Greg Clark: Local Planning for Sustainable Development

It’s a privilege to be here today and to follow in the illustrious footsteps of those who have given this lecture in the past.

The spirit of the CPRE is people’s sense of connection to the place where they live. By and large people live where they do by choice, and they love where they live. They understand local life. They want to make their homes and neighbourhoods better places, not for the short term, but in a way that benefits people for years to come.

This same insight is at the heart of many of the reforms that this Government is making. What we would call localism shapes our approach to a whole range of different areas of policy. In a sense, your timing today is impeccable. I have just come from the House of Commons, and will be going back there very shortly to continue discussion with my parliamentary colleagues about the Localism Bill.

This is a landmark piece of legislation. It marks a break with a tradition that has endured for many years, and through different political administrations, where central government has passed new laws principally in order to draw more powers to itself. It did this with the best of intentions – thinking that taking power centrally – distilling a vision of “best practice” and promulgating it more widely – is the most effective way to solve social problems, promote local growth and make public services perform better.

But there’s a growing consensus in many different places that we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns of this approach. There’s a growing acceptance of the importance of another tradition – of giving people a voice, letting them express their passion for an area, and granting free rein to their enthusiasm to do things for their community. And there’s a new acknowledgement that too great a measure of central control can actually be corrosive, dispiriting the people who most want to play their part in improving local life.

With the Localism Bill, we’re turning things around. Instead of hoarding power, we’re giving it away. The Bill will cut red tape, introduce new rights for communities, and give local councils a degree of discretion unparalleled in the modern age. It will put real influence in the hands of local people. It will help them do things their way; make public services do what they want; shape the future of their neighbourhood as they want to see it. In a parliamentary session with many measures designed to put power back where it belongs, the Localism Bill is the single most radical measure, the keystone in the arch.

Among its major reforms, the Bill introduces profound changes to Britain’s planning system – the area which has always been CPRE’s priority.

An excess of central command and prescription has contributed to three major flaws with the system as it stands.

First, we built fewer new homes last year than in any year since the 1920s, bar the Second World War. At the same time, the rate of household formation is increasing. More people are choosing to live in smaller households. There is a great aspiration among young people to establish themselves independently, yet the age of first time buyers continues to rise. And waiting lists for social housing have grown significantly over recent years.

The second flaw is the impact on business. Businesses, domestic and overseas, often cite the current planning system as a barrier to growth and an impediment to inward investment in this country. We have a system that is slow to deliver development, and that can only be navigated with the help of costly specialist and legal advice. This is acting as a brake on the country’s economic success.

The third flaw is the level of antagonism and heat in the system, which seems to have risen inexorably over recent years. It follows from a situation where people feel that they have little choice and little opportunity to influence planning decisions in a positive manner. When it has seemed to them to be the only avenue to express themselves, perhaps it is understandable that some people have felt inclined simply to say “no.” This has left us in a disastrous situation. In some places, the assumption has taken root that any new building will be damaging, and that all development is bad. In some places there seems to be a culture of resistance to the very idea of development.

This goes against all our traditions. Our built environment has been a source of incalculable pleasure and benefit for generations. This city’s great buildings, bridges and towers attract millions of visitors each year from the world over. In rural areas, the interplay of natural beauty and human stewardship has made this country’s landscapes the envy of the world. I want us to be able to be proud of our built environment.

Let me be explicit: I am pro-growth and pro-development. Not any old growth – not slapdash, not gimcrack, not jerry-building. Not growth without care for the areas of peace and beauty that people love and value most. That’s why we made the commitment in the Coalition Agreement to protect the Green Belt. And that’s why we intend to introduce a new designation whereby local people can protect the green areas that are most important to local life. I intend to set out to parliament our proposals for how that new designation might work very soon.

But I am in favour of, and want to see more of, properly planned, properly managed, locally-supported growth – well sited, well designed; meeting the right environmental standards; and in tune with what local people want. Our proposals are designed not to hamper development, but to unlock and encourage the right kind of development.

Faced with the shortcomings in the current system, there is a choice. You can tinker with the details – smooth an edge here, iron out an inefficiency there. Or you can reflect on the underlying causes of the difficulties, and take fundamental action to address them.

The Bill addresses two principal causes of the shortcomings with the current planning system. The first is to do with power. In recent years, the planning system has, in my view, come to rely far too strongly on elements of central prescription. Take Regional Spatial Strategies, with their housing targets. Perhaps it’s a basic human characteristic, or perhaps it’s a national trait, but people do not like being told what to do. They kick back. The result of housing targets has been not to get more homes built, but to create a stand-off between the people promoting the numbers from a regional office and the people on the ground who have to live with the consequences.

Conversely, cooperation and close involvement with local communities helps make sure that the right kind of development goes ahead: development that is sensitive to local people’s needs and concerns, and their desire to protect what makes their home special.  The principle of working closely with local people is embraced by environmental groups and developers alike. At Committee, Adrian Penfold of British Land said this:

“The best situations are where we work with local authorities and communities to get around the feelings of imposition, and developments happen.”

A second cause of the problems in the current system is the fact that too often, local communities do not see the benefits of growth. New development is not accompanied by the vitally needed investment in infrastructure – in schools, transport, hospitals, parks and other amenities – to reflect new demands. It should come as no surprise that communities are reluctant to see new building in their area when they have no sense of ownership and feel they bear the brunt of the costs without proper recognition or support.

