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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 19/02/2002
PLANNING GREEN PAPER: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE



The Planning Green Paper was recently published for consultation. This report summarises the content, and recommends responses to the proposals within it.

The planning system is there for the public interest, but in the Government’s view it has become over complex, bureaucratic and dogged by delays. The Green Paper proposes the most radical reform of the planning system since the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

The plan-led system will remain, though in a different form. Planning will become more pro-active, with more influence over development before the planning application stage.

National legislation, policy and guidance will be consolidated. Regional planning will be strengthened, but County Structure Plans will be abolished. Local Plans will be replaced by ‘Local Development Frameworks’ and ‘Action Plans’ better capable of engaging communities and being updated on a regular basis.

There is a whole range of proposals to improve the development control and planning appeal systems, though enforcement is left alone for the time being.

It is considered that many of the ideas in the Green Paper provide a logical response to the planning system’s shortcomings. However, such wide-ranging and radical proposals inevitably raise questions and some concerns.

There are no immediate resource or environmental implications arising from this report.
APPENDIX B

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

ENVIRONMENT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 19TH FEBRUARY 2002

________________________________________________________________________

Title:
PLANNING GREEN PAPER: DELIVERING A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
[Wards Affected: N/A]
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Summary and Purpose

The Planning Green Paper was recently published for consultation. This report summarises the content, and recommends responses to the proposals within it.

The planning system is there for the public interest, but in the Government’s view it has become over complex, bureaucratic and dogged by delays. The Green Paper proposes the most radical reform of the planning system since the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

The plan-led system will remain, though in a different form. Planning will become more pro-active, with more influence over development before the planning application stage.

National legislation, policy and guidance will be consolidated. Regional planning will be strengthened, but County Structure Plans will be abolished. Local Plans will be replaced by ‘Local Development Frameworks’ and ‘Action Plans’ better capable of engaging communities and being updated on a regular basis.

There is a whole range of proposals to improve the development control and planning appeal systems, though enforcement is left alone for the time being.

It is considered that many of the ideas in the Green Paper provide a logical response to the planning system’s shortcomings. However, such wide-ranging and radical proposals inevitably raise questions and some concerns.

There are no immediate resource or environmental implications arising from this report.

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Introduction

1. The Planning Green Paper was published on 12th December 2001 for comment by 18th March 2002. It proposes the most radical shake-up of the planning system for more than 50 years. Comments made by this Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be reported to the Executive at its meeting on 26th February 2002.

2. This overhaul of the planning system seeks to make it simpler, fairer and faster. The ‘plan-led’ system remains, but with major differences, and there is a whole range of proposals to improve the development control and appeals systems.

Background

3. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act put in place a system to ensure that new development is in the public interest. Under current arrangements, local planning authorities prepare development plans, and determine planning applications. The Secretary of State provides national policy, decides some planning appeals, and determines important applications. Most planning appeals are determined by independent Planning Inspectors.

4. Over the years, the planning system has grown more complex and bureaucratic. In the Government’s view the plethora of policies and guidance produced by different tiers of authority can confuse rather than clarify. Applicants for planning permission are often frustrated by delays, and despite a highly consultative process, communities are often ineffectively engaged. Fundamental change is needed to parts of the planning system to make it more responsive.

Summary of Proposals and Draft Responses

5. Officers consider that many of the ideas contained within the Green Paper provide a logical response to the planning system’s shortcomings. However, such wide-ranging and radical proposals inevitably raise questions, and some concerns. The key proposals are summarised below, with a draft response below each heading in bold italics.

National Planning Policy

6. The Government wants to reduce the amount of material in national guidance, concentrating on important policy issues that need to be resolved at the national level. It will distinguish between national policy which should be followed, and advice which can be interpreted more flexibly.

Draft response: The review and consolidation of national planning policy, guidance and legislation is welcomed. However, the Green Paper provides an opportunity to introduce a national spatial strategy with links to the European spatial strategy and European policies. A national plan that relates to the physical, economic and social geography of Britain would provide greater clarity and certainty over the respective roles of regions and major infrastructure issues such as airports and motorway developments.

