Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions

Planning Green Paper
Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change


Contents

Foreword

Chapter 1: The planning system we need: our objectives for the planning system

Chapter 2: The need for change

Chapter 3: How the planning system works

Chapter 4: A fundamental change for plans

Chapter 5: A fundamental change in development control

Chapter 6: Fundamental change at national, regional and local level

Sending in your views

Appendix


Foreword

Planning is fundamental to the way our cities, towns and villages look, the way they work and the way they relate to each other.

Getting planning right means that our goals for society are easier to achieve. Good planning can have a huge beneficial effect on the way we live our lives. It must have a vision of how physical development can improve a community.

But, some fifty years after it was first put in place, the planning system is showing its age. What was once an innovative emphasis on consultation has now become a set of inflexible, legalistic and bureaucratic procedures. A system that was intended to promote development now blocks it. Business complains that the speed of decision is undermining productivity and competitiveness. People feel they are not sufficiently involved in decisions that affect their lives.

So it is time for change.

We need good planning to deliver sustainable development, to harness growth to build a better future. We need a better, simpler, faster, more accessible system that serves both business and the community. That is exactly what this Green Paper seeks to achieve.

The Rt Hon Stephen Byers MP
Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions


Chapter 1: The planning system we need: our objectives for planning

1.1 This Green Paper is about delivering fundamental change to the planning system (see endnote 1).

1.2 England is one of the most crowded countries in the world. Only 8% of the land surface is urbanised, but over 90% of our population lives in urban areas. We need good planning to deliver development that is sustainable and which creates better places in which people can live and work.

1.3 A proper planning system is vital to our quality of life. People can be dramatically affected by the quality of their environment and they care deeply about new development and how it changes the surroundings in which they live and work. That is why we need a planning system that fully engages people in shaping the future of their communities and local economies. And that is why we need to use the planning system to set out a positive vision for the future development of our communities: seeing planning as a positive tool rather than merely a negative brake on development.

1.4 A successful planning system will promote economic prosperity by delivering land for development in the right place and at the right time. It will encourage urban regeneration by ensuring that new development is channelled towards existing town centres rather than adding to urban sprawl. It will help to conserve greenfield land and re-use urban brownfield land. It will value the countryside and our heritage while recognising that times move on. It has a critical part to play in achieving the Government’s commitment to sustainable development.

1.5 To be successful, the planning system needs to have the confidence of many different groups. These include almost half a million direct customers who are applicants for planning permission every year and who want a quick, predictable and efficient service; families and individuals affected by plans and planning applications; and the wider community who care about proposals for the future development of their area. All parts of the community - individuals, organisations and businesses - must be able to make their voice heard.

1.6 The customers of planning departments have a right to an efficient and user-friendly service. Business in particular, needs to know that their planning applications will be dealt with efficiently and predictably. Time delays caused by bureaucracy, lack of skilled staff or overcomplex systems are bad for business and do little good for anyone else. Delays in receiving a planning decision can mean loss of competitiveness for business, something that we simply cannot afford in the modern global economy.

1.7 Whilst some 90% of planning applications are eventually approved, we need to address the flaws and inefficiencies in the system that frustrate business and others seeking to develop land. Development for business, housing, services and infrastructure are all vital to the health of our economy. We need the planning system to ensure that it is delivered in a way that is sympathetic to our environment and that benefits the whole community. But we do need good development: planning must be about accommodating change not just resisting and stifling it.

1.8 We believe in good planning. The present system, by general consent, does not deliver our objectives. We want a system that is capable of reaching decisions that command public confidence and which is seen to be open and fair. A system that underpins our desire to improve productivity by being capable of reaching a proper balance between our desire for economic development and for thriving communities. A system that is clear and comprehensible, that comes to robust decisions in sensible time frames. The proposals in this consultation document are intended to help us produce such a system. It is time for fundamental change.

Endnote

1 This Green Paper applies only to England. Different planning regimes exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The National Assembly for Wales will be issuing a separate consultation document on the planning system in Wales


Chapter two: The need for change

2.1 We need to know what is wrong with the planning system in order put it right. In this chapter we consider the deficiencies of the present system.

The planning system we have

2.2 The planning system falls short of what we need. There are a number of problems that need to be tackled.

Complexity

2.3 Planning is complex, remote, hard to understand and difficult to access. Issues commonly raised include:

Speed and predictability

2.4 The planning process is too often perceived to be a set of rules aimed at preventing development rather than making sure good development goes ahead. Communities frequently feel detached from the process and suffer from planning blight. Business finds planning delays frustrating and potentially damaging to their competitiveness. Problems include:

Community engagement

2.5 The current system is very “consultative” but despite that, too often fails to engage communities. The result of all this is that the community feels disempowered:

Customer focus and standards of service

2.6 Planning is not customer focused and local planning departments are overstretched. Problems include:

Enforcement

2.7 Effective action needs to be taken against those who try wilfully to avoid planning controls. Without effective enforcement, confidence in the system is undermined. Unfortunately, where planning regulations are broken, there is a perception – often accurate – that they are not being sufficiently enforced.

Our proposals

2.8 All these problems are very real. They deprive us of the system we need to plan for a sustainable future. They make the planning system the subject of constant attack and its decisions suspect. This in turn has seriously demoralised the planning profession and damaged its ability to recruit new blood. Until there is a clear sense that the system has overcome these problems, it will not attract the degree of public confidence that a good planning system deserves.

2.9 We intend that planning should have a new strategic focus. We will simplify the complex hierarchical system of plans and replace local plans with new Local Development Frameworks. These will connect up with the local Community Strategy and help deliver the policies it contains. The frameworks will include a clear set of criteria by which local authorities will be able to steer development and use growth to deliver the vision for their areas. Action plans will be drawn up for town centres, neighbourhoods and villages.

2.10 There will be a fundamental change in planning so that it works much better for business. Business will be able to submit applications, confident of the basis on which their applications will be considered and that they will get a fast decision. Business planning zones will allow planning controls to be lifted where they are not necessary. New handling targets for local authorities will distinguish business from householder applications and we propose delivery contracts between local authorities and business for reaching decisions on the biggest planning applications.

2.11 We are going to deliver a system that better engages communities. We propose real community participation in the preparation of our new Local Development Frameworks and especially in drawing up action plans which bear on local areas and may result in the regeneration or conservation of particular neighbourhoods. Master planning of major sites will help developers plan for higher quality development in partnership with local authorities. There will be clearer information for planning applicants and new requirements for openness and accountability within the planning process.

2.12 We believe in good planning. Fundamental change is needed. This consultation document is about how we will deliver it.


Chapter three: How the planning system works

3.1 The basic structure of the planning system is over 50 years old, although the first town planning legislation dates from 1909. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the need to plan for reconstruction of devastated areas made new planning legislation imperative, which resulted in the 1947 Act. The legislation was last modified in 1991.

3.2 Planning over the last half century has had its successes and its failures. The least successful aspects of planning come quickly to mind: the sprawling housing estates completed in the 1960s and 70s; concrete jungles that replaced our town centres and which we now know attract graffiti and vandalism; and inner ring roads that were seen as a way of increasing mobility but all too often broke up urban communities.

3.3 There have also been some clear wins. Planning has helped preserve our best landscapes in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many of our best buildings and townscapes through listed building and conservation area controls. Green Belts have prevented urban sprawl. More recently, our policies on re-use of brownfield land have promoted urban renaissance and the regeneration of town centres.

The current system

3.4 The current planning system in England has two main parts: a framework of plans and development control. A third element is the role of the Secretary of State in determining planning policy, deciding planning appeals and some important applications.

Plans

3.5 Our current planning system is plan-led, which means that if planning applications are in accordance with the development plan, they are likely to be approved unless there are ‘material considerations’ that suggest otherwise. These may be, for example, subsequent national policy statements that may override the plan or changes in local circumstance. In practice, such material considerations very often do apply because local plans are frequently out of date.

3.6 Regional Planning Guidance provides a strategic planning framework in each of the eight English regions and in London, the Mayor prepares a Spatial Development Strategy. Development plans are produced by county authorities (structure plans), district councils (local plans) and, in unitary authorities, a unitary development plan which combines elements of both. National parks also produce their own plans.

Development control

3.7 The system by which planning applications are determined is known as development control. Development control authorities are normally the districts and unitary authorities responsible for putting local plans in place. Planning applications are submitted to these authorities and decided either by their elected councillors or by local authority officers accountable to them.