The Bill addresses both of these root causes. It gets rid of Regional Spatial Strategies and their housing targets, and I think there’s increasingly widespread support for this. It introduces a requirement on developers planning large projects to consult local people before they make a planning application, as the best already do, so that communities can have a say at an early stage while plans are still fluid; meaningful input, rather than “take it or leave it.” And the Bill introduces – in the form of neighbourhood planning – a radical new means for people to take control, at a more local level than ever before, of the look and feel of the places where they live. All of these measures are intended to give people genuine choices and the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

The Bill also introduces reform to ensure that local people feel the benefits of local development. In consultation on the New Homes Bonus, we’re proposing that local authorities who take responsibility for encouraging development should be appropriately recognised, with six years of matched council tax for each new home. We estimate that this might be worth, on average, around £10,000 per new home. In the Bill itself, we’re also proposing reform of the community infrastructure levy, so that a meaningful proportion of the cash raised from a charge on new development is passed directly to the very local community – that, is the people who live next door or down the road for the new estate or offices.

These are real reasons to say “yes” to development. But they must be seen in the context of a planned system.

I have the greatest respect for planning as a profession. We want to restore the place of planning as a unique form of service for the community and a noble calling. Too often, today, planning officers are caught in the crossfire between regional targets and local opposition. I want them to have the space and opportunity to get on with what called them to the profession in the first place – the chance to work with communities, to think for the long term, to create distinctive places.

Planning is also about creating the right conditions for economic success – because well-designed places represent a far better use of money, public and private. People are more likely to want to live in and invest in well-designed places than poorly-designed ones.

And planning is, at heart, a civilised enterprise. With the extraordinary natural and historic heritage around us, with our desire to grow, and with our commitment to taking responsibility for our impact on the environment, it’s vital to have means of mediating between different needs and imperatives that is organised and transparent and fair.

So I want to say thank you to CPRE. We wouldn’t have the planning system as we know it today without the CPRE decades of advocacy, firing up the grass roots, and encouraging and challenging political leaders.

The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, whose broad principles still inform great elements of the current and future system, owes a tremendous debt to the Campaign’s way of thinking. Decades later, you helped swing the debate to “put plans first” through the 1990 Act. And after 85 years, you continue to be an essential voice in debate. I’m greatly encouraged that in many instances your concerns and the Government’s coincide.

With “Planning for People”, back in 1999, you galvanised the debate about how best to involve communities in planning, putting them “at the heart of decisions which affect their quality of life” – the essence of the Big Society a good decade before that phrase was coined. In 2006, you argued that it was time to end the unnecessary, meddlesome and ugly intrusion of clutter in our streets and countryside – our Secretary of State and the Transport Secretary could not agree more, and last summer signalled their desire for a return to straightforward, clear signage, and no more of it than is needed.

Today, I welcome the constructive role that the CPRE are playing in debate about the Bill. Shaun [Spiers, CPRE Chief Executive] was kind enough to give evidence at the Committee the other week, and it was encouraging to hear him say that the Campaign “overwhelmingly support”  the Bill as a whole. Not without qualification, and not without a desire to test the detail of proposals, of course.

Shaun raised, for example, the third party right of appeal. This was an idea floated in consultation documents by both political parties currently in government before the last election. We have looked at it long and hard as we have pulled this Bill together, and come to the conclusion that we want, in essence, to be more ambitious.

The thrust of our proposals is to put decisions first. To get to an approach that is much more consensual and less acrimonious. To push for plans that are properly and comprehensively thought through, with the active involvement and participation of local people. We want a system that is genuinely about thinking for the long term about an area’s future needs, and not “development control” – saying “yes” or “no” individual applications piecemeal.

Now, given that is where we want to get to, it seems paradoxical to give communities the right to challenge development that is consistent with the plans that they themselves have debated and agreed on. It would be to assume we would fail, and to plan for that failure.

But this measure is the exception rather than the rule – in as much as with most of the rest of the Bill, the differences between us are, by and large, more about detail than about principle.

We both agree that planning enforcement rules need to be tightened up, so that when communities make decisions about what should happen in their area, they can be confident that those decisions will be respected, and that it will be much easier for communities to enforce their choices with greater muscularity.

Or take the importance of sustainable development. We both agree that it is vital to require development to be sustainable – setting the bar in such a way that allows for growth, but that demands growth be properly managed, consistent with plans, and compliant with environmental standards. This idea will be at the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The topic I want to say a little more about today is neighbourhood plans. I welcome very much the support that CPRE have given to the principle of putting power in the hands of local people, and giving them the opportunity to have a say over the look and feel of the places where they live.

Neighbourhood planning will be a very powerful tool. If local people’s decisions are confirmed by a simple majority in a local referendum, then the local authority will be required to respect them and give them effect.

Our proposals have much in common with many of the points raised in your charter for planning reform, and in your joint work with Civic Voice from last November.

You called for an important role for parishes: in many places, we envisage that parishes will be best placed to lead the local debate.

You said that neighbourhood plans should be relevant everywhere: we think that they are just as applicable to urban areas as to rural ones, and in cities local people will be able to make common cause through a neighbourhood forum.

But you also raised a number of questions about how, exactly, these proposals would work. And, if you’ll allow me, I would like to give some reassurance.

You asked – how will local groups be able to access support and advice to produce high-quality, workable plans? There are two parts to our answer on this. The first is that we start from the assumption that if you give people their head, and the space to make their own decisions, they are more than capable of being imaginative, rational, careful and kind. An assumption that people can’t cope for themselves is at the root of centralism and a surefire starting point for designing a system that will imprison, not liberate, initiative and enthusiasm.

But we also recognise that planning can call for complex technical assessments and specialist skills. Local authorities will be under a duty to provide support to communities who want to do neighbourhood planning. As this would represent a new burden on authorities, at a time of constrained budgets, we would be providing appropriate support. We also know that some communities will want to call on independent advice, including on how you get people enthused, reach different parts of the community, or express complex ideas simply. We have invited charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to bid for a share of funding, worth £3m a year for the next two years – so that that independent advice will be there when it’s needed.