Regional Planning Guidance and Structure Plans

7. The Government proposes to replace Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) with statutory “Regional Spatial Strategies”. These would be more focussed than RPG, and prepared by a coalition of partners, including regional development agencies and representatives of the public, business and voluntary sector.

8. Reference is made to a forthcoming White Paper that makes provision for directly elected regional government. If established, it is envisaged that they, as democratically accountable bodies, would take over the regional planning role.

9. An increasingly important feature of regional planning has been the need bring partners together to resolve issues at the sub-regional level. The Government expects that most regions would have a small number of areas requiring a sub-regional planning strategy. The distribution of housing provision to districts will be addressed on a comprehensive basis at the sub-regional level and incorporated into the RSS.

10. The Government regards Structure Plans as an unnecessary tier in the plan-led system, and proposes they be abolished. County Councils will still be responsible for preparing Mineral and Waste Plans.
Local Development Frameworks and Action Plans

11. Local Plans will be replaced with Local Development Frameworks (LDFs) and Action Plans. LDFs will normally be prepared by the relevant borough, unitary or National Park authority. They should be concise documents, prepared in a matter of months rather than years, and be easily updated to comply with changes in national and regional policy. Decisions on planning applications should be made in accordance with the Local Development Framework and any relevant action plans.

12. The LDF will contain core policies setting out the local authority’s vision and strategy to be applied in promoting and controlling development throughout its area. It should relate closely to other policies and programmes relevant to the Community Strategy, such as education, health, waste, recycling, environmental protection and economic development.

13. Action Plans will focus on areas of change where site-specific policies are required to guide development. Possible Action Plans would include area master plans, neighbourhood and village plans, design statements and development briefs. Some Action Plans could be topic based and cover a wider area, e.g. Green Belt boundaries or housing allocations.

14. Local authorities will be encouraged to work with their Local Strategic Partnerships to establish effective mechanisms for community involvement in the preparation of the LDF, building on those established for the Community Strategy. Action Plans provide a new focus for community involvement in development affecting their area.

15. A “Statement of Community Involvement” will be required setting out arrangements for involving the community in the preparation of the LDF, and in commenting on significant planning applications. As a result the community will know when and how it can expect to be consulted, and applicants will be clear about what they will be expected to do. Applicants for large developments will need to show how they have met the terms of the statement and its requirements for engaging the community.

16. The Government is seeking views on how the LDF can be tested in a quicker, less adversarial way than the current public inquiry process. Possible methods include wide public participation followed by adoption by the Council; an examination before an independent chair to test the adequacy of the plan and its preparation process; or a public informal hearing of representations before an inspector. Under the latter two options the Government envisage that the report of the independent chair or inspector will be binding on the local authority. The Government invites comments on procedures to adopt LDFs.

17. Procedures for adopting Action Plans will need to reflect the use to which they will be put. If they set out site-specific proposals then people whose property rights are directly affected should be allowed to make representations and be heard if they wish. As most action plans will only cover a small part of the local authority’s area the adoption process is expected to be quick.

18. The Secretary of State would retain a reserve power of direction to amend LDFs in exceptional circumstances, e.g. if national or regional policy has been applied incorrectly, or the Statement of Community Involvement was inadequate.

19. LDFs will need to be kept under continuous review to ensure compliance with national and regional policy. Where policies are simply transposed to the local level there should be no need for further consultation or consideration of objections. Every three years (or in line with revision of Community Strategies), local authorities should review their core policies, and refresh their vision for an area and their strategy for achieving it. The updating of LDFs will be a requirement, and the Government will use Best Value intervention powers to ensure compliance.

20. Action plans should be reviewed annually, and new ones introduced where necessary.

Draft response: The proposals for Local Development Frameworks and Area Action Plans are welcomed. The link to the Community Strategy is important, and should help the planning system to achieve wider community objectives and sustainable development.
A fundamental change in Development Control

21. The Green Paper acknowledges that “a system for regulating development in the public interest is undoubtedly needed, but the present system is not customer-friendly and is not well understood”. Speed of processing applications is often slow, and is highly variable between local authorities with particular impact on business.

22. The Government seeks a system that:

is responsive to the needs of all its customers and offers a new culture of customer service;
delivers decisions quickly in a predictable and transparent way;
produces quality development, and;
genuinely involves the community.