3.8 Last year some 550,000 planning applications were submitted, almost half of which were for householder developments. In total, some 90% were approved. Local authorities have a target that 80% of planning applications should be determined within 8 weeks. In practice, only about 65% of applications are determined within that timescale and this proportion has been steady for some years.

figure 1: planning decisions by type of development

The role of the Secretary of State

3.9 The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has three key roles. His Department sets out the planning policies that essentially drive the whole planning system and these are principally contained in 25 Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs) together with a series of Minerals Planning Guidance notes (MPGs).

3.10 Secondly, planning applicants who have had their application refused by a local planning authority or which has not been determined within an 8 week timescale have a right to appeal to the Secretary of State. There were over 15,000 planning appeals last year of which a third were allowed.

3.11 Appeals are administered by the Planning Inspectorate which is an executive agency reporting to the Secretary of State. It comprises a body of expert planning inspectors who consider appeals by three methods – written representations (74%), hearings (20%) and public inquiries (6%).The Planning Inspectorate has time targets for handling appeals (see para 6.8).

3.12 Nearly all appeals are decided by Inspectors, but a small number are recovered for decision by the Secretary of State. In addition, the Secretary of State can call in planning applications which he believes should be decided by himself, on the basis of a report by an Inspector. Local authorities are required to notify applications that fall into particular categories to the Secretary of State so that he can decide whether to call them in for national decision. This includes those where the local planning authority proposes to grant permission that departs from the current development plan and applications for large housing developments on green field sites. Last year, there were 127 called in applications and 163 recovered appeals.


Chapter four: A fundamental change for plans

4.1 Development plans have two purposes – to describe the intended use of land in an area and to provide an objective basis for the consideration of planning applications. Inevitably there will be differences of view about the need for new development and where it should take place. The planning system seeks to resolve these on the basis that, if an application is in accordance with the development plan, it is likely to be approved.

4.2 We believe that it makes sense to continue to have a “plan-led” system of development control. However, there is a need for fundamental reform. We need to:

Local plans

4.3 Local plans are the means by which local authorities express the land-use implications of their policies and shape the future of their communities. In producing their plans, local authorities have to take account of policies determined at the national and regional levels.

4.4 The plan provides a framework to engage people in the way in which their communities might grow and change. For business it provides an essential source of information about where to propose new development and the type of development likely to be appropriate.

4.5 Local planning is therefore important. It has real-world effects. But the current arrangements for area-wide local plans introduced in 1992 have never worked effectively:

4.6 As a result, local plans are failing their users. People find the plan adoption process both complex and obscure. At the end of it, the status of the plan is sometimes uncertain. This affects the ability of business to plan with confidence. Whilst consultation is a statutory requirement in the preparation of plans, in practice the complexity and length of the process has made it difficult to engage the whole community effectively.

4.7 Furthermore, arrangements for preparation of local plans are being overtaken by new local authority policies and programmes. Local authorities now have to prepare Community Strategies (see box). In addition, at a more local level, there are regeneration and neighbourhood renewal initiatives. The arrangements for putting such strategies in place are more flexible and inclusive than the local plan process. We need to ensure that local plans are better integrated into this new framework, enabling them to become the land use and development delivery mechanism for the objectives and policies set out in the Community Strategy.

Community Strategies

Local authorities have a new duty to prepare Community Strategies, which they develop in conjunction with other public, private and community sector organisations. Community Strategies should promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas and contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. They must have four key components:

  • a long-term vision for the area which focuses on the outcomes that are to be achieved;

  • an action plan identifying shorter-term priorities and activities that will contribute to the achievement of long-term outcomes;

  • a shared commitment to implement the action plan and proposals for doing so; and

  • arrangements for monitoring the implementation of the action plan, for periodically reviewing the community strategy, and for reporting progress to local communities.

Community Strategies will play a key role in informing the preparation of Local Development Frameworks. In turn, the Framework must assist in delivering the policies in the Community Strategy.

A new framework

4.8 We propose a fundamental reform of the development plans system. We propose to abolish structure plans, local plans and unitary development plans and replace them with a new single level of plan. This would be known as a Local Development Framework and consist of:

4.9 Plans produced on this basis would take less time to prepare, amend and keep up to date. They would provide business with greater certainty and provide communities with a clear means of getting involved. The statement of core policies would be a short, focused and strategic document.

Statement of core policies

4.10 The statement of core policies would form the heart of the new Local Development Framework. It would be a succinct statement of:

4.11 The statement of core policies will be concerned only with policies affecting the development and use of land. However, this may include policies that are not solely reliant upon the grant of planning permission for their delivery, for example, infrastructure investment, management of land and traffic management issues. In National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the statutory management plan will be relevant.

4.12 The statement of core policies will also need to take full account of the land-use consequences of other policies and programmes relevant to the Community Strategy, including education, health, waste, recycling and environmental protection and consider how it can assist in the delivery of these and other economic, environmental and social objectives. In planning jargon, it would be much more of a “spatial” strategy.

Action plans

4.13 We propose that, in their statement of core policies, local authorities should be required to identify where more detailed action plans should be produced. These are most likely to focus on areas of change where site-specific policies are needed to guide development. Equally, they might address conservation areas or village plans.

4.14 Depending on the situation, an action plan could be new and free-standing or based on existing plans or strategies. This flexibility would avoid duplication and enable action plans to effectively reflect local circumstances. Examples of the types of plans that might be prepared are shown in the box below.

Possible action plans would include:

  • Area master plans - comprehensive plans for a major area of renewal or development covering design, layout and location of new houses and commercial development supported by a detailed implementation programme.

  • Neighbourhood and village plans - setting out how the distinctive character of a neighbourhood, village or parish is to be preserved, the location of any new development and the design standards to be applied. They should also identify the key services and facilities.

  • Design statements - setting out the design standards and related performance criteria for an area or type of development.

  • Site development briefs - setting out detailed guidance on how a particular site is to be developed.

4.15 Action plans will be principally about planning for local areas. However, depending on local circumstance some may need to be prepared on a topic basis which cover a wider area to show for example:

Making the new system work

4.16 We propose to establish clear guidelines on the production of Local Development Frameworks. These will not be overly prescriptive but will lay down absolute requirements, such as the need for proper community participation, timetables for production and review, and procedures for testing the document. We will support the guidelines by issuing best practice advice.

Preparation of Local Development Frameworks

4.17 We would normally expect Local Development Frameworks to be prepared individually by the relevant district, unitary and National Park authorities. However, there is no reason why authorities should not work together to produce joint frameworks. This may be particularly advantageous for smaller authorities. We shall expect Local Development Frameworks to be prepared in a period of months rather than years.

Status of the Local Development Framework

4.18 It remains important to have a system of development control in which decisions are predictable and consistent with the planning policies that have been put in place. We therefore propose that decisions about planning permission should be made in accordance with the statement of core policies in the Local Development Framework and action plans where they are in place. The option exists for action plans to cover the majority of major development sites.

4.19 Under present arrangements (see endnote 3) local plans may be overtaken by new statements of planning policy at the national, regional and county levels. These policy statements may be taken into account as a ‘material consideration’ in planning decisions. The effect is that plans become outdated.

4.20 We propose to tackle this by:

This approach will reduce the complexity of the system and ensure that the Local Development Frameworks provide much more clarity about the acceptability of development in an area.

Engaging the Community

4.21 We shall encourage all local authorities to work with Local Strategic Partnerships to establish effective mechanisms for community involvement, building on their work preparing Community Strategies. We would expect local authorities to involve all sectors within the local community, including local business, residents, tenants and voluntary groups. The proposals in paragraph 5.57 on community advocacy would support the ability of such groups to prepare and present their case more effectively.

4.22 We propose that the Local Development Framework should contain a Statement of Community Involvement, setting out how the community should be involved in both the continuing review of the Framework and in commenting on significant planning applications. The Statement will set the standard for good practice in engaging those with an interest in proposed development. It will offer a simple and clear guideline that will enable the community to know with confidence when and how it can expect to be consulted and will provide a benchmark for applicants for planning permission about what is expected of them. It might, for example, include contact details for key organisations, both local and other consultees, who need to be aware of a particular application.

4.23 In the case of large developments, we propose that compliance with the terms of the Statement and its requirements for engaging the community, should be a material consideration supporting a planning application. This is in keeping with our view that there is mutual benefit in developers and communities working together to plan developments that are likely to have a major impact on a local area.

4.24 Action plans should form a new focus for community involvement in developments affecting neighbourhoods or other local areas. Local authorities will have the opportunity to seek direct participation from local people in shaping the future of their communities, taking their view on the type of development they would like to see and how it is to be laid out. Our concept of action plans is very much one which encourages planning to be undertaken close to the people who it most directly affects.