You asked – where do neighbourhood plans fit in with other plans? Neighbourhood plans pass unprecedented influence and power to a very local level. Let’s be clear, though, that they are not an entirely blank slate. The legislation makes clear that we expect neighbourhood plans to be consistent with strategic elements of local plan, including the need for economic development. (And by the way this makes it even more important for local authorities who have been dragging their heels in producing their own plans to get a move on.) Put plainly: if there’s a pressing need for more houses in the wider local area, neighbourhood planning isn’t a means for a particular parish to refuse any development altogether. If there is a piece of nationally important infrastructure due to be sited in the area, as decided by democratically accountable Ministers, then neighbourhood plans are not a means to block it.

But within these parameters, there is very wide discretion about what plans can do and say – the level of detail they can go into, and how comprehensive local people choose to make them. For example – they can, if they wish, give permission for more development than is envisaged under the local authority’s plan. In some rural areas, for example, we know that communities may be keen to smooth the way for discrete and clearly defined small amounts of increased housing. And I think they are more likely to do this when they have the reassurance of proper recognition and support.

The third question you ask is – how can we make the process of neighbourhood planning as open, democratic and jargon-free as possible? I start like you from the conviction that, wherever possible, public bodies should speak plainly. It behoves a Government committed to putting power in people’s hands to explain in clear terms how they can get involved.

It boggles the mind that we have a set of planning guidance, policy, circulars and statements longer than the Complete Works of Shakespeare. As we review and improve that policy and guidance – with the aim of producing a single, shorter document setting out the Government’s priorities for the planning system – we will want to make it clearer and more straightforward too.

So, too, with neighbourhood planning, I am absolutely clear that it must be implemented in a way that makes it easy for people to get involved. I agree with the Campaign that in due course it will be vital to have an explanation of neighbourhood planning that is written in very simple, plain English. But what’s clear is that there are many places and people who are already keen to get on and do it, and this hugely encouraging. Given CPRE’s understanding of the grass roots, your skills at mobilising people, and your long track record of talking sense on planning, I believe this can represent a significant opportunity for you.

I began by saying the Localism Bill is the keystone of our legislative proposals to put power in local people’s hands. Neighbourhood planning is a flagship measure in that Bill. Your members’ expertise and experience could help enthuse, inform and inspire local communities about the new opportunities that will be opening up for them. I very much hope that we will be able to continue to work together in the months to come.


48 responses

  1. Brian Skittrall

    At face value the Localism Bill is a very welcome change in direction from the advesarial approach of the previous planning system. Several things are not clear and the devil will be in the detail.

    Perhaps the most important is whether there will be a new role for the Planning Inspectorate. Unless there is a sea change in the power of an individual inspector to capriciously overturn a local decision based on their own judgement of the balance of a decision, the there will be no point in the Localism Bill. I appreciate that the aim of the bill is to encourage developers to negotiate with local communities, but when an impasse is reached someone will eventually have to arbitrate.

    The other area that is of great concern is local rewards. Where I can see that it is right there should be sufficient funding from some source to pay for all the required infrastructure that is needed to support a new development, it is very difficult to see that additional financial rewards to either local communities or local authorities can not taint the integrity of the decision making process. Often only a few individuals are severely affected by a proposal and by providing financial incentives to the wider community to approve developments runs the risk of causing division between neighbours or even tempting local authorities to disregard the interests of the few in order to fund other projects for the many.

    11 February, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    • Brian Skittrall

      I would like to emphasise my comments regarding the Planning Inspectorate. I have attended 3 planning committee meetings this week in three separate local authorities.

      At each and every meeting I would estimate that at least two thirds of the debate was not about the merits of the applications being heard, but about whether the Council had the budget to defend their decision at appeal and about how or whether the reasons for refusal could be framed in such away as to prevent the Council becoming liable for part or all of the developer’s costs.

      Councils are passing unsuitable and unwanted developments because they live in terror of the cost of appeals and the unpredictability of the Planning Inspectorate. This is wholly unacceptable.

      19 February, 2011 at 12:12 pm

  2. John D. Farquhar

    I have picked out a few sentences from Greg Clark;s speech -“their enthusiasm to do things for their community”. Has anyone detected such enthusiasm in their community? It is increasingly hard to get people to stand for their parish council – most “elections” are uncontested and vacancies left unfilled or filled by co-option (co-ercion?)
    “local councils a degree of discretion unparalleled in the modern age.” Which councils? What new powers? In practice county and district councils are constrained by a range of statutory duties which they must perform on the one hand, and a limited allocation of money from central government with which to do so. They cannot raise council tax without penalty. Discretion can only come with the power to raise money and spend it as their members wish. Local income tax, perhaps?
    “First, we built fewer new homes last year than in any year since the 1920s, bar the Second World War” – but not because planning permission was withheld. We got nowhere near the targets in the much-maligned RSS because of the collapse of the credit system
    “Businesses, domestic and overseas, often cite the current planning system as a barrier to growth” it s really only a barrier to their wish for the most profitable proposal. In the public interest the planning system may, and indeed should. guide the right kind of development to the right locations, minimising “external diseconomies” such as increased need to travel..
    “Take Regional Spatial Strategies, with their housing targets” – At least in Y&H these were prepared with input from all district and county councils and discussed in stakeholder meetings and at public enquiry – in no sense were they imposed from above until, significantly, central government required them to be increased.
    “We want a system that is genuinely about thinking for the long term about an area’s future needs, and not “development control” – saying “yes” or “no” to individual applications piecemeal”. So do we – we have been arguing “plan-led” for years – but we are not getting it from local councils who ignore advice to be “place-shapers”
    “In some rural areas, for example, we know that communities may be keen to smooth the way for discrete and clearly defined small amounts of increased housing” – yes. but this is affordable housing for local people, not executive-style market housing for wealthy communters

    16 February, 2011 at 5:02 pm

  3. Mr. N. A. M. BUTLER

    The planning system is, at this point of time, in a mess, which is the result of the previous regime’s introduction of that wholly unnecessary concept Local Development Frameworks.