User-friendly checklist

23. The development control process can be difficult to understand. A checklist is proposed to give guidance to prospective applicants, and lift the quality of planning applications. A model checklist would be developed with the Local Government Association.

Pre-application discussions

24. Pre-application discussions are encouraged to guide applicants through the process. The Government recognises that pre-application discussions represent a significant drain on resources. The Local Government White Paper announces the intention to enable local authorities to charge for discretionary activities, which includes pre-application advice. The cost of this advice should not be so high as to deter use of the service. The Government also expects applicants to be kept informed of progress with their applications.

Draft response: Many authorities, including Waverley, already encourage pre-application discussions. Waverley had a charging scheme in the early 1990s, (50 for the first meeting, 30 for subsequent meetings). After anticipated exemptions this only generated limited funds (2000 in 1991/92) and with the extra administration it entailed, Waverley dropped the scheme.

E-planning

25. The Government is committed to e-planning and has provided 6m to the ‘Planning Portal Project’. This will provide publicly available information and advice on the planning system and allow greater electronic access to national, regional and local planning policies. It is envisaged that it will soon be possible to make planning applications and planning appeals on-line. Authorities are reminded of the targets for electronic provision of planning services.

Draft response: The e-planning agenda is supported.

26. There are occasions where two or more consents are required for the same development, e.g. planning permission and listed building consent. The Government will move quickly to standardise application and administration procedures under different consent regimes to make the process simpler and more customer-friendly, and will review the case for integrating the present array of controls into a single consent regime. The Government will continue to support the development of “Infoshop”, a computer-based package to deliver a one-stop shop for a range of local authority services.

Draft response: A single consent regime is supported, but it is not clear how far this approach will be taken. For example, many planning applications require approval from the Highways Authority, yet this currently operates at county level.

The Government is also asked to look at the issue of sustainable construction and potential overlaps with Building Regulations. If the two disciplines move toward a shared philosophy encouraging, or insisting on sustainable construction methods, then the one-stop shop approach could perhaps be applied in terms of construction methods.

Parallel consents with pollution control authorities

27. It is intended that proposals requiring separate consents from the Planning Authority and a pollution control authority should be conjoined so that all consents are sought at the same time. This would be more efficient and the community would benefit from greater certainty. A consultation on these proposals will be carried out shortly. Performance Targets


28. The blanket performance target to determine 80% of all applications within 8 weeks is to be replaced by three new targets relating to the type and complexity of development::

60% of major commercial and industrial applications to be determined in 13 weeks;
65% of minor commercial and industrial applications to be determined in 8 weeks;
80% of all other applications to be determined in 8 weeks.

Delivery Contracts


29. For larger planning applications, a project-based approach is recommended, with a delivery contract to ensure that the decision is delivered to a timetable agreed between the local authority and the developer. Business organisations would be prepared to waive the right of appeal against non-determination of an application if they knew when a decision would be made and were kept informed about its progress. The timetable would take into account the potential input of consultees, and any need to agree a planning obligation. Sanctions would be required if an application was not decided by the agreed date without good reason. In such an event, either party would be able to refer the application to the Planning Inspectorate for handling on a fast-track basis.


Repeated Applications

30. Once an application has been refused, either by the local planning authority or by appeal, no substantially similar application for the same site should be accepted.

Twin Tracking

31. Developers sometimes submit two identical applications so that one can be submitted to appeal once the 8 week period has elapsed. This is a negotiating ploy and a waste of resources. The Government believe that the proposed delivery contracts would make this practice unnecessary. LPAs will be able to refuse to accept a substantially similar application for the same site if a previous one is still being considered.

Time Limited Consents

32. Permissions and consents usually last for five years and are often automatically renewed. This period will be reduced to three years. Renewal of permission will need to be considered afresh against prevailing policies.

Draft response: Support, except that it should not apply to householder applications. These are not usually affected by major swings in policy. To require renewal after three years would be an unnecessary burden on the householder.

The fee regime needs to take account of the work involved in assessing the proposal afresh against prevailing policies.