Sustainability appraisal

4.25 There will need to be an integrated and comprehensive appraisal covering economic, environmental and social impacts of the Local Development Framework. We will issue appraisal guidance, taking full account of the requirements of the EU Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Adopting the Framework

4.26 Under the present system, everyone has the right to make objections to draft local plans and for these to be heard, usually in a public local inquiry. Unfortunately, this approach often proves time-consuming and adversarial. We need to find a better way to test the new Local Development Frameworks and would welcome your views on options. These might 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 we envisage that the report of the independent chair or inspector would be binding on the local authority.

4.27 Procedures for the adoption of action plans will need to reflect the use to which they will be put. An action plan may set out site specific proposals or land allocations to which the local authority wishes to attach weight in the decision making process. In this case, it is important that people whose property rights are directly affected are allowed to make representations and heard if they wish to be. As most action plans will each cover only a small part of a local authority’s area we would expect this process to be conducted quickly.

4.28 We envisage that the Secretary of State would retain a reserve power of direction to amend Local Development Frameworks. This would only be used in exceptional circumstances, such as where national or regional policy has been incorrectly applied, or where the Statement of Community Involvement was inadequate.

Keeping plans up to date

4.29 It is essential to our proposed new approach that Local Development Frameworks are kept up to date. It is in the authority’s own interests and those of the business and the wider community to ensure that the Framework takes full account of any changes to planning policies at national and regional levels.

4.30 The core policies in the Local Development Framework are unlikely to be subject to frequent change. We shall, however, require local authorities to keep them under continuous review. This should ensure that they fully reflect changes to national and regional planning policies. Where policies are simply transposed to the local level, there should be no need for further consultation or consideration of objections. The Framework can simply cross-refer to the national and regional policies.

4.31 So that everyone using the system has access to the latest Local Development Framework, we will require local authorities to publish the statement of core policies each year, and to keep a continuously updated version of the Framework on their website. We propose that, every three years (or in line with revision of their Community Strategies), local authorities should review their core policies and refresh their vision for an area and their strategy for achieving it. We intend to make the updating and review of Frameworks a requirement and will use Best Value intervention powers to ensure compliance.

4.32 The lifespan of action plans will vary. We would expect that the need for each action plan would be reviewed annually, with fresh areas being identified and plans introduced where appropriate.

National, regional and sub-regional policy

4.33 At present, local plans are prepared in the context of planning policies set at national, regional and, in some areas, county level.

4.34 National planning policy guidance published by Government, sets out national policy priorities. Regional Planning Guidance (RPG), prepared at a regional level but issued by the Secretary of State after consultation and a non-statutory public examination, sets longer term development strategies for individual regions. RPG also provides a regional context for the preparation of local authority development plans and local transport plans. Guidance on sub-regional issues is increasingly being provided as part of RPG.

4.35 The current hierarchy of regional, county and local plans is complex and confusing: too often plans are produced to different time-scales and contain inconsistent policies. We believe that the multi-level structure of plans has become a major barrier to responsive and effective planning. We need a better approach.

County structure plans

4.36 Under the present arrangements county structure plans address strategic issues. These include house building, the broad location of new employment sites, improvements to transport infrastructure, and policies on the development of built up areas or the conservation of the countryside. Where there is no county council, part 1 of the unitary development plans deals with similar issues.

4.37 We believe that the county no longer remains the most appropriate level at which to consider many of the key strategic planning issues. Many of these issues cut across county boundaries, and they are increasingly being dealt with at either regional level or across subregions. We propose to abolish structure plans although we would welcome views about whether the counties should have a role in assisting the regional, district and unitary authorities in preparing their plans. Until the necessary legislation is introduced, counties should fulfil their statutory obligations and carry out reviews of structure plans on the issues that matter.

4.38 Counties (and unitary authorities) also produce topic-based plans for minerals and waste and make decisions on planning applications on mineral and waste matters. We think it is right that plan preparation should rest at the same level as that at which planning decisions are made. We do not think that it would be appropriate for decisions on such applications to be made at a regional level and we therefore propose to maintain the existing arrangements for preparing Mineral and Waste plans or deciding applications on these land uses.

Regional planning policy

4.39 We believe that there is a continuing need for effective planning at the regional level. Regionally-based policies are needed for issues such as planning the scale and distribution of provision for new housing, including setting a brownfield target and the growth of major urban areas. Additionally, there is a need for coastal planning, planning for regional transport and waste facilities, and for major inward investment sites and other aspects of the Regional Development Agencies’ (RDAs’) economic strategies. Regional planning policy provides a framework within which local authority development plans, local transport plans and other relevant plans and strategies can be prepared.

4.40 Last year, we set out revised guidance on the preparation of Regional Planning Guidance (PPG11 "Regional Planning"). It made clear that RPG should be more concise, avoid unnecessary repetition of national policy, address specific regional or sub-regional planning issues, be outcome-centred, focused on delivery mechanisms (of which the development plan and the local transport plan are the most important) and be subject to annual performance monitoring. It also introduced more open and transparent procedures for considering draft RPG.

4.41 Many of these objectives have yet to be achieved:

Changing the system: regional policy

4.42 We want to strengthen the arrangements for preparing regional strategies and ensure that they provide a strategic policy framework within which Local Development Frameworks and local transport plans can be prepared. We propose to:

4.43 We propose to revise PPG11 to reflect and emphasise the points made above. The arrangements established in PPG11 will apply to the RSS, with comprehensive reviews required at least every five years.

Responsibility for preparing Regional Spatial Strategies

4.44 At present, different bodies take responsibility for preparing Regional Planning Guidance. In the North West, South West, South East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions, Regional Chambers are now responsible for preparing draft RPG. Elsewhere, it continues to be prepared by regional planning conferences or associations of local authorities.

4.45 We are looking for significant improvements in the quality of regional guidance to match the importance we attach to effective regional strategic planning. There has been a tendency to avoid making the hard strategic choices, such as accommodating demand for new housing or the location of areas of key employment or retail growth. Instead, a lowest common denominator approach is taken, which in the long term can damage development across the region.

4.46 We shall expect the regional planning bodies charged with preparing RSSs to satisfy four main criteria:

4.47 We invite views on what changes might be made to the present institutional arrangements to secure these objectives.

4.48 As with current Regional Planning Guidance, Government Offices will be closely involved in the preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies. After the public examination, the Secretary of State will seek to implement any recommendations arising, except if they are inconsistent with national policy or if they adversely affect another region. The Government does not propose any change to the Mayor’s role in the arrangements for planning in London.

Sub-regional planning

4.49 Strategic planning issues rarely fit neatly within administrative boundaries. An increasingly important feature of regional planning has been the need to bring local authorities, Government Offices, RDAs and the full range of other partners together to resolve issues at the sub-regional level. These are of particular importance:

4.50 We do not envisage sub-regional planning strategies for all areas. Our model for the planning system is of a two-tier structure of plans with strategic policies at the regional level and clear Local Development Frameworks at the local level. However, we would expect that most regions would have a small number of areas requiring a sub-regional planning strategy. In addition some matters and in particular the distribution of housing provision to districts, will need to be addressed on a comprehensive basis at the sub-regional level and incorporated into the RSS.

4.51 The need for sub-regional strategies should be identified, as now, within the regional planning process. They would be specifically approved by the Secretary of State and incorporated in the Regional Spatial Strategy. The sub-regional strategy would be subject to the same public examination arrangements as the RSS.

Elected regional government

4.52 We have proposed that provision should be made for directly elected regional government in regions where people decide in a referendum to support it and where predominantly unitary local government is established. A forthcoming White Paper will set out the Government’s proposals for regional government in detail, including the specific functions that might be undertaken by regionally elected assemblies.

4.53 If directly elected assemblies are established it is envisaged that they, as democratically accountable bodies, would take over the regional planning role. We do not propose to consider in detail in this consultation document what their role might be. In the meantime, we propose that the Secretary of State should continue to issue the regional strategy in its final form.

National planning policy

4.54 National policies are principally set out in 25 Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs) and 15 Mineral Planning Guidance notes (MPGs). In addition, there are numerous circulars, policy statements, good practice guidances, advice on procedures and other material, such as crossreferences to other relevant policies.

4.55 National planning policies are an essential way for the Government to achieve its objectives for housing, transport, urban regeneration, the countryside and a range of other policy areas. Planning authorities must take national policy into account when preparing local plans or regional planning policy. It is also a ‘material consideration’ in making development control decisions. It helps to ensure consistency in the application of planning policies and enables the Government to implement the land use aspects of international obligations and European Directives.

