Market reaction: Tories publish planning paper

Plans to scrap Regional Spatial Strategies and 'all levels of unelected regional government' were confirmed by the Conservative Party on Monday.

Published on the party's website, the policy document, entitled Open Source Planning, has far-reaching implications for developers and planners. Housing targets will be scrapped, there will be a new third party right to appeal and the future of regional development agencies looks more doubtful than ever, although they were not mentioned by name.

David Cameron, Conservative party leader, said on the site: "Whitehall targets and unelected quangos will be scrapped, to be replaced with a democratic system for national infrastructure and incentives to promote local homes and jobs."

Place asked for your comments on how the blueprint could impact the property industry if the Conservatives win the general election – and indeed implement the planning manifesto. Here's what some of you said:

John Brooks, director at GVA Grimley: "The provisions of the Green Paper would represent a genuinely radical overhaul of the planning system. The concern is however, that at a very challenging time for the development industry and house-builders in particular, it would introduce a period of planning uncertainty and policy vacuum.

"The expectation within the Green Paper that communities as a whole will meaningfully engage in the plan-making process, develop a collaborative democracy, emerge with a shared vision and thus resolve the acknowledged tension between development and conservation is optimistic to say the least.

"The stated aim to produce a simpler, quicker, cheaper and less bureaucratic planning system should be welcomed. However, there has to be some doubt as to whether the locally empowered, bottom up approach to plan making, the mandatory inclusion of communities in collaborative approach to design, the emerging ideas on neighbour objections and the 'significant majority' rule is going to deliver development in the form, location and at the rate required."

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation: "House building is at its lowest level for generations and we need to kick-start construction without delay. Targets have failed and it's clear we need to try out new innovative ways of making things happen but while there are some excellent ideas here, third party right of appeals would be a recipe for chaos. It would clog up the system and undermine everything the Tories have said about being pro-development.

"Local incentives are sensible if the sums are large enough to sway people and few will mourn the death of the Community Infrastructure Levy, although we suspect a tariff may be rather similar in practice. We also welcome the commitment to take forward plans to simplify the planning system as advised in the Killian Pretty Review. While it is vital that locals have a say in development it is essential that this does not simply recreate the current Whitehall-level bureaucracy at local level and so we welcome Grant Shapps' assurances over being 'pro-development'. The key to making any new proposals work will be an ongoing, direct conversation with the industry to ensure that what looks good to voters is truly workable in the real, post-election world."

Bill Davidson, director of Indigo Planning: "If streamlining the planning process means more certainty and quicker decisions it must be good for the industry. However, planning is a delicate balancing act – in looking to make sweeping changes through the system, the Conservatives risk creating new imbalances, dependent on how the proposals outlined in their Green Paper are developed in detail.

"For instance, much is made of new local plans prepared with communities but there is no mention of how 'other material considerations' will be addressed when seeking permission for development that does not fully accord with the plan. Compensation for neighbours and third party rights of appeal is also likely to slow up, rather than smooth, the development process."

Graham Stock, partner at Drivers Jonas: "The Conservatives have put this out without much fanfare, but if they mean what they're saying this paper could be the blueprint for a radical shake-up of our planning system. As expected, it's very much in tune with the Cameron ideology of localism being argued at a national political level. You can't fail to see the resonance of the paper's first words 'broken system' with the Tory's 'broken society' rhetoric.

"The key radical element of their proposals is that the local plan becomes king. In our current system, planning decisions are usually made after weighing up various different considerations.

"The Tory's plans are similar to those in France where if a development accords with the local plan, you will get permission and if not, then think again. But in France, you have around 33,000 planning authorities compared to just 420 in the UK so the difference in resource levels is huge and the UK's track record for keeping up to date local plans is woeful – a meagre 13 per cent of local planning authorities had adapted their core strategy.

"In most cases, a developer may have only come into contact with a local plan only if their consultants told them too. Others have been entangled in lengthy battles over them and have had their hands burnt. So if enacted there are lots of opportunities. If a proposal is sustainable and in line with a local plan then according to the Tories it will get permission, no arguments. The million dollar question is whether our local plans are relevant and up to date – at the moment, they probably aren't."

Steve Edgeller, director of planning at GL Hearn: "With the ink still wet on PPS4, published only eight weeks ago (barely enough time to determine a minor planning application), the Tories plan to reinstate the retail 'Need' test. They say John Gummer 'put in place planning rules on out-of-town retail development to prevent town centre decline' during the last Conservative administration, but it was the Labour government who introduced the Need test. Now the Labour government have withdrawn it again because it was found to be stifling development which could otherwise contribute to town centre regeneration. Instead, PPS4's more stringent 'Impact' test is still capable of giving councils the ability to control out-of-town stores where they would harm town centres.

"The Need test was never a Conservative Party instrument, and it has no place at a time when there's a need to encourage, not stifle, investment.

"Funnily enough, they're just as silent on the issue of the Grocery Competition Test as the incumbent government – it's an issue no-one seems to want to make-up their mind on in the run-up to a general election."