    Allegedly designed to simplify and speed up the planning system, it is my own personal conviction that the real intention was to subvert and weaken it so that the Government could aggrandise powers to itself. Anyone who read the green paper on planning that appeared at the end of 2001 – at a time incidentally when everyone was busy preparing for Christmas – should have seen that the planning system was under a serious threat. Life was to be made very easy indeed for developers large and small and the powers of local planning authorities severely abridged.

    Local Development Frameworks are not one document but many, an unweildy and incomprehensible jumble of titles. Happily, only one of them has yet assumed corporeal form, the Core Strategy, but it poses a threat to the present District, Borough and Unitary Local Plans.

    For the Core Strategy is not only concerned with housing numbers. It contains policies, vague, nebulous things coulched in the most general terms, and if the Local Plans were abolished, as I believe the previous regime had every intention of doing, the local planning authorities would be left with no defence against the developers.

    I believe that the intentions of the previous regime were iniquitous and the Localism Bill should make it plain that this intended harm is to be averted. Accordingly, the bill should make it plain that the saved policies in the Local Plans must take precedence over those in the Core Strategies and that local planning authorities, if they so wish, may have the right to abolish their Core Strategies altogether.

    19 February, 2011 at 9:18 am

  4. John Hoare

    There is much in Greg Clark’s speech to encourage us. I was deeply involved in the preparation of RSS in the Yorkshire region but shed no tears when it was abolished as the last Government had altered it out of recognition in key areas, especially in raising housing numbers. Central prescription we do not want and here we are in agreement.

    However, I would like to raise a number of points. On housing, successive governments seem not to have noticed that the volume house builders really haven’t cause for complaint as they have large land holdings or options and build each year as many houses for private ownership as they can sell at the profit margin they require. There is nothing wrong in that. The problem is our failure to build for other forms of tenure – whether rent or shared ownership; these are the areas of need but such properties will not be built unless they can remain affordable in perpetuity (which means making it possible to restrict the right to buy) and if funding is available for such as housing associations. There is also a shortage of properties for older people to downsize, which would free larger homes for families.

    In this area there is a surplus of empty commercial properties, seemingly substantially financed from overseas and speculative in purpose. Development isn’t always helpful to the community!

    Having been a member of a planning committee, I have always found it a frustration that it isn’t illegal to disregard approved local plans, Conservation Area rules, etc. – enforcement action after the event is slow and often gets poor support from the courts. Communities need greater protection against those who chance their arms and act in anti-social ways.

    I’m not convinced that we can do without a Third Party Right of Appeal – recently here a major development was approved in the Green Belt by a passive planning committee, never even referred to the Government Office and the local parish councils, for example, who had opposed it, had no redress.

    19 February, 2011 at 12:27 pm

  5. Brian Skittrall

    I do hope that this bill does deliver a more consensual planning environment in which developers work with local communities and planners to deliver high quality development that meets the needs of the community and the country and is no longer simply designed to make the maximum possible profit from every site.

    I think that you are right in saying that communities are generally hostile to new developments because they have had so many bad developments imposed upon them under the existing planning regime.

    Parish Councils do struggle to fill their vacancies, but I believe that this is because Councillors feel powerless in our top down system. If they believe that they can feel that they make a difference, then they will not become dispirited and resign. My village has several dynamic former Councillors who are already doing their bit for the Big Society and working for the good of the village, but they are now acting as individuals so that they are not continually stifled or ignored.

    I do have to agree with Mr Farquhar that the lack of new housing is not due to the lack of building consents. I am aware of censents in my district for thousands of homes but they are not being built because they would not sell. House prices are still too high to enable first time buyers to enter the market without assistance from the bank of Mum and Dad, but developers and current homeowners are not yet ready to sell at affordable prices.

    But there is another problem. Even during the boom a local large brownfield site was not developed despite having outline permission and local support. This was presumably because it would not prove as profitable as the developer’s greenfield sites. There is local support for this development yet because it was not developed, greenfield applications were forced upon us under the RSS target dictatorship. Thankfully the bill will consign that to the bin, but we will still be left with a brownfield site that the developer is keeping at the bottom of their housing bank and not releasing it to another developer to take forwards.

    Last but not least I feel that one reason that planning is so slow for large developments is that the developer commissions the Environmental Impact Assessment. The result of this is that the local community and local authority can not trust this and then have to replicate much of the work to verify its contents. If instead the developer funded the EIA, but the local authority commissioned it, consultants would not be incentivised to produce a report favouring development and so the planning application would not be bogged down while the report is disected and Regulation 19 requests issued to remedy bias and deficiencies. The process have to be flexible to allow the developer to modify their proposals as issues arise, but this could halve the planning period.

    Giving the developer the upper hand has certainly failed us, I have my fingers firmly crossed that this new approach delivers on its promises.

    19 February, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  6. Bob Widdowson

    Is there a definition of ‘neighbourhoods’or can any group get together and call themselves a neighbourhood to vote through development?

    21 February, 2011 at 9:06 am

  7. stella shackle

    I haven’t had opportunity to read through all the above yet, but having recently become very involved in a number of contentious planning application issues in our village, I decided to respond now. I do apologise from the outset, that these comments are not ‘learned’, but the ‘gut reaction’ of a ‘lay person’ in terms of understanding the finer details of housing and planning regulations.
    First of all, I would have thought it was high time that planning legislation was reviewed and updated. It is common knowledge that the wishes and needs of developers generally outweigh those of the residents affected by their actions. Developers come in all shapes and sizes, and I am sure some of them are principalled and considerate practitioners. Unfirtunately there appear to be developers who are in this business as a ‘sideline’ for personal profit, certainly not to benefit the community. These people are ‘canny’ customers, and have a thorough knowledge of planning legislation, and how to successfully ‘bend the rules’to their advantage. They recognise that councils are not in a financial position to take them to court, so they flout the regulations right, left and centre. I never cease to be amazed by the ‘flimsiness’ of planning regulations, especially ‘the awarding of retrospective permission’ – what is this all about?
    A comment that is beginning to make me weary, is “we need more housing” – this in it’s self is not the problem. The real problem is what kind of housing do we need? The response is generally ‘affordable’. Given the current financial situation, exorbitant house prices (can anyone remember the concept of ‘first time buyers’?), and reluctance of banks to give people mortgages,we really need to stop and take stock of the real needs of our society. People deserve to have decent and truly affordable accommodation, so maybe the only way forward is to promote the work of housing associations, who have taken over from the councils, since their funding was restricted by the government, and council housing stock sold off.
    In my area alone, there are over 180 houses on the ‘market’
    at ‘affordable’ prices, so why do we need more houses now?
    Of real concern, as I am now beginning to learn about housing and planning, is the fact that the Joint Core Strategy partnerships are recommending housing expansion levels for 2026, but that current applications, which may be large scale developments would not be included in these figures – why?
    Norfolk is a wonderful and much loved agricultural county, and
    I, like many others would love to preserve this valued status