Current National Planning Policy Guidance Notes

PPG1 General Policy and Principles
PPG2 Green Belts
PPG3 Housing
PPG4 Industrial and Commercial Development and Small Firms
PPG5 Simplified Planning Zones
PPG6 Town Centres and Retail Development
PPG7 The Countryside: environmental quality and economic and social development
PPG8 Telecommunications
PPG9 Nature Conservation
PPG10 Planning and Waste Management
PPG11 Regional Planning
PPG12 Development Plans
PPG13 Transport
PPG14 Development on Unstable Land
PPG15 Planning and the Historic Environment
PPG16 Archaeology and Planning
PPG17 Sport and Recreation
PPG18 Enforcing Planning Control
PPG19 Outdoor Advertisement Control
PPG20 Coastal Planning
PPG21 Tourism
PPG22 Renewable Energy
PPG23 Planning and Pollution Control
PPG24 Planning and Noise
PPG25 Development and Flood Risk

4.56 Our planning policies have generally proved a success. For example, national targets for recycling land have reduced reliance on greenfield development and encouraged urban regeneration. National guidance on out of town shopping has contributed to the regeneration of our town centres (see figure 2). Our best landscapes have enjoyed the highest protection as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Figure 2: New retail floorspace in town centres and out of town: 1965-2000

4.57 However, there is far too great a volume of national planning policy - PPGs on their own run to a total of 852 pages. The sheer amount of guidance imposes a considerable burden on the planning system and reduces its effectiveness as a means of communicating national policy priorities.

4.58 We think that Government is prescribing too much at the national level - the extent of national guidance and the degree of detail in some of it serves only to stifle regional and local flexibility. Furthermore:

A new approach

4.59 We intend that national planning policy should concentrate on the important policy issues that need to be resolved at national level and leave to regional or local level those matters that can better be expressed at those levels. The overriding need is to set out our national policy principles clearly and not cloud them with ancillary material and detailed instruction about how policies are to be delivered.

4.60 To that end, we propose to:

4.61 To commence our evaluation of the delivery of national planning objectives, we propose to focus on the following PPGs:

4.62 We will also review MPG1 on the headline guidance for mineral working and restoration. To the extent that further material is needed, the remaining MPGs would then become technical or system notes on specific minerals, environmental mitigation and minerals legislation.

4.63 We propose to timetable these reviews over the next two years so that our core policies will be fit for purpose when our new Local Development Frameworks are introduced following legislation. In the meantime, we would expect local planning authorities to continue to implement fully the provisions of existing PPGs.

Endnote

2 By November 2001, 13 per cent of 362 local plans/UDPs have still to be put in place. The time limited elements (eg housing allocations) of 214 current plans have expired and many authorities have no estimated date for the deposit of proposals for alteration or replacement of those plans.

3 Under Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, decisions have to be taken in accordance with the development plan, unless material planning considerations indicate otherwise.


Chapter five: A fundamental change in development control

5.1 Development control is the process by which decisions are made on applications to develop land or buildings or to change their use. This is the point at which people are most likely to encounter the planning system.

5.2 A system for regulating development in the public interest is undoubtedly needed. But the present system of development control is not customer-friendly and is not well understood.

5.3 Not only is the speed of processing planning applications often very slow, it is also highly variable between local authorities with a particular impact on business. Business applicants also complain that the planning system is insufficiently responsive to their needs. In particular, they are concerned that the slow pace of decision-making shows insufficient appreciation of the impact of both the timing and nature of planning decisions on investment decisions. Communities are equally affected by the uncertainty arising from delays in making planning decisions.

5.4 We need to look at the system afresh. We want a fundamental change in performance, a system that:

5.5 Our proposals to meet these objectives are set out below. We propose to:

Improving customer service

5.6 Most people only have limited experience of the planning system. They may encounter it because they wish to start up or expand a business, extend their house or because they are consulted on a planning application submitted by someone else which may affect their property. Whichever is the case, for many people and small businesses, the development control process is unfamiliar. We have got to make it much more understandable, more service-orientated and responsive to customers.

The user-friendly checklist

5.7 Because people find the planning system complex and hard to understand, too many planning applications are poor in quality and incomplete. This slows down the processing of applications and often leads to frustration with the process. One local authority estimates that around 30% of the applications it receives are deficient in that they contain insufficient information to allow a decision to be made.

5.8 Applicants need much better guidance about how to prepare and submit a planning application so that it can be processed quickly and efficiently. We propose that local authorities should publish a user-friendly checklist of the information needed in an application. It should explain in plain English what the applicant is expected to do and the information they should provide. In return, the local authority should state how the application will be processed and the service they will offer. We propose to work with the Local Government Association to develop a model checklist that can be used or adapted by local authorities.

Pre-application discussion

5.9 The checklist will help to improve the quality of applications and the information needed to support them. We also want to encourage pre-application discussions between applicants and local authorities. These can frequently help to guide applicants through the process, clarify what is required and help them formulate acceptable proposals, particularly for larger schemes. This can be of particular help to small business and individuals who may find the planning process difficult to understand.

What a model checklist might contain

  • name of applicant or their agent

  • signed and dated application form

  • signed and dated certificate of ownership

  • site identification plan identifying the site for development and any other land in an applicant’s ownership or control

  • a clear statement of what is proposed including its design, materials, impact, accessibility and environmental effects

  • clear plans of the proposed development at a suitable scale and in sufficient detail to allow the proposal to be assessed

  • a statement of planning policies in the Local Development Framework which refer and the development’s compliance with them

  • a statement of the action plan policies or land use designations that apply and the development’s compliance with them

  • a copy of the notice served on the owner if this is different from the applicant

  • a statement of what consultation has been carried out in conformity with the Statement of Community Involvement and the originals of all correspondence with anyone affected by the proposed development who has been consulted

  • a statement of consultation with any statutory and non-statutory consultees and their response

  • reasons in support of the application

5.10 We recognise that pre-application discussions can represent a significant drain on authorities’ resources. The Local Government White Paper announces our intention to enable local authorities to charge for most discretionary activities. This will enable local authorities to charge for pre-application advice, if they wish. In setting fees for pre-application discussions, local authorities will need to ensure that they are not set at such a level as to discourage applicants from seeking advice which might improve applications, thereby lessening the burden on the local authority later in the planning process.

Customer care

5.11 Applicants sometimes complain that their applications disappear into a black hole and they are not kept informed of progress. We expect all customers of the planning service to be able to keep track of the progress of their application. Local authorities should identify a nominated officer so that applicants know who to turn to for advice and guidance. For larger schemes, we have recommended use of a project approach (see para 5.25).

E-planning

5.12 We must make sure that the local planning department is user-friendly and orientated towards customer service. Almost 40% of households now have internet access and electronic technology has a huge potential to make the planning system more transparent and accessible, more responsive and more efficient.

5.13 The Government has given over £6m backing to a new project, the Planning Portal, which will provide publicly available information and advice on the planning system and allow greater electronic access to national, regional and local planning policies. It will soon be possible to make applications for planning permission and planning appeals on-line. The system will unlock major efficiency gains and will also allow people to track the progress of individual applications.

5.14 Some authorities are well down the road but others have a lot to do to meet the Government’s 2005 target for electronic provision of planning services. We are talking to local authorities about making the investment and operational changes and will shortly publish good practice guidance for local authorities on ICT and planning.

One stop shop

5.15 At the moment, it is quite possible that more than one consent regime may apply to a single development. For example, alterations affecting a listed building may need planning permission and listed building consent. This can be very confusing for people and time-consuming both for the applicant and those dealing with the applications. We need to make the process simpler and more customer friendly.

5.16 We will move quickly to standardise application and administration procedures under different consent regimes. We will encourage local authorities to provide a single application point for such consents. We will also continue to support the development of Infoshop, a computerbased package to deliver a one-stop shop for a range of local authority services. We propose to initiate a review of the case for integrating the present array of controls into a single consent regime.

Parallel consents with pollution control authorisations

5.17 For development with potential for polluting emissions, such as waste management facilities and some industrial plants, separate consents are required from two different organisations - a planning authority on land use matters and from the Environment Agency on pollution control matters such as control of emissions to air, water and land. We think that such developments can be handled more efficiently and both the developer and the community can benefit from greater certainty if those proposing to develop such facilities apply for pollution control authorisation and planning permission at the same time.

5.18 Consequently, the Environment Agency has been working with the Local Government Association and the Confederation of British Industry to produce a concordat, aimed at synchronising the two processes and reducing delays and uncertainty. A consultation exercise on the proposals will be carried out shortly.

Faster delivery

5.19 One of our objectives is to deliver planning consents in a predictable and transparent way. Slow planning processes can be a source of frustration for all planning applicants and may have real economic consequences for business. We need to ensure that better service to the customer is matched by an increase in the speed with which local authorities deal with planning applications.