Statutory and Non-statutory Consultees

33. The Government recognises that whilst the expertise provided by consultees is important to the planning system, they can be a major source of delay. It is proposed to reduce the number of statutory consultees, allow them to charge a fee for a response within 21 days, impose a statutory time scale for consultation response, and link future government funding/support to satisfactory performance. Consultees are encouraged to provide ‘standing advice’ to local authorities for low risk types of development to obviate the need for formal consultation. Developers would be enabled to carry out consultations before an application is submitted, and charged a fee subject to provision of a timely and better service.

Draft response: It is unclear whether statutory consultees will charge local planning authorities. If so, then the cost should be covered by an increase in the planning application fee, otherwise it will fall on the council tax payer. The user should pay principle should apply.

Business Planning Zones

34. Business Planning Zones (BPZs) are areas where planning consent will not be necessary for development if it is within tightly defined parameters. The need for such a zone would be identified in regional strategies. They would be specific to types of business that have a low impact on the surrounding area, such as clusters of high-tech industry. The paper points out that this would not be free-for-all development. Criteria would be set to ensure that the quality of development is of the highest standard to ensure that the zones remain attractive to leading-edge companies and are acceptable to local communities.

35. The Government seeks views on the concept of business zones, and safeguards to ensure they deliver quality development. It is possible that an existing business area could apply to have special business zone status.

Masterplanning Larger Developments

36. The Government sees an opportunity to engage the community more effectively in the planning of major sites. Under current arrangements, outline planning permission can be sought for a major site without any master plan or design brief with which the community can be engaged. Instead, the applicant would seek a certificate from the local planning authority that it has agreement for a defined period to work up a detailed scheme within parameters agreed with the local planning authority (e.g. design, affordable housing provision, community participation). Any resulting application would be submitted in detail, and compliance with the certificate would carry weight in determining the application.

Draft response: A certificate is an interesting concept, but without any details on how it would work in practice it raises a number of implementation issues. It is unclear if this route would be compulsory, or whether a developer could go straight to a detailed application. What would happen if the applicant did go straight to the submission of a detailed application? If the certificate carries weight in the determination of an application, how prescriptive can it be? It is suggested that some pilot examples are tested before the process is made statutory. Planning Appeals

37. The Government is determined that the appeal process should not cause unnecessary delay. When an appeal is made against non-determination, it is proposed that a planning inspector will pick up the caseload and take over jurisdiction. This means work done to consider the application is not wasted but transferred. It is also proposed to reduce the period when an applicant can decide to lodge an appeal from six months to three months.

Draft response: Officers query what there is to be gained by reducing the time period from six months to three months after the decision when an appeal can be lodged. Six months gives applicants time to prepare revised proposals which could get permission, before they go down the appeal route. A three month time period could discourage applicants from submitting revised proposals, and encourage them to go straight to appeal, potentially increasing the amount of appeals.

Officers are concerned that contrary to what the Green Paper says, passing applications over to the Inspectorate if they are not determined in time would, in fact, result in wasted work (site visit, neighbour notifications, consultations etc.). Would the decision be completely removed from the local planning authority when the application is ‘picked up’ by the planning inspector? Would the Council still remain party to the appeal process?

38. Many cases that enter the appeal system could be resolved by alternative means. Mediation is seen as a potential way of resolving neighbour objections to small scale household development, negotiating solutions to enforcement matters, and narrowing down areas of disagreement in large planning cases. As yet there are no specific proposals concerning mediation.

Draft response: Support exploration of mediation methods.

Third Party Right of Appeal

39. The Green Paper rejects the idea of giving third parties the right of appeal on the basis that it would create all sorts of practical problems, and add to the costs and uncertainties of planning. The democratic accountability of the planning authority is emphasised as justification to avoid granting third party rights of appeal. An attempt to make the system more transparent and accessible, and strengthen community involvement is regarded as the best way forward.

Draft response: The Government’s dismissive attitude to third party rights of appeal is based largely on practical reasons of implementation. However, the philosophical arguments in favour are very strong.

Under the current regime, the only recourse for a third party is under judicial review. This tests if the decision was made in the correct manner – that the procedures were fully adhered to and all the relevant aspects were considered. The fundamental flaw of judicial review is the inability to challenge the planning merits of a decision.