    21 February, 2011 at 11:50 am

  8. Brian Wood

    Communities have opposed housbuilding because it has has tended to be identikit estates, large numbers of similar houses, with token play areas, token shopping parades, adding nothing to the community feel of place. In fact as they are tacked on to existing villages or towns they reduce the feeling of place. If the government wants local communities to put forward housing schemes then the government should encourage them.

    How about

    i) Reduce stringent highway standards for well designed schemes.

    ii) Encourage local councils to bring together a number of developers do that a scheme has a more varied look.

    iii) Encourage development around a village green or new public house to produce a quality of place.

    iv) Adopt a policy or explaining to developers that they are more likely to get suppport and permission if they eschew trying to get the maximum number of units on any site, to maximise return. Support and permission should depend on the contribution the development makes to the sense of place.

    v) Government should be seen to be working with people to produce something that people will be happy to have, rather than something which undermines an existng place. There is an opprtunity here which government should take.

    Brian Wood.

    21 February, 2011 at 11:59 am

  9. John King

    Whilst increased community powers will always be welcomed, there must be concern that strategic issues which require cross-boundary co-operation will not be addressed. How will the statutory requirement to co-operate deliver when two authorities fundamentally disagree? The Regional Plan enabled Local Authorities to discuss housing numbers,infrastructure, renewable energy targets, minerals and waste management strategies. An independent inspector then decided which LA will deliver them. It certainly wasn’t local (or inclusive), but it did deliver a framework.

    Given the appalling progress of LDFs, it is perhaps to early to assess the performance of the Regional Plans.

    As targets will be set by the authority and then distributed within settlements/areas the conflict between residents and authorities will remain (however the authority will not be able to blame the Region anymore). Communities will be told they have to find sites to meet their target. Conflict will remain.

    There is no silver bullet that can resolve this conflict (each Government swings from one extreme to the other). If planning making and decisions are devolved to communities there must be resources made available so that the local community is able to develop sound plans through extensive consultation. The Development industry has extensive resources (there is talk of developers paying for plans!) and this must be counterbalanced so that the process delivers neighbourhood plans that are supported by the community, and not just the most vocal or best resourced.

    21 February, 2011 at 12:37 pm

  10. John Drake

    John Drake CPREssex

    I can best start by quoting CPREssex chairman’s reaction to the lecture. (The reference is my addition)
    “The presentation reinforced what we have feared since the Conservatives published their Planning Green Paper last year. Although there are positives in the Bill, I fear the Government has got the substance of this crucial bit of legislation utterly wrong, and that we are sleepwalking towards the environmental catastrophe of a development free for all” (1). .

    The key ‘alarm bells were’
    · The minister reinforced the Government’s pro growth and development stance. It wants to “unlock the right kind of development” and “require development to be sustainable”: Not only are these platitudes but also in many cases they may be mutually exclusive.
    · Neighbourhood Plans, must not “frustrate a pressing need for homes.”
    · The previously promised community right of appeal will not (at this stage) be included. The reasons given by Greg Clarke sounded very flaky to me – JD.

    I, and I think all the CPRE audience present, were delighted to hear Shaun Spiers brief and forceful response highlighting CPRE’s three main areas of concern, which bear repeating here:

    1 The framework of the new system
    (a) Local Enterprise Partnerships with no regard for environmental protection.
    (b) Development incentives that reward the numbers of houses built.

    2 How can development possibly be “sustainable” if:
    (a) The planning system is perceived as an impediment to economic growth?
    (b) Economic objectives override social and environmental objectives?

    3 There must be a third party right of appeal in Neighbourhood Plans. Rebalancing the planning system to favour development is wrong.

    The personal comments I would add are:
    · This Bill in its present form will perpetuate the importance accorded to the pursuit of economic growth in planning decisions. In a country with finite resources of undamaged countryside, and particularly so here in Essex, this can only accelerate environmental degradation with a hugely adverse and unsustainable outcome.
    · It is worth noting that the government’s own principles of sustainable development, speak of a strong, stable and sustainable economy where it previously referred to achieving high and stable levels of economic growth. This was a verbally subtle change (made by the previous government) but a very significant one (2).
    · On the housing imperative and the minister’s “pressing need for homes’ we should stop to ask the simple question ‘who are all these new houses for?’ CPRE’s publication ‘Housing the Nation’(3) showed a surplus of dwellings over households in every region except London in 2001 – comprising both empty and second homes. And between 2001/2 and 2003/4 there was a further 30% increase in second homes to 295,000. Where is the quantitative evidence base for government figures on housing demand subdivided for example by year, by region, by social group, and type (e.g. affordable)? My suspicion is that this is a case of ‘predict and provide’ – an approach CPRE has opposed in other spheres. We should be pressing government to develop policies to reduce demand not simply to increase supply and this approach should include demand driven by demographic factors (4).
    · On the economic front alongside addressing individual developments we need to campaign for change in the planning ‘mindset’ such that environmental and quality of life issues are given far greater weight by ministers, local authorities and planners. The value of some things cannot be expressed in monetary terms; it is the ‘what matters and why’ principle – the ‘scruffy’ piece of greenfield land that means a lot to local people and their quality of life. There has to be a presumption against developing this however small its £value. It is a classic case of what localism should be about. Sometimes “no development” is the answer because there is no balance between to be struck and mitigation and/or offsetting are simply unacceptable /unsustainable.
    · We should not allow ourselves to be trapped within a monetary valuation straightjacket. Respected economists have been for some time questioning the relationship between prosperity and growth arguing that untrammelled pursuit of the latter will in fact ultimately damage prosperity. (5)

    CPRE’s initial response to the second reading has already highlighted serious concerns as to the reality of this bill beneath its headline claims of a new dawn for local emancipation. Unfortunately, in my view, it has not done so forcefully enough. It is time to do so now and I would suggest include the points I make above.

