Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document
Meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 19/02/2002
Planning Green Paper
Planning Green Paper: Delivering a Fundamental Change
The Committee expressed great disappointment at the lack of "fundamental change" suggested by the Green Paper, and agreed that it should not be "welcomed". Whilst the paper contains some measures which should be supported, there are many proposals which were not welcomed by the Committee.
The response to the paper should emphasis the loss of local democratic accountability that would result from many of the changes. Best Value targets, threats of central government intervention and an enhanced role for the Planning Inspectorate threaten the autonomy of the elected local planning authority.
It was recognised that there was too much emphasis on getting things done quickly, with no regard to the quality of process and decision-making – either for policy formulation or development control. The quality of outcome is determined by the quality of the process. There was a lack of detail about how communities could be more effectively involved, yet with a clear emphasis on speedy decisions, the number of statutory consultees will be reduced.
Some of the measures proposed are not new to Waverley which, for example, already carries out significant consultation and works hard to make the development control system understandable. Talk of improved consultation in the Green Paper is merely “window dressing”, when there is a real issue of the loss of local democratic accountability. The intention of the Green Paper to make the planning system more user-friendly is supported, but local democracy should be strengthened rather than weakened.
The Committee was keen to emphasise that Waverley already does many of the things suggested in the Green Paper.
More specifically, the following comments were made concerning the responses:-
Paragraph 6 Response
This section refers to the review of Planning Policy Guidance Notes. The Government are saying that there are too many, and that with Circulars and other sources of ‘advice’ there is a need to reduce the amount of guidance. The response should not “welcome” this review, but instead say “the need for a review is recognised”.
Paragraph 10 Response
The response should emphasise more strongly the concern over the loss of democratic accountability for strategic planning decisions currently dealt with through the County Structure Plan. It should also strengthen the point that the public are more “remote” from the regional and sub-regional level than they are from the County tier.
Paragraph 20 Response
This proposal is not “welcomed”. There are a number of concerns over LDFs and Action Plans. It is not clear to what extent Action Plans must comply with national and regional policy. What sanctions will be imposed if they do not comply with higher tier policies? The methodology issues as to how these documents can be so regularly reviewed whilst engaging the public effectively are weak.
The fear that detailed development control policies could be lost needs to be expressed more strongly. We do not want vague policies that allow room for misinterpretation. Much effort has gone into comprehensive and precise policies that can be used to exert strong control over new development.
The Committee objected seriously to the proposal that the Inspector's report into an Inquiry would be binding. This would be highly undesirable and undemocratic. There is a question as to how independent the inspectors would be.
Paragraph 23 Response
The need for a checklist was recognised, but simply supporting this proposal fails to identify that the Council already makes the development control system as understandable as possible.
Paragraph 24 Response
It was recognised that imposing a charge could discourage pre-application discussions and possibly lead to more problems with the planning application.
Paragraph 30 Response
It is difficult to say what is 'substantially similar' and the Committee was concerned that applicants may be prevented from submitting substantially similar planning applications where only a minor change is necessary to make a previously unacceptable proposal acceptable.
Paragraph 33 Response
The Green Paper did not identify how the number of statutory consultees would be reduced and who would be removed. Therefore, although this measure could speed up the process it would be at the expense of quality.
Paragraph 35 Response
Delete – first sentence of the response. Waverley has business and enterprise parks, and there was strong concern over the possible loss of planning control.
Paragraph 39 Response
The Committee propose adding to the response that proposals where the local planning authority have an interest in the application should also be open to third party appeals.
Paragraph 45 Response
The Committee was concerned of a possible “Big Brother” approach of central government being involved in the way local authorities should run their committees. Allowing members of the public to speak at planning committees could cause problems. It was also proposed that time limits could be introduced to control the process, should public speaking be allowed.
Paragraph 48 Response
The Committee felt that enforcement was a major issue which should be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Support was given to applying punitive planning fees for retrospective applications, possibly up to one and a half times normal fees, and it was proposed that further planning activity could be frozen on sites which are the subject of planning enforcement.
Paragraph 51 Response
Delete – final part of paragraph that states '…on the advice of officers'.
Finally, the Committee wished to draw to the attention of the Government the omission from the Green Paper of any reference to outline planning consents, other than in the context of certificates for large-scale developments.
Reforming Planning Obligations
Paragraph 13 Response
Add - There is a problem finding land that is acceptable for use as affordable housing sites and the current planning policy guidance has no facility for allocating specific sites for this use. Whilst the paper suggests that local planning authorities will be able to identify sites for affordable housing, the current use classes order does not prevent changes from affordable to ordinary housing.
New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major Infrastructure Projects
Paragraph 7 Response
It was suggested that the third paragraph of the response be strengthened to stress that the parliamentary debate is not a replacement for local democratic consultation and representation.
Officers were also requested to provide examples at the meeting of the implications for Human Rights referred to in paragraph 22.
Paragraph 34 - Response
Add – but has reservations about the proposed powers for the Secretary of State referred to in paragraph 32.
Paragraph 44 - Response
Add – and the Council has reservations about the concept of independent advisors.
Compulsory Purchase and Compensation: The Government's Proposals for Change
Paragraph 11 Response
Powers for the compulsory purchase of land should avoid confrontation, being piecemeal and should be forward looking.
Paragraph 13 Response
Amend to read – "…legislative changes
with the requirements of the Human Rights Act…"
The public benefit of the Compulsory Purchase Process should outweigh the possible effects on private interests.
Countryside Agency: Consultation – A South Downs National Park
Conclusion – Paragraph 26
The Committee was concerned that Chichester Harbour area
included within the proposed National Park boundary because it was considered to be of high ecological and landscape value and a major regional leisure resource.
Concern was also expressed as to the planning limitations which could be implemented in the area, similar to those proposed for the New Forest in Hampshire, and their knock-on effects in neighbouring areas such as Waverley.