New targets

5.20 Best Value imposes a duty on local authorities of continuous improvement in the delivery of their services. It requires regular fundamental review of functions and implementation of changes arising from those reviews, with the aim of providing better customer focus. Performance achievement is measured against a set of national indicators.

5.21 The current target is for local authorities to determine 80% of applications within 8 weeks. We are concerned that local authorities are struggling to meet this target. Average local performance is around 65% and has been for many years; only 30 authorities meet the current target; 45 authorities decide less than 50% of applications in 8 weeks (see figure 3).

figure 3: local authority performance 2000/01. percentage of decisions made within 8 weeks

 

5.22 We recognise that the current target is unsatisfactory. It does not differentiate between applications which may have a big local impact and those that will have minimal effect. It may even encourage authorities to give priority to simpler applications to the detriment of those that are more complex.

5.23 We have set new handling targets for 2002/03 which are:

5.24 Current achievement is well below these targets (see figures 4 and 5) These targets will be monitored through the Best Value regime and will be one of the principal ways in which the performance of local planning authorities will be judged. We say more about Best Value in para 6.43.

figure 4: major commercial and industrial decisions, 2000/01

figure 5: minor commercial and industrial decisions, 2000/01

Delivery contracts

5.25 While our new targets should give much greater certainty to most commercial and industrial applicants for planning permission, the bigger development proposals will inevitably take longer to consider. We need a framework for ensuring that larger applications are delivered to clearly agreed timetables.

5.26 Business organisations tell us that business would be prepared to waive the right to appeal against non-determination of an application if, in exchange, they had greater predictability about when a decision will be made and were kept informed about its progress. We propose that, for the bigger applications, local authorities and developers should at the outset agree a timetable for delivering a decision. This would be set out in a contract or undertaking reached between the local authority and the developer.

5.27 We will work with business organisations and local government to develop a model undertaking. We would expect that it would include an agreed project plan with a project manager. It would also take account of the potential input of consultees and any need to agree a planning obligation (see box). The contract would need to be open to variation by mutual agreement to address unforeseen delays.

5.28 There would need to be sanctions if an application was not decided by the agreed date without good reason. We propose that in such an event, if agreement cannot be reached on a revised delivery date, either party should be able to refer the application to the Planning Inspectorate and that it should be automatically handled on a fast-track basis.

Planning obligations

Planning obligations (or section 106 agreements) are usually contractual agreements reached between a local authority and an applicant to help facilitate a development. They may include a financial contribution covering, for example, the cost of constructing a new site access or to provide a new bus route to serve the development.

An important form of planning obligation routinely used by many local authorities is an agreement to require that a proportion of new residential development should be affordable homes.

Planning obligations have been criticised for being complex, difficult to agree and for delaying the planning process. It has also been alleged that they are agreed behind closed doors and are not sufficiently open to public scrutiny. Our proposal in para 5.59 addresses this point.

We are publishing a companion consultation document with proposals for changing the basis of planning obligations. We think that there is a strong case for allowing local communities to share in the benefits of development and growth. Our proposed new Local Development Framework will set out clearly a local authority’s policies towards seeking planning obligations. The consultation document will show how the agreement of planning obligations can be speeded up to complement our other measures to make the planning system more efficient.

Statutory and non-statutory consultees

5.29 There are two classes of expert consultee. Some, like the Environment Agency and English Heritage, must by law be consulted on particular types of applications, and these are statutory consultees. In other cases, consultation with certain bodies is advised, and these are the nonstatutory consultees.

5.30 Consultees are important to the planning process because they can contribute expertise which is invaluable to both the applicants and to the local planning authority. Unfortunately, they are also a major source of delay. While planning decisions may be made without necessarily waiting for advice from non-statutory consultees, most planning authorities will not take a decision in the absence of advice from a statutory consultee.

5.31 Many consultees are Government-funded bodies and we regard their performance in responding to requests for comments on planning applications as unacceptable. We recognise, however, that regularly commenting on planning applications can be a drain on consultees’ resources. These bodies do not currently prioritise such work, particularly as they are not statutorily required to respond to planning consultations.

5.32 A very effective way of speeding up planning decisions, especially for larger applications, is for the developer to consult a statutory or non-statutory consultee direct before an application is submitted. If developers chose to use this approach then we propose that the statutory consultees should be allowed to charge a fee, subject to provision of a timely and better service.

5.33 We further propose to:

5.34 Some consultees are already identifying low-risk areas and types of development where they can provide standing advice to local authorities. Because they do not provide advice on individual planning applications in these categories, the time needed for consultation is reduced, thereby removing a potential impediment to the decision-making process. We shall ask consultees to build on this approach and see if it can be adopted more widely.

5.35 We do not want to add unnecessarily to the list of consultees. However, given their role in promoting regional economic development, it will be important for Regional Development Agencies to be able to make representations in respect of major investment proposals likely to have an economic significance that extends to the region or sub-region. The RDAs themselves do not expect there to be more than a handful of cases in each region each year.

Business planning zones

5.36 We need to ensure that the planning system is capable of meeting the needs of fast-moving businesses such as our leading-edge technology companies. Planning delays can prove a significant obstacle to the development of such companies. We propose to allow local authorities, working in the context of a need identified in regional economic and planning strategies, to create business planning zones where no planning consent will be necessary for development, if it is in accordance with tightly defined parameters.

5.37 We intend such zones to be specific to types of business that have a low impact on the surrounding area, such as clusters of high-tech industry. Low impact means that they would not add significantly to high local housing demand, have large infrastructure requirements or require special environmental precautions to be taken. This would not be free-for-all development. Criteria would be set to ensure that the quality of development is of the highest standard in order to ensure that the zones remain attractive to leading-edge companies and are acceptable to their local communities.

5.38 We would expect the need for most business zones to be identified in regional strategies and to be planned by local authorities in partnership with universities, RDAs and leading edge companies but we think that any of the partners should be able to initiate proposals for the designation of a business zone. We propose that every region should have at least one such zone to promote technology companies. It is equally possible that an existing business area could apply to have special business zone status. We should welcome views on the concept of business zones and the safeguards that might be necessary to ensure that they deliver quality development.

Masterplanning larger developments

5.39 Large sites can take time to plan properly. They are also highly significant in relation to our objectives to involve local people in planning the future of their community and to improve the quality of development. Masterplanning developments can help speed up the planning process by indicating clearly the nature, type and design of development expected on a particular site or area.

5.40 Where a site is specifically identified as a major development opportunity by a local planning authority, the expectation will be that there will be an action plan drawn up for it under the Local Development Framework. At the moment, the principle of development may be explored in pre-application discussions or by the submission of an outline application. Neither option is very attractive because there is no clear masterplan or design brief with which the community can be engaged. All too often the result is that local authorities receive an application for outline planning permission but with no guarantee that the concept approved will actually be delivered.

5.41 The community, developers and the local authority all need a safeguard in these circumstances. Our solution is to engineer a way in which they can all work together on a development proposal.

5.42 We would like views on a proposal to introduce a new arrangement to replace outline consents whereby a developer can seek a certificate from a local authority that it has agreement for a defined period to work up a detailed scheme against parameters determined in agreement with the local authority. The certificate might cover, for example, design, affordable housing provision and community participation. Any resulting formal application would subsequently be submitted in detail rather than in outline form and the existence of a certificate - and compliance with its requirements – would weigh heavily in the final determination of planning consent. Alternatively, the certificate would automatically lapse on a predetermined date if no application has been made. In appropriate cases, the masterplan might be formally recognised as a local action plan in the Local Development Framework.

Improving the effectiveness of the system

Repeated applications

Some developers use repeated applications to wear down opposition to undesirable developments. This is damaging to people’s confidence in the planning process and inefficient. We propose that once a planning application has been refused and not appealed, or appealed and refused, no substantially similar planning application for the same site should be accepted unless there is a material change in circumstances, such as a relevant new policy in the Local Development Framework.

Twin tracking

It is not unusual for housebuilders and other larger developers to twin-track identical applications so that one can be submitted to appeal once the statutory period for determination of an application has been passed. It is a negotiating ploy and wastes resources. The proposed new delivery contracts (see para 5.25) would make this practice unnecessary. We propose in any event to supplement authorities’ current powers so that they can refuse to accept a substantially similar application for the same site if a previous one is still being considered by them or is at appeal or has been called-in.

Time limited consents

Permissions and consents normally last for five years and are often automatically renewed. We think that five years is too long and that unimplemented consents effectively prevent the use of potentially developable land for other purposes. We intend to limit permissions and consents to three years and they should automatically lapse thereafter. Applications to renew permission and consents will need to be considered afresh in the same way as completely new applications and tested against the policies and priorities prevailing at the time.