Gary Halman, partner, HOW Planning: "There has there been a move away from 'localism'; no mention of this previously central phrase in the policy paper, not in Cameron's speech that was the launch pad for it.

"Removing the power for Planning Inspectors to revise plans that are inadequate and giving sole power to local authorities to prepare plans removes an important an independent step in the process, and is a retrograde step. There does need to be a reality check to ensure local councils make adequate provision for development, and that they can't simply follow an agenda that may not be rooted in what is best for the community overall, but might be more driven by local political (and anti development) interests – which we see regularly now.

"The same point applies about removing the rights of appeal, other than in limited circumstances (a strange move for a party which supports the rights of the individual over the State). Again this change carries the danger of councils' local decisions, which are not always of the highest quality or founded on a truly dispassionate and factual basis, being unable to be challenged by an aggrieved applicant…how then can the decision be tested?"

Bernadette McQuillan, senior planner in the CBRE North West planning team: "There is much to be welcomed in the proposals, particularly introducing financial incentives to encourage development by match funding new council tax and allowing authorities to retain business rates. This is tempered though by the focus on localism and decentralisation. Strategic direction is needed to balance entrenched local opposition to development, including for much needed housing. Without this we could face worsening housing shortages and return to planning by appeal.

"Of particular concern is the prospect of third party rights of appeal which tend to be a recipe for delay and impropriety. It is also disappointing that Inspector's reports will no longer be binding; this was an important improvement to the local plan-system."

Tony McAteer, national head of planning, Lambert Smith Hampton, said: "The concern we have with the proposed changes is the uncertainty that they bring, and the subsequent inevitable delays. The country is already struggling to emerge from the worst recession in recent history, and the development and construction industries would be well placed to help deliver that recovery in the economy. Anything that impinges on this is therefore a major concern. To that end, notwithstanding the Paper's comments about transitional arrangements, the proposed 'root and branch' change is bound to lead to delays.

"There are parts of the Paper which are to be applauded, such as the introduction of financial incentives to encourage development. In addition, the demise of the Community Infrastructure Levy is certainly not unexpected, although in practice very few councils have indicated that they would adopt it. It should be noted, though, that the replacement tariff appears to be very similar.

"However, there are other elements that will undoubtedly alarm developers, such as third party rights of appeal and the dismantling of the regional and local frameworks within which the industry has been working for the past few years.

"The rights of appeal issue is to be limited to cases where a process has been abused (decision by the Ombudsman) and where the decision is contrary to Local Plan policy (decision by the Inspectorate). This is as opposed to a decision that is contrary to national policy, on the assumption that Local Plans will 'always' conform to that national policy. We see this as being one of the most worrying aspects of the Paper, whereby devolving power to a local level will assume that the local planning authorities will always be right."

David Delaney, associate at Pannone LLP: "The crux of the question is whether the planning system is broken in the first place and there are concerns over the ability for the proposals to be delivered in a timeframe that will have any real impact on the economy.

"These concerns are heightened by the fact that some of the outlined proposals are conflicting, such as the call for more control to be given to the community whilst also abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission and reinstating it within the Secretary of State department. These issues and attempts to maintain the balance of control will only cause further delay to the Tories' overall aim of speeding up the planning process.

"Other issues that require consideration include the proposal for the final decision on planning appeals for schools to be taken by the Secretary of State as well as the suggestion that local residents should be able to appeal planning decisions made by the local authority."

Ian Tant, senior partner at Barton Willmore: "The Green Paper is aspirational, containing thought-provoking ideas that could secure the 'control shift' in planning from central to local government and to local communities. There is much to admire in the approach. At the heart of the Green Paper however is an act of faith – the word 'believe' actually appears 24 times – that communities and councils will respond to the withdrawal of national and regional direction by enabling more development to take place. The risk is that instead local communities – who with few exceptions in my experience are resistant to change – use the new planning system to tighten controls on development. It's a bit like government taking its hands off the steering wheel and daring councils to do the same – they could instead tighten their grip.

"In carrying the Green Paper forward if elected, the Conservatives will need to give greater consideration to the nature of policy making and the judgements that are used in applying policy. The system will depend on clear statements of policy at national and local level – but policy almost always requires careful interpretation to the circumstances of each development proposal: there is rarely a development that is entirely in accordance with all the policies of a development plan, for example. Accordingly, there will almost always be a basis for balanced judgement by a local planning authority – and a need to test that judgement where there are grey areas. The new system will therefore need to maintain appropriate checks and balances if it is to function fairly.

"I would appeal to the next Government to talk to practitioners in planning and development before leaping to legislation to avoid the trap of unintended consequences. If it is not applied with care, this approach intended to deliver more decision-making at the local level could lead to the Secretaries of State having to make more decisions at the centre on appeals – or to the courts taking a greater role in planning in order to maintain the right of the individual, including the landowner or developer, to an independent tribunal."

Your Comments

i thought they were introducing the ‘need’ test for retail? not scrapping it.

By dog

I think it means ‘scrap’ the Labour Party’s ‘scrapping’

By Ewan

amended now thanks Ewan. it should have read ‘reinstate’. thanks


By Ed

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