    (1) Also see the detailed critique of the Bill by Andy Boddington (CPRE Shropshire); CPRE South East eBulletin, 5 February 2011
    (2) Shared UK principles of sustainable development:
    (3) Housing the Nation; CPRE, November 2004
    (4) The latest projections expect the UK population to increase by nearly a quarter in the next forty years, from 62.2 to 77 million, overtaking both France and Germany (projected to reach a comparatively modest 70 and 71.5 million respectively and with far greater land masses) to make it Europe’s most populous country in 2050
    (5) Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet; Professor Tim Jackson, Publ Earthscan 2009

    JFD 21 Feb 2011

    21 February, 2011 at 5:45 pm

  11. Tim Silvester

    I do agree with the arguments posted by John Drake on 21.02.2011.

    Concerning communities/neighbourhoods – either you trust them or you don’t. If their views can be truted to say what developments take place in their area, their views should be accorded the same trust when deciding that a certain development does not take place.

    I do also like the argument that we should aim to reduce demand rather than constantly increase supply in housing. (The same argument many are advocating with energy.) Having so many homes empty or occasionally occupied is becoming a luxury that we can ill afford in a small overcrowded island if we still want to have a rural England for us all to enjoy.

    22 February, 2011 at 12:35 pm

  12. Mick Jeffs

    If Local Authorites do not have the resources to oppose unwanted development then how can voluntary organisations like CPRE have an effective voice and the power to make good things happen?

    How can local organisations like CPRE have the media skills and political savvy to compete with the consultants employed by developers?

    Does labelling as a NIMBY always mean that person or organisation must have their views ignored? If so why put the power to neighbourhoods which will be NIMBY groups?

    We must not ignore a basic tenet of conservatism that the market must (usually) decide. The environment is sometimes a resource which must be used or sacrificed to make a profit.

    22 February, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    • Brian Skittrall

      We need to stop developers assuming that appeals are a normal part of the planning process. The only way to achieve that is to make sure that either decisions are not so frequently overturned or to increase costs so that playing the odds does not pay.

      CPRE can make a difference by supplying Local Authorities with the relevant material planning concerns (linked to planning policies), informing planning committees as well as planning officers (usually in advance of the meeting) and advising local action groups (some of whom can raise the necessary funds to hire experts).

      Accusations of NIMBYism immediately make me assume that the developer is desperate and has either lost the argument or has not properly consulted the local community.

      We can not and should not try to stop all development, we should instead be trying to make sure that we do not give up the environment too cheaply. For example, developers prefer greenfield land because it is cheaper (and so more profitable) to develop than brownfield land. It would be interesting to know how long brownfield land stays in land banks when compared to greenfield land. Maybe we should lobby for new planning taxes that are high for greenfield sites than they are for brownfield.

      22 February, 2011 at 11:35 pm

  13. Dr Margaret Thompson

    I am very disappointed that third party right of appeal is not on the agenda. Without this the planning system will continue to seem unfairly balanced in favour of developers. What is Greg afraid of? If he is really to make developers speak to a neighbourhood until everybody is happy he has nothing to fear. It will not be used, but to say it is not necessary because consensus will always be reached is unrealistic.

    I am not only concerned with CPRE and the countryside but in Inner London with the recent increases in basement developments which have blighted the lives of those unlucky enough to live next door or close to these enormous developments. Sometimes lasting 3 years they cause businesses to close down, people have to move house to get away from the drilling and spoil lorries. He speaks of pay back, certainly we would like developers to be forced to pay for rehousing owners and tenants, recompensing landlords who cannot rent their properties and businesses which have to cease trading or relocate. How about forcing developers to pay insurance for the terraced houses next door which may collapse? Why should existing communities pay for selfish development by others? How does this help the Big Society? Surely if Greg believes in payback he should consider taxing development. We should not just be encouraging development willy nilly.

    26 February, 2011 at 10:16 pm

  14. Liz Akenhead

    Greg Clark in his speech correctly identifies two major problems with the current planning system:

    “We have a system that is slow to deliver development, and that can only be navigated with the help of costly specialist and legal advice.”

    “New development is not accompanied by the vitally needed investment in infrastructure – in schools, transport, hospitals, parks and other amenities – to reflect new demands. It should come as no surprise that communities are reluctant to see new building in their area when they have no sense of ownership and feel they bear the brunt of the costs without proper recognition or support.”

    However, I don’t think the proposed new legislation will do much to resolve either of these problems.

