific Comments. Paragraph numbering corresponds to that of the Paper.
1.4 "It [the planning system] will value the countryside and our heritage while recognising that times move on." (Our italics.) What can this coded phrase mean except that they won't be valued all that much?
2.3 "Plans . . . can be inconsistent with one another and with national planning guidance." This is because of continuing uncertainly about which takes precedence over what. If national policy is paramount we suggest dropping the word "Guidance."
2.4 We have a problem with the word "predictable" in reference to planning decisions. Surely "consistent" is what is meant?
2.7 "Enforcement action needs to be taken . . ." We agree.
2.9 The only difference we can see between Local Plans and the "Local Development Frameworks" that are to replace them is that while the old name is clear and concise, the new one is unclear and cumbersome.
2.10 "Business planning zones will allow planning controls to be lifted where they are not necessary." This seems too open-ended. What steps will be taken to prevent the erection of unsightly or unsafe buildings or inadequate pollution control?
2.11 "We propose real community participation . . ." We would like to know something about how this important undertaking would work in practice.
3.2 and 3.3 You would expect us to support these assessments of environmental "wins" and "losses," and we do.
4.2 We agree that the system should continue to be plan-led, and with bullet points 2, 3 and 4. Perhaps the number of tiers should be reduced (bullet point 1) but we have concerns about the proposals for doing it. We comment under 4.37.
4.5 and 4.6 We agree that the system could be simpler and that there is confusion over which policy takes precedence. (See our comment on 2.3. We have repeatedly asked for clarification in this area.) But while it is true that Local Plans have their faults, notably that they are taking too long to produce, in many cases they have served their communities well. We would like to know in what sense the plans are "too inflexible." It would be hard to place confidence in the idea of a "flexible" plan, or to reconcile it with the "predictability" that the Paper seeks to achieve. The generalised claim that the plans are "failing their users" looks like an exaggeration merely to boost the case for change.
4.7 We note that the Community Strategies are to have an element of flexibility and that they "will play a key role in informing the preparation of Local Development Frameworks." What is unclear is which takes precedence over the other.
4.8 We have no experience of unitary development plans but it seems to us that three types of plan are being abolished only to restore one of them under another name - and a very user-unfriendly name at that. Under 4.37 the Paper comes out in the open with the intention to abolish Structure Plans, so why the obfuscation here? We suggest retaining the name "Local Plan" while remedying any deficiencies such as those listed under 4.3-4.5.
4.13-4.15 Admirable as the aims of the Action Plans are, without careful co- ordination there could be the sort of conflicts with Local Plan policies that the Paper seeks to avoid. Could the Action Plan be produced as an addendum or appendix to the relevant Local Plan?
4.21-4.24 We welcome the proposal to involve the community at all stages of the Plan process. We would like to see civic/amenity societies (rather than just "voluntary groups") included in the list under 4.21. Many planners see them as a valuable resource and they cost the Government nothing.
4.26 The Paper seeks views on the best way to ensure inclusiveness during the consultation phase of the Plan, describing the present system as "time-consuming and adversarial." Of the options given under 4.26 we favour some form of public hearing, since "wide public participation" (option 1) is too ill-defined. We suggest that it is naïve to think the adversarial element can be avoided. And any attempt to streamline the process must of course be consistent with the stated aim that "all parts of the community must be able to make their voices heard." (1.5)
4.31 and elsewhere. It seems to us that with all the planning and updating required, too much is being expected of the Local Authorities. They are already stretched financially, and as the chairman of Wycombe District Council is quoted as saying, they are "drowning in a pool of targets." In fact we wonder whether the proposed new system will turn out to be more complex and time-consuming that the old one.
4.37 Following the announcement that structure plans are to be abolished (no consultation there!), we are asked "whether the counties should have a role in assisting the regional, district and unitary authorities in preparing their plans." In our view the counties should retain their important role in the planning process and not be subordinated to other, less affected authorities. No region or sub-region can replace the counties with their historic ties to their inhabitants and repositories of local knowledge. How can anyone take pride in a "sub-region"? This is part of a greying-down process that is one of the sadnesses of our time.
4.42 The Paper quite rightly speaks out against jargon that confuses the public. And yet, to add to the incomprehensible "Local Development Frameworks," we are asked to accept "Regional Spatial Strategies" in place of the better understood Regional Planning Guidance. Why?
4.47 and 4.52 It would be sensible to make the same planning authorities - but we suggest not the regional Chambers (see 4.44) - responsible for the drafting in each region. We see no need for a new elected regional government. An association of county councillors would do the job very nicely.
4.60 We wholeheartedly endorse the proposal to "separate policy guidance from practical implementation, making clear the distinction between national policy which should be followed and advice which can be interpreted more freely." Much misunderstanding will be removed by this measure.
5.29 ff. The Paper should include lists of statutory and non-statutory consultees.
5.42 We are asked to comment on the proposal to replace outline planning applications with a "detailed scheme against parameters determined in agreement with the local authority." We are told that a certificate would then be issued by the LPA, "which might cover, for example, design, affordable housing provision and community participation." We hope that that if the proposal were to be taken up, there would be no opportunity for the developer to introduce changes advantageous to him in the final plan, which is where the present system is open to abuse.
We agree that repeated applications and "twin tracking" should be disallowed, and that five-year consents should be replaced by three-year consents.
5.43 Similarly, we agree that three months, rather than six, should be the time allowed for a decision on whether or not to appeal.
5.45-5.49 On balance we think that Permitted Development Rights should be controlled nationally as at present. Local control could lead to inconsistencies (5.49) and ill feeling.
5.55 We have noticed a trend on the part of developers to consult with local civic/amenity societies, and this is to be encouraged.
5.58 Planning Aid sounds like an excellent scheme, which should be more widely publicised.
5.59 and 5.60 We agree that members of the public should be allowed to have their say at planning meetings. We agree that local authorities should give reasons for permissions as well as for refusals.
5.63 Wherever possible we would like to see towns provided with "one-stop shops" where information is made available to the public and where planning applications can be inspected on request.
6.7 In principle we would encourage the provision of a mediation service to resolve disputes and we look forward to hearing more about it.
6.19-6.21 The question of third party rights of appeal can be argued either way with almost equal force. We do not feel qualified to offer a view but suggest that some competent body be asked to make a judgement. It is too important a matter to let drop.
We thank the DTLR for the opportunity to comment on this Paper.