 

Use of compulsory purchase powers for land assembly

The successful implementation of major planning proposals, whether for new infrastructure, the re-use of brownfield sites or the regeneration of run down areas, depends on the timely assembly of land. This, in turn, requires a simple and speedy method of acquiring the necessary land, by compulsion if necessary, with fair recompense to those from whom the land is taken.

We have launched a comprehensive Procedure Manual, to help acquiring bodies to navigate their way quickly and accurately through the whole compulsory purchase process and we have published new public information booklets to better inform those affected by orders.

We are publishing a consultation document setting out our proposals for major changes to the way that the compulsory purchase and compensation system operates. Our objective is to make the system simpler, fairer and quicker. We will:

  • simplify the law, consolidating the complex mass of case law;

  • clarify the powers available for acquiring land for planning and regeneration purposes;

  • speed up the confirmation process;

  • ensure that implementation follows promptly once an order is confirmed; and

  • provide a fairer basis for assessing compensation.

Entering the appeals process

5.43 One of the pinch points at which applicants can experience delay in the planning system is when they decide to exercise their right of appeal either against a decision by a local planning authority or because their application has not yet been determined. We have two proposals to make:

Clearer scope

5.44 One of the questions we have asked is whether we can streamline the planning system by ensuring that planning applications do not have to be submitted unnecessarily. There are two measures that are available to achieve this objective – permitted development rights and use classes.

Permitted development rights

5.45 The General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) enables certain kinds of development to proceed without the need for a planning application. For example, many home extensions do not require a planning application. By establishing a threshold below which applications are unnecessary, permitted development rights significantly reduce the regulatory burden of the planning system.

5.46 The GPDO is widely regarded as being difficult to understand. Lack of understanding of what is, and what is not, permitted development leads to queries about whether particular developments require planning permission.

5.47 We recognise that any relaxation of permitted development rights raises difficult issues: even small structures or alterations can have a real impact on neighbouring properties and the way people feel about their homes and their neighbourhood. For this reason, we are not proposing any significant change in the national regime for permitted development rights but we intend to update the GPDO and make it more comprehensible.

5.48 At present, permitted development rights are determined nationally. One option is to allow local flexibility in the definition of permitted development rights. Local orders could help authorities to be proactive in encouraging development by cutting red tape for developers: they are already able to make permitted development rights more restrictive in, for example, conservation areas.

5.49 On the other hand, local permitted development rights could lead to inconsistent arrangements between and within local authority areas and become a source of confusion. We would welcome your views on whether the introduction of local permitted development rights would help or hinder efficient planning.

Use Classes

5.50 Development control extends not only to new building work but also to changes in use of buildings and other land. However, certain uses are so similar in land-use planning terms – for example, noise, traffic, visual appearance and parking – that there is no obvious reason why a planning permission for change of use should be required. The Use Classes Order (UCO) excludes from planning control any change of use where both existing and proposed uses fall within one class. The GPDO provides some additional flexibility to move between classes without making a planning application.

5.51 We believe that the UCO should be constructed in a way that allows the maximum possible deregulation consistent with delivering planning policy objectives. We have recently published research into the operation of the UCO and will issue a consultation paper early next year seeking views on a range of possible changes.

Greater access for the community

5.52 A key test of the planning system is the extent to which it is trusted by the community. Its workings have to be honest and transparent and allow access by people who want to engage in the process of planning the future of their community. That trust depends not only on the formality or length of the process but on whether it allows the community’s influence to be felt.

Consultation

5.53 Consultation on planning applications has a vital role to play in giving the community an opportunity to express their views on individual development proposals. Current arrangements fail to provide adequately for this.

5.54 We believe that, as far as possible, consultation should take place and issues should be resolved before an application is submitted. Consultation by a local authority on an application can account for a significant proportion of the time taken to determine an application. Advance consultation not only potentially speeds up the decision process but helps to build consensus and reduce suspicion about the proposed development.

5.55 We have considered whether we can shift the duty of undertaking effective consultation solely to the applicant. Our view is that this would impose too much of a burden on individuals and small businesses, who may find it difficult to carry out a consultation unassisted. However, we strongly believe that, with larger and more complex proposals, developers ought to be engaging with local communities to the greatest extent possible in advance of submitting a planning application, in line with the proposals for Statements of Community Involvement set out in para 4.22.

5.56 There remains an important distinction between consultation with near neighbours and giving the wider population information about planning proposals in their area. So we do not propose to withdraw the requirement to list planning applications weekly in local newspapers. New technology may offer the opportunity to dispense with newspaper advertisements in due course, though these may still have a place for major development. The requirement will need to be reviewed in the future, as local authorities routinely use e-business for accepting and processing planning applications.

Community advocacy: Planning Aid

5.57 Individuals and community groups often feel in need of independent and impartial advice about how to engage effectively with the planning process and lack the resources to be able to use planning consultants. They want help to develop planning advocacy skills and they need access to better training and planning advisory services. We propose to help

5.58 Planning Aid, a network of 600 planners who give their services voluntarily, can be one source of help, particularly for individuals with a planning problem. We fully support the aims of Planning Aid and we are working with the RTPI on ways in which the service can be expanded and, subject to the introduction of necessary statutory powers, better funded.

Open committees

5.59 Almost two thirds of local authorities regularly provide the opportunity for the public to speak at planning committee meetings. Discussions of planning applications by local authority planning committees should, in our view, always be held in public. We look to local authorities to ensure that their new constitutions, which they are bringing forward under the Local Government Act 2000, provide a transparent framework for making decisions on planning applications, as well as other issues. We propose that Best Value inspectors should take the failure of local planning authorities to open up their meetings to public participation into account when considering the performance of local authorities.

Giving reasons

5.60 People need to know why a planning application has been agreed as well as why it has been refused. We propose that local authorities should always give reasons for their decision to approve a planning application as they already do when they refuse one. This should include relevant reference to plan policies. The Secretary of State will follow the same principle in respect of called in planning applications (see para 6.18).

Access to planning papers

5.61 One of the aspects of the planning system which is repeatedly criticised by community groups is the level of charges levied by local authorities for copies of plans, committee papers and planning applications. The cumulative cost of these can be significant in a community organisation’s budget over the year.

5.62 We accept that local authorities should charge for any hard copies they produce but these charges must be reasonable. We intend that copies of plans and planning applications received electronically should routinely be entered on the local authority website (in due course, as part of the Planning Portal project (see para 5.13)) and should be available to download free. We strongly encourage planning authorities to have a publicly available terminal in planning departments in order to access such information.

5.63 In addition, we encourage local authorities to use other means to make documents available at low or no cost. Public libraries usually have publicly available web access with trained staff who can help those unfamiliar with internet use who can help to access planning information; copies of documents relating to significant planning applications might also be made available in public libraries for inspection or for free overnight loan.

Planning obligations

5.64 Many planning consents for larger developments attract planning obligations (see box) Many people feel that they are negotiated behind closed doors, they are subsequently not well publicised and they are insufficiently transparent.

5.65 A separate consultation document is being published which considers wider reforms to the process of delivering planning obligations. We intend, as part of that initiative, to change the law to make it a requirement that information on planning agreements and undertakings is entered on the planning register. At the moment this is done as a matter of good practice but we will ensure that all such agreements are openly available to public inspection so that councils can be better held accountable for them.

Information about appeals

5.66 If people are to participate fully in the planning process, they need to know that appeals have been lodged and that inquiries may take place. Less publicity is currently required for appeals and called in applications than for planning applications. We will review the requirement to publicise planning appeals and called in applications with the aim of encouraging greater participation.

Understanding diversity

Planners working on the ground often have a good appreciation of the impact of planning policies on the needs of different groups in the community, including ethnic and religious minorities, the elderly and the disabled.

At all levels of the planning system, special attention is paid to the elderly and disabled people whose needs are particularly apparent. There may be other groups that have been less engaged in considering whether there are planning policies that impinge particularly on them.

We invite black, ethnic minority and other groups to respond to this consultation and let us know whether there are aspects of the planning system considered in this Green Paper on which they have a particular viewpoint.

Better enforcement

5.67 We are creating a simpler faster development control system. We must also ensure that it is a system which people trust. Deliberate evasion or abuse of the planning system is unfair to others and brings the system into disrepute. We need more effective sanctions against those trying to cheat the system.

5.68 The current enforcement system is unduly complex and cumbersome. Whilst minor breaches of planning regulations can often be resolved through negotiation and persuasion without the need for formal enforcement action, it can be difficult and expensive for local authorities to take effective action against those deliberately evading the system.