Proponents of the third party right of appeal state that it cannot be right as a matter of principle that a developer can appeal against a refusal, but members of the public who feel a poor decision was made have no way of appealing. They say that third party rights of appeal should apply in the following circumstances:

in cases where the planning application is contrary to the development plan;
where the local authority has an interest in the application;
for major applications, including those accompanied by an Environmental Impact
Assessment ;
in cases where the planning officer’s report recommends refusal.

Officers do not consider third party rights of appeal should be applied in all these cases. The development plan, in whatever form, exists to provide a degree of certainty. Only if permission is granted for a major scheme that is contrary to the development plan, and the Secretary of State does not reverse this decision, should there be recourse to planning appeal for third parties. Otherwise the floodgates of third party appeals could open.

Permitted Development and Use Classes

40. The General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) is widely regarded as being difficult to understand. No significant changes are proposed, but the Government intends to update it and make it more comprehensible.

41. The Government seeks views on the option of locally defined permitted development rights. These would enable local authorities to encourage development by cutting red tape. On the other hand inconsistent arrangements could create confusion.

Draft response: Updating the GPDO and making it more comprehensible is welcomed. Local permitted development rights would add confusion. There is also the question of how such rights would be agreed and adopted. This would presumably require consultation, and possibly the hearing of representations with an independent inspector.

42. The Government has recently published a consultation paper on a range of possible changes to the Use Classes Order. This will be the subject of a separate consultation.

Consulting on Planning Applications

43. Consultation can account for a significant proportion of the time taken to determine an application, yet current arrangements fail to provide adequately for the community to express their views. The Government sees consultation in advance of the application being submitted as a way of speeding up the decision-making process. It also helps build consensus and reduce suspicion about a proposal.

44. Shifting the burden of effective consultation onto all applicants is regarded as too much of a burden. However, larger and more complex proposals will require the developer to engage the community, and prepare a Statement of Community Involvement. Open Committees

45. The Government looks to local authorities to ensure that their new constitutions provide a transparent framework for making decisions on planning applications, as well as other issues. Almost two-thirds of local authorities regularly provide the opportunity for the public to speak at planning committee meetings. It is proposed that Best Value Inspectors should take the failure of councils to open up their meetings to public participation into account when considering the performance of local authorities.

Draft response: This is a matter that is being considered by Waverley Borough Council through the Best Value process.

Giving Reasons

46. Local authorities should give reasons for their decision to approve an application, as they already do when they refuse one. This should include reference to relevant policies being applied.

Draft response: The committee or delegated report should normally explain why a proposal is permitted. It would only make sense for the reasons to appear on the decision letter and on the planning register if permission is granted contrary to the officer recommendation, or it is contrary to the development plan.

Access to Planning Papers

47. Community groups complain of high charges for copies of plans, committee papers and planning applications. The Government states that these charges must be reasonable, and sees e-planning as a means of making documents more cheaply available.

Draft response: Local authorities do not impose high charges to deter those involved. Charges result from limited or reducing budgets. They are a symptom of limited resources, which needs to be addressed.

Better Enforcement

48. The Green Paper has no proposals for planning enforcement. The Government intends to “review current arrangements with the intention of introducing simpler procedures”. Punitive charges for retrospective applications will be looked at, as will making a deliberate breach of planning regulation an offence immediately pursuable through the courts.

Draft response: Enforcement should be included within the ‘fundamental change’ so that a comprehensive approach is taken to development issues with full consideration of resource implications. An improved enforcement system is needed to underpin public confidence in planning generally.

Delivering Local Government’s Role

49. The Government acknowledges that “to deliver a fundamental improvement in performance, local authority planning needs to be properly resourced”. As part of the 2002 Spending Review, the Government will be reviewing the amount of money provided to local authorities by way of revenue support grant, and will address the needs of the local planning service in that context. The planning application fee regime is to be reviewed to ensure that it better covers the cost of the service. Local authorities will be required to better account publicly for both the resources they use and their planning performance.

Draft response: The Green Paper recognises that the changes imposed will have resource implications. The Green Paper is vague about committing extra resources, although the review of planning application fees is welcomed. The review of planning fees should make it more expensive to submit retrospective planning applications. The Government is urged to assist local planning authorities in funding the extra resources to give this radical new agenda the best possible chance of success.