    It is the Local Development Framework system and the way the system has been developed that make it well-nigh impossible for the ordinary person to participate in effectively. Any “man in the street” attempting to comment on, object to or support proposed policies in the LDF documents such as the Core Strategy is expected to read ream after ream of electronic paper (which his computer may have difficulty downloading and which he can’t afford to print out) including the Environmental Impact Assessment, then to make each comment on each section of each document on a separate form. For each separate section or policy he must fill in his name, address, phone number, then address the legal tests as to whether the policy is “legally compliant” and “sound” (when all that the man in the street knows is that he feels it is wrong), then he must set out what changes are necessary to make it “legally compliant and sound” and propose revised policy wording. Then in preparation for the Examination in Public he has to go through a similar process, providing his arguments and evidence separately on each policy area. This may all make things clearer for the Council officers, the Planning Inspector and the developers’ professionals, but it is hugely offputting for the ordinary busy person, who simply cannot spare the time. Then, if the Inspector is to make the Council address his comments seriously, the ordinary person has to take possibly a large chunk of time off work to attend the EIP and argue his case. Very few ordinary people have the time or the energy to do this, and most lack the expertise. Small wonder that they fail to get involved at the plan-making stage, then react with fury when they discover that a policy has been adopted which they were unaware of and which adversely affects them. I think we need to get back to having one straightforward Local Plan, and to make the procedure for contributing to it much easier for ordinary people.

    The removal of the top-down Regional Spatial Strategies is largely welcome, especially where the then Secretary of State imposed house building targets which were well above those agreed by either the local authorities or the Regional Assembly. However, I am not sure that counterbalancing this removal of one type of planning document with the introduction of a new layer of “neighbourhood plans” (of which there will presumably be vast numbers, for which the £3million of funding for expert advice will be a drop in the ocean) is going to simplify the system at all!

    As to the need for new infrastructure to support development, here again Greg has correctly identified the problem but I am not convinced that the proposed legislation provides the answer. In his own constituency, for example, local people remember that the Transfesa road-rail depot was allowed on the understanding that the road connecting it to the A21 would be improved. Forty years or so later, we are still waiting for this road improvement. The new hospital at Pembury was supposed to be dependent on the dualling of the A21, but the new hospital is now opening while the issue of funding for this dualling has been kicked into the long grass by successive Governments. Given this and many similar experiences, people are understandably cynical about promises of infrastructure to accompany development. A little money given to local communities may help to pay for the management of their green spaces or their community halls but it is hardly going to address this problem of failure to provide major infrastructure.

    Lastly, perhaps we should look at what is happening in Ireland and in some cities in the United States, where developments lie empty and communities and countryside are ruined, and be grateful if our planning system has to some extent limited a pace of development that could have turned out to be unsustainable.

    1 March, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  15. Jeremy Hill

    The Coalition Government (and Greg Clark, in his speech) have made clear that they will “protect the Green Belt”.

    Hand-in-hand with this protection must be steps to make re-development of brownfield land easier and more cost-effective for developers. Minor tax-benefits (for example for dealing with contaminated land) are not sufficient.

    What is the Government doing to make sensitive and sustainable development of brownfield land more commercially viable for developers, in so doing sparing what remains of our threatened countryside?

    1 March, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    • nick thompson

      I live in an urban area where there aren’t parish or district councils and no one has ever been involved in preparing a local neighbourhood plan. There are though, groups who could in my view, with a bit of guidance, prepare a neighbourhood plan, but they are ad hoc groups who aren’t answerable to any one other than those who first established the group. My understanding of the Bill indicates that any local group of people will be able to draw up a neighbourhood plan, but what credibility will such plans that are produced have without the missing ingredient of democratic accountability?

      4 March, 2011 at 4:06 pm

  16. David Coleman

    The characteristics of the countryside we value are shaped by forces operating at different scales – international, national, regional and local.

    It is fairly obvious what tools are available to me, as a citizen, help shape policy and decisions at the international/national and local scales.

    How does the Minister advise me to engage at the regional level?

    2 March, 2011 at 9:32 am

  17. John Westmoreland

    Re: 3rd Party Right of Appeal

    To quote Greg Clark: “…it seems paradoxical to give communities the right to challenge development that is consistent with the plans that they themselves have debated and agreed on. It would be to assume we would fail, and to plan for that failure.”

    This is not a very sound argument. There is a presumption that no developer will succeed in any case where some ‘material consideration’ outweighs an agreed Local Development Plan or Neighbourhood Plan.

    Belief that 3rd Party Right of Appeal will never be needed does not justify omission.

    2 March, 2011 at 9:47 am

  18. John Hoare

    I have now attended two seminars on the Localism Bill, where many community activists and workers have been present, alongside councillors and some local authority officers. The general comment seemed to be something like this “It isn’t really very empowering”. This poses two questions:

    1 Neighbourhood Development Plans require a sustainability appraisal, a public examination and a referendum, all at the expense of the parish council (or other promoter), and have to be in accord with the LDF, leaving little room for manoeuvre. What real degree of power or independence is on offer?

    2 As the parish council is the key element of infrastructure for democratic localism, why is there no proposal to provide civil parish councils everywhere?

    2 March, 2011 at 2:48 pm

  19. Glynn Woon

    I am concerned about the plan to “bribe” local councils into accepting unpopular developments. I live in a small village controlled by a largely urban council which seems to have little regard for the countryside. How much say will our parish council have?

    I am also concerned that this principle of offering “bribes” may cause serious problems for small groups. I am currently involved in a fight to prevent a massive wind turbine being built only 260 metres from people’s homes. In this case the parish council has been offered a small “bribe” which has caused them to alter their stance – so the small group affected apparently have no say. Surely there has to be some protection for the rights of small groups to not have their quality of life completely destroyed.

    2 March, 2011 at 3:05 pm

  20. Barbara Mark

    I am concerned that there is not enough protection for wildlife rich areas. Locally a property developer dug up and destroyed 21 acres of woodland and marsh dating back to the ice age, with no protection from the bodies we thought were in power to protect such places. The recent outcry about selling off woodlands has shown the people do not trust that there is enough protection.
    I do not see any protection for wildlife areas in the new legislation.
    We are now realising how much humanity relies on eco systems (eg bees) and the decline in these and with climate change increasing the country needs protection included in the new planning system.

    2 March, 2011 at 7:18 pm

  21. Suzanne Keene

    I was very concerned by Greg Clark’s speech and by what I know of the planning legislation currently going through.