5.69 There are several issues:

5.70 Planning enforcement is a complex subject that raises difficult issues. We intend to review current arrangements with the intention of introducing simpler procedures. As part of this process we will look again at whether there should be punitive charges for retrospective applications and whether a deliberate breach of planning regulation should constitute an offence immediately pursuable through the courts.


Chapter six: Fundamental change at national, regional and local level

6.1 Chapter 4 of this consultation document deals with reforming the plan-based system. Chapter 5 considers the changes needed to speed up development control and make it more customer responsive. This chapter sets out what Government will do to improve our own performance within the planning system and goes on to look specifically at how local government might be better equipped to deliver. Delivering the national role

6.2 The Government has several roles within the planning system:

We need to improve our performance across all these areas and, in particular, provide a faster service.

National planning guidance

6.3 As we have said in chapter 4, we propose to review the whole body of national planning guidance and particularly the PPG series so that it concentrates on the key planning policies that should be determined at the national level.

6.4 We will also make clear statements of policy on the development of major infrastructure. A separate consultation document is being issued on new Parliamentary procedures for planning of major infrastructure.

Major infrastructure projects

Investment in major infrastructure, like airports and reservoirs, is essential to continued economic growth. The process for making planning decisions about these projects takes too long, is expensive and is highly adversarial. We want to find a better way, increasing the speed with which decisions are made whilst safeguarding quality of decision making, public consultation and involvement.

In July 2001, we announced our proposals for a new approach:

  • there will be clear statements of Government policy setting out our priorities for investment;

  • a stronger regional framework for identifying investment needs and strategies;

  • robust arrangements for prior public consultation;

  • new Parliamentary procedures for approving projects in principle before detailed aspects are considered at a public inquiry;

  • improved public inquiry procedures;

  • improved arrangements for compulsory purchase and compensation.

We are issuing a consultation document setting out our proposals for introducing the new Parliamentary procedures that will be associated with this.

Some of these new arrangements will require primary legislation, which we will introduce when Parliamentary time permits.

Crown Development

6.5 In general, developments undertaken by or on behalf of the Crown are not subject to control by local planning authorities. This is in accordance with the normal common law principle of Crown immunity. We remain committed to the principle of removing Crown immunity from planning control, subject to certain safeguards relating to the national interest, such as security and defence. We will introduce legislation when an opportunity arises.

6.6 Our proposals for major infrastructure projects (see box) will provide for Crown development proposals to be subject to those procedures, where appropriate. Highways Act procedures will continue to apply for trunk road development.

Resolving disputes

6.7 Up to 16,000 planning applications refused by local planning authorities or not determined by them within the statutory 8 week deadline will be appealed to the Secretary of State this year. Most appeals are considered using written representations. More than 20% are subject to hearings, an informal process which is increasingly popular and a good alternative to the more legalistic inquiry process. Only 6% of appeals go to public inquiry.

Mediation

No one doubts the need for an appeals system and there is confidence in the Planning Inspectorate as an organisation which secures fair and impartial planning decisions. But there is equally a feeling that many planning disputes should never enter the appeals system and could be resolved if an alternative means of resolving them was available.

Mediation is a simple, constructive and user-friendly form of dispute resolution. It helps the parties reach their own agreement rather than seeking to make an independent decision based on the evidence presented. We have published the results of research which shows that it may have wider application in:

  • resolving objections between neighbours where an objection has been made to small scale household development;

  • enforcement where there appears to be scope for a negotiated solution; and

  • narrowing down the areas of disagreement in large planning cases, especially those going to public inquiry.

We will undertake further work on mediation and consider how a mediation service might be funded and appropriately staffed.

6.8 Concern has been expressed at the length of time that it can take for appeals to be resolved. We are determined that the appeals process should not cause unnecessary delay. Each year, the Planning Inspectorate is set targets by Ministers for its work in handling planning appeals and for its other responsibilities. We have progressively tightened the Inspectorate’s targets and given it more resources to increase the number of inspectors: in consequence, its performance has dramatically improved. We are working with the Inspectorate to consider ways in which its targets might be improved still further without compromising quality.

figure 6: performance of Planning Inspectorate against target of 80% of planning appeals by inquiries to be decided in (weeks): England

Time taken measured from the date at which all relevant information is received from the appellant to the date when the decision is issued, including the time taken by the inquiry.

Called in and recovered appeal cases

6.9 The vast majority of planning applications are decided by local authorities. Similarly, the vast majority of appeals are determined by planning inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State. About 300 cases a year are exceptionally ‘called in’ applications or ‘recovered’ appeals for the Secretary of State’s decision. These are cases where policy issues of more than local importance are involved.

6.10 Local authorities are also required to notify certain types of planning application to the Secretary of State so that he can decide whether to call them in. This includes those where the local planning authority proposes to grant permission that departs from the current development plan (departures) and applications for large housing developments on greenfield sites.

6.11 Once the Secretary of State has been notified, permission or consent cannot be granted by a local authority until he has decided whether or not to call in the application. In certain cases, the can issue a holding direction to give more time to make the decision. Although the Government tries to use such directions sparingly, a large number of them are issued causing inevitable delays. More than 300 holding directions were issued last year. Waiting to find out whether an application is to be called in can cause considerable uncertainty and anxiety for both developers and communities.

6.12 Currently there is a range of targets for deciding whether or not to call in an application. The most important one is that 80% of cases should be dealt with within the statutory deadline, usually three weeks. Where a holding direction has to be used, 80% of these cases should be dealt with within four weeks of issuing the direction.

6.13 Generally, these targets are achieved. For example, in relation to departures, 80% of decisions about whether to call in an application were reached in three weeks. Where holding directions were issued, 91% were processed in the four week timescale. But there are areas where the target has not been met. For example, only 65% of retail cases were decided within the three week timescale. We shall focus on such cases in order to improve our overall performance.

6.14 There can be further delays once Ministers have decided to call in an application or recover an appeal. Before the Secretary of State makes the decision, there is usually a public inquiry. Business rightly complains about the time it takes for call-ins and recovered appeals to be processed and the uncertainty about when decisions will be announced.

6.15 The Government has targets for dealing with call-ins and recovered appeals. Current targets are to decide 80% of call-ins within 13 weeks after receipt of the inspector’s report and all of them within 20 weeks. For recovered appeals, the targets are 80% in 8 weeks and all in 13 weeks. These targets are not being met.

figure 7: Government performance against target: Called-in applications 2000/01

figure 8: Government performance against target: Recovered appeals 2000/01

6.16 Some call-in decisions will always take a significant length of time to decide. These include many of the biggest and most controversial developments proposed anywhere in the country.

6.17 We have set ourselves the target of cutting in half the average time taken from the close of the inquiry to issue of the decision to the applicant. Following a comprehensive review by independent consultants of Government Office, Planning Inspectorate and DTLR procedures, we are going to establish new management arrangements to deal with these cases. This will deliver dramatic improvements in the way in which we handle call-ins and recovered appeals. The Government will also consider, and would welcome views about whether we should set ourselves statutory targets for delivering decisions on call-ins and recovered appeals, subject to exception arrangements for the most difficult cases.

6.18 At the moment, we state the reasons for calling in a planning application for the Secretary of State’s decision and place on the DTLR planning web site both copies of letters calling in applications and notifying applicants of Ministers’ final decision. We have not given reasons for not calling in a planning application. In the interests of greater transparency, we will now, as from today, give reasons for not calling in individual cases and to put copies of these letters on the Department’s web site.

Third Party Rights of Appeal

6.19 Some people believe that there should be a right for third parties to appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision by a local authority to grant planning permission. ‘Third parties’ in this context means people who have views about a planning application, whether or not they are directly affected by it. It is argued that this would give people who feel disadvantaged by a planning approval a comparable form of redress to those whose planning application is rejected but who have a right of appeal.

6.20 The contrary viewpoint is that such a right would not be consistent with our democratically accountable system of planning. Elected councillors represent their communities - they must take account of the views of local people on planning matters before decisions are made and justify their decisions subsequently to their electorate.

6.21 Proponents of a third party right of appeal themselves recognise that it could not be unlimited because there must be some mechanism to prevent frivolous appeals. The situations in which advocates of third party rights suggest that they might be exercisable are as follows:

6.22 None of these approaches adds up, in our view, to a case for a third party right of appeal. It could add to the costs and uncertainties of planning. We cannot accept that prospect.