50. The Green Paper sees a need to improve skills and build the planning profession. Equally, councillors need to be better trained to undertake the difficult decision-making role they exercise on Planning Committees. A Local Planning Advisory Service, linked to the Best Value Inspectorate is proposed to help implement the wide-ranging changes proposed in the Green Paper.

Draft response: A Local Planning Advisory Service is not supported. We ask that the Government work with the Local Government Association and existing groups such as the Planning Officer’s Society and Royal Town Planning Institute rather than create a new regulatory body.

Improving Local Authority Practice

51. The Government says that authorities should delegate decisions as far as practicable. To encourage this process it has set a target for 2002/03 of 90% delegation to officers, to be monitored through Best Value. It adds “it is clearly right that some decisions should be decided by elected members” but is concerned that infrequent committee meetings causes delays. Authorities should review their committee cycles to ensure they are consistent with delivering decisions to meet Best Value targets and undertakings about delivery dates.

Draft response: It is recognised that applications which don’t need to be determined by Committee should be delegated to officers, but a delegation target of 90% is considered unrealistic, undesirable and unattainable in most parts of the country, especially the south-east where development pressures are so acute and public concern is high. It would undermine the democratic basis for many decisions that should be made by members on the advice of officers.

Making Use of the Private Sector

52. The Government believes there is scope to use private sector planners, particularly at times of backlog or peaks of work, or to free up in-house resources to deal with major planning applications. Cannock Chase is quoted as an example of a local authority that has adopted this approach.

Draft response: Waverley Borough Council has employed short contract planners for some time now. Individual planning consultants are preferred to larger firms to reduce the potential for a conflict of interests.

Best Value

53. Best Value imposes a duty of continuous improvement. The Local Government White Paper confirms the Government’s intention to intervene decisively where there is persistent failure across a range of services. The Green Paper ends with a warning that in the case of poorly performing planning services, action may include:

tough targets for performance improvement;
negotiated or imposed peer or external support;
transfer of the processing of planning applications to an arms length body, another local
authority, or to a private sector contractor. 54. The Government has already required action by 15 of the worst performing authorities, and may set new standards for a further 78 because of their poor performance.

Draft response: The Government publish results of local planning authority performance judged against centrally defined targets. Failure to meet those targets and standards should not result in Government intervention. There is a risk of power being transferred to central government, with local government becoming the local agent of totally centrally defined services.

Conclusion

55. Officers generally support the Green Paper. It is compatible with the general shift to customer power. The shift from “process fixation” to “outputs” and “outcomes” is welcomed.

56. There is a need for a culture change in all stakeholders. This is a long-term process. There is a need for patience and support from Government. The call for national plan or spatial development strategy is re-emphasised.

Timescale for Reform

57. Changing the present arrangements through primary legislation will take some time. The earliest date at which legislation could be introduced is Autumn 2002, with new arrangements coming into effect in 2004.

58. Waverley’s Replacement Local Plan is close to adoption, and is unaffected by the proposals. The County Structure Plan however, is in the midst of its preparation. Local Authorities have been reminded that until the new legislation takes effect, they have a statutory duty to prepare an up to date development plan. The County Council is expected to continue work on the Structure Plan which will provide the strategic framework for local planning policies until it is superseded.

Human Rights Implications

59. Some of the proposals raise questions over human rights. However, this would be a matter for Government to address before the proposals are finalised.

Community Safety Implications

60. There are no community safety implications arising from this report.

Resource/Environmental Implications

61. The Green Paper is a consultation document for comment, so there are no immediate implications from the proposals contained within it.

"Opportunities for All" Implications

62. The Green Paper seeks more effective community engagement with planning issues. The proposals suggest this might take place at the local ‘Borough’ level, but community involvement in strategic planning issues could become even further removed from the public.

Recommendation

It is recommended that any comments or observations on the draft responses to the Green Paper, included within the report (in bold italics), be passed to the Executive for consideration.

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Background Papers (DoPD)

DTLR (2001) Planning Green Paper: Delivering a Fundament Change

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Daniel Hawes Telephone: 01483 523295
E-mail: dhawes@waverley.gov.uk