6.23 We believe that the right way forward is to make the planning system more accessible and transparent and to strengthen the opportunities for community involvement throughout the process. We have set out our proposals in this consultation document to achieve this objective. In addition, we have explained the safeguard provided by the Secretary of State’s powers to call in planning applications for his own decision which is underpinned by statutory requirements to notify him of:

Delivery at the regional level

6.24 Our proposals for strengthening delivery at the regional level are set out at paragraphs 4.39-51.We have proposed that the bodies charged with preparing the new Regional Spatial Strategies should be:

We have invited views on what changes might be made to present institutional arrangements to achieve this.

6.25 We have also highlighted the increasing importance of working in partnership to resolve planning issues at the sub-regional level, where necessary.

6.26 It will be particularly important in establishing new administrative arrangements capable of delivering these new roles that key partners and, in particular local authorities, ensure that regional planning activities are adequately funded, building on current arrangements for preparation of Regional Planning Guidance.

Delivering local government’s role

6.27 In Chapters 4 and 5 we set out our proposals for improving local authorities’ planning performance.

6.28 We recognise that to deliver a fundamental improvement in performance, local authority planning needs to be properly resourced. We will review the fee regime to ensure that it better covers the costs of the service. We will also require local authorities to better account publicly for both the resources they use and their planning performance.

6.29 We share with local authorities a concern about the loss of skilled planners. The planning profession has become less attractive as a career and able planners are increasingly in short supply. We need to improve skills and build the profession. Equally, councillors need to be better trained to undertake the difficult decision-making role that they exercise on Planning Committees.

Local Planning Advisory Service

6.30 There is a big agenda for change set out in this consultation document. We are making fundamental changes to the planning system and we are expecting real improvements in performance from local government. In order to help local authorities deliver, we believe that there is a need for a central advisory service to work with the Best Value Inspectorate. It would help local authorities put in place the sort of changes that will make a real and immediate difference to all users of the planning system, whether individuals, business or community groups.

6.31 Working in partnership with the Local Government Association and business organisations, we propose to establish a Local Planning Advisory Service to help implement changes on the ground.

Better resourcing

6.32 We need to ensure that local government’s planning function is properly resourced. Like other local services, planning is supported by national taxpayers through revenue support grant, by business ratepayers and by council taxpayers. In addition, applicants for planning permission pay a fee on a national scale prescribed by Government. This arrangement is designed to strike a balance between the regulation of development in the wider public interest and the wish of the planning applicants to pursue their development proposal.

6.33 The Government has commissioned research on the impact of resourcing on local authority planning performance and how significant this is compared to other factors, such as management, local authority culture, resources available to other stakeholders and training. As part of the 2002 Spending Review, we will be reviewing the amount of money provided to local authorities to help support local services by way of revenue support grant and will address the resourcing needs of the local planning service in that context.

6.34 We propose to carry out a fundamental review of the fee regime. This will consider:

We are separately consulting on whether there should be a system of supplementary fees to cover the extra costs of monitoring minerals extraction and landfilling.

6.35 Any increase in fees must be matched by better service. But we know that current fees have already fallen well behind costs. A recent study (see endnote 4) compared the national planning fee income with costs and found that fees need to be 14% higher to achieve full cost recovery. We will therefore introduce a 14% increase in fee levels from April 2002.This will ensure that fee income, in aggregate across the country, better matches the costs of development control.

Better accounting

6.36 If fees are to be increased to reflect the cost to local authorities of providing the planning service, there must be greater transparency about how much authorities are spending on planning as a whole, and development control functions in particular.

6.37 We intend to require all authorities to account separately for their planning service including income (from grant, council tax and fees) and for their expenditure. We shall expect this information to be aligned with planning performance data so that local electors can judge whether their local planning service is getting its fair share of resources and whether they are getting value for money.

Improving local authority practice

Delegation to officers

To speed up decision-making, authorities should delegate decisions to officers as far as practicable. To encourage this process we have set for 2002/03 a new target of delegation of 90% of decisions to officers, which will be monitored through Best Value.

Committee cycles

It is clearly right that some decisions should be decided by elected members. But this can be a cause of unnecessary delay where committees meet infrequently. Authorities should review their committee cycles to ensure they are consistent with delivering decisions to meet Best Value targets and undertakings about delivery dates. If they are not, the frequency of committees should be increased to ensure that these can be met.

Better skills

6.38 Planning requires specialist skills and expertise. Shortage of properly qualified planners affects authorities’ ability to deliver. We need to make planning a more attractive profession and ensure that the skills which planners have the skills to support a customer-focused service.

6.39 We want our reform agenda to change the image and culture of planning by underlining the positive role that it has to play in delivering economic and social change and shaping the future of our communities. We want a more confident and dynamic profession. The planners’ professional body, the RTPI, has already launched an Education Commission to undertake a fundamental review of the education, training and certification of planners. We will work with that review and with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Improvement and Development Agency (IdeA) to develop an action plan to deliver major improvements in the recruitment, retention and training of planners in local authorities.

6.40 Elected members also need to become more expert. In partnership with the RTPI, LGA and IdeA we issued in May 1999 a syllabus for councillor training on planning. In our view, councillors should undergo training before they sit on planning committees and take decisions affecting development in their areas. Like officers, members need to keep their skills up-to-date too. We will review the current training regime to ensure that it is able to deliver this.

Making use of the private sector

6.41 We believe there is considerable scope for local authorities to make use of private sector planners in the provision of planning services. The private sector may, in particular, provide a useful supplementary resource where local authorities are facing application backlogs or peaks of work that would otherwise affect their ability to meet performance targets, or where there is a need to free up in-house resources to focus on larger, more complex applications. Cannock Chase is one authority that has adopted this approach, contracting out minor applications to a private sector planner. We would encourage other local authorities to consider whether there may be benefits to be gained from making use of the private sector in handling planning casework. We will work with the LGA, RICS and the RTPI to develop best practice advice for local authorities considering this.

6.42 Where a local authority’s planning services are failing or consistently underperforming, we will consider transferring responsibility for administration of planning applications to private sector contractors (see para 6.45 below).

Best Value

6.43 Best Value imposes a duty of continuous improvement in service delivery on local authorities. It requires regular fundamental review of existing delivery practices and detailed implementation of changes arising from reviews, leading to better customer focus in the service provided. The Local Government White Paper sets out our proposals for assessing local authorities’ performance and capacity to improve.

6.44 The Best Value regime is underpinned by a package of indicators, targets and standards. The new delivery targets for planning that will go into place in April 2002 are set out at para 5.23.

6.45 The Local Government White Paper confirms the Government’s intention to intervene decisively where there is persistent failure across the range of local services, and will include more radical options where there are serious corporate weaknesses. In the case of poorly performing planning services action may include:

6.47 We are firm in our intention to use these powers if necessary. We have already required action by 15 of the worst performing local planning authorities. They were asked to process 65% of their planning applications in 8 weeks in 2001/02, and we are pleased that most have made strong improvements in performance. We have announced that a further 78 local authorities may be set new performance standards in 2002/03 because of their record of poor performance.

figure 9: Authorities subject to 2001/02 best value performance standard:

Endnote

4 ‘Planning Fees’, DTLR 2001, ISBN 185112 515 9


Next steps

The consultation period will run until 18 March 2002. Details of how to submit your views are set out below.

Following the consultation, we will publish a statement setting out how we intend to take forward our proposals.

Sending us your views

This Green Paper seeks your views on the Government’s proposals for modernising the planning process. We invite responses by 18 March 2002.You may wish (but are not obliged) to use the form of this Green Paper to set out your response [HTML form available soon - in the meantime, the form is available to complete and return by post to the address below - Response Form (Adobe Acrobat 14kb)]. All responses received by the closing date for the consultation will be considered.

All responses should be addressed to:

Planning Green Paper Responses
Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

Or e-mailed to:
planning.greenpaper@dtlr.gsi.gov.uk

Any questions about the Green Paper may be directed to:

Ian Piper
Planning Green Paper Team
Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Zone 4/J6
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DU
(tel 0207 944 3975, fax 0207 944 3979).

Or e-mailed to ian.piper@dtlr.gov.uk

It would be helpful if responses from representative groups could give a summary of the people and organisations they represent.

The Department may wish to make responses to these proposals available to Parliament and to public inspection in the Department’s library. We will assume that you do not object to this unless you specify otherwise. Responses that are submitted on a confidential basis will, nevertheless, be included in any numerical analysis of responses.

If you have comments or complaints about the consultation process itself (rather than the content of the Green Paper) these should be directed to DTLR’s Consultation Co-ordinator:

Martin Leppert
DTLR
Corporate Business Division
6/J10 Eland House
Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DU

Or e-mailed to Martin.Leppert@dtlr.gsi.gov.uk