    Our experience where I live is of a small vocal group demanding the construction of a facility (a skateboard park) that would benefit only a few of their own children, for only a very few years, in a peaceful park currently enjoyed by residents of all ages. A positive development proposal, if you like.

    It emerged during acrimonious public debates that the company that constructs such facilities had played a major part in developing their inadequately specified proposal.

    Next the council proposed a local vote on this – with no voters defined, probably only those who would be able to attend a meeting in person although around 300 households would be directly affected by this, and even suggesting that children should vote.

    This raises very serious questions for me about the process envisaged for developing proposals and for the local ‘referenda’ to decide on them.

    – How are the ‘local communities’ to be defined? are they to be parish councils, or other bodies?

    – How are the proposals to be developed? Are there to be any safeguards against developers or commercial interests instigating and driving such proposals?

    – How will resources be provided for groups to do the enormous amount of work, and to provide the necessary professional expertise, needed for high quality, imaginative proposals?

    – How will the ‘referenda’ be held? How will they be publicised, who will be entitled to vote?

    – Will groups or individuals who believe they have reason to oppose the proposal have access to any resources to test the proposal and develop alternatives?

    I have just been to a seminar about a small development in Stroud, where architects have taken a fully consultative and imaginative approach. It took the expertise of about 50 different professionals. I am extremely sceptical that localism will produce high quality results like those.

    2 March, 2011 at 8:00 pm

  22. Dr Tom Kelly

    I live in North Northamptonshire, which was one of the areas designated for very substantial expansion by 2021 by the then deputy prime minister, who never in his wildest dreams imagined that there was an economic crisis waiting to strike within a few years. This was followed up by the development of a Core Spatial Strategy which set out rigid targets for numbers of houses and delivery times, based on an assumption that there would be a large influx of house buyers moving to the area to take up the large number of new jobs which would be created by an expanding regional economy.
    This gave rise to a situation in the early 2000’s when it was quite impossible for LPA’s to be able to guarantee 5 year housing delivery against the expanded targets, while they were negotiating planning applications for the larger sites which were identified and they were therefore vulnerable to attack by unscrupulous developers who quickly took advantage of the planning laws, in particular paragraph 71 of PPS3, to force through planning applications for sites which were wholly unacceptable to local residents, and not part of the LPA plans. Applications which were refused by the LPA went to appeal and were granted by Government Inspectors who feel obliged to enforce the Law of the Land.
    The situation has now reached the ridiculous state where the LPA has given outline planning approval for the building of virtually the full housing target, but still cannot guarantee a five year delivery due to the recession, and developers are still having planning applications granted to avoid further inquiries. The sad fact is that LPA’s really have no choice, due to the rigid inflexibility of planning laws which were cobbled together in John Prescott’s time as deputy prime minister. This particular problem arises from PPS3, ( a planning policy statement), which states that a local planning authority must be able to demonstrate that they have 5 years of deliverable houses at any time, with no ifs or buts. If they cannot, then any planning application must be looked upon favourably, provided it passes other minimum requirements, which would be true for any piece of land, not permanently flooded, or riddled with toxic substances.
    This PPS was originally intended to encourage house building in times of real demand, and was certainly never intended to be used in a recession, but, once again, a “one size fits all” approach to law making leaves no room for the application of common sense. The real victims of this stupidity in our area is the small town of Burton Latimer, which will have to come to terms with a total expansion of around 1000 houses against core spatial strategic target of 700, but with no corresponding improvements in local infrastructure elements like schools or employment opportunities. This is not only bad for Burton Latimer, but it will also slow down the prospects for progressing the main expansion activities planned for the neighbouring Kettering Borough.
    The really shocking response I have had from the Inspectorate in Bristol is that they have no interest in following up the consequences of any inquiry decisions which they make, and they don’t see it as part of their remit to apply any common sense reasoning. For example, the only reason for paragraph 71 was to increase the housing delivery rate at a time of high demand, but the inspectorate has no wish to establish if this is true during a recession. Increasing the number of building sites will simply dilute the small demand there is and slow down completion times on all of them.
    The conclusion from this is that however attractive the localism concept might sound, it is completely incompatible with PPS3 paragraph 71, and it will only thrive when this is amended to prevent rogue applications being passed “on the nod”. A simple amendment to put the emphasis on planning applications granted rather than guestimates of how many houses will be completed in 5 years would give LPA’s and local residents the protection they need. Alas, too late for Burton Latimer, whose residents will have no further say in housing matters, even if localism really emerges.

    2 March, 2011 at 10:56 pm

  23. Gavin Rider

    THIRD PARTY RIGHT OF APPEAL is absolutely essential – with or without the localism bill.

    Local authorities are currently promoting and approving Affordable Housing developments on rural exception sites on the basis of invalidly derived and grossly exaggerated assessments of housing need. When challenged over it they initially claim that they are doing everything right and that the evidence of housing need is “robust”. When you prove that they have done something wrong they will say that they have already fully responded to your concerns and if you don’t like the response you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. But the LGO will not take action on anything that affects more than an individual. The government regional office will also not intervene because they don’t want to be seen to interfere with the decisions of local authorities. The DCLG will likewise not intervene because they are a useless bunch of pencil pushers. The Planning Inspectorate will not intervene because there is no third party right of appeal against a planning approval.

    Essentially, there is NO WAY of challenging a planning approval or holding local authorities to account if they do anything wrong. Since local authorities are now going to be incentivised to build more Affordable Housing, and the easiest and cheapest place for them to put it is in the open countryside on a rural exception site, the localism bill will be an absolute disaster for the rural environment UNLESS THERE IS A PUBLIC RIGHT OF APPEAL and preferably an independent local auditor who is empowered and obliged to investigate any planning approvals involving rural exception sites.

    3 March, 2011 at 12:08 am

  24. Peter Gallagher

    Dear CPRE,

    I attended my local planning committee meeting last night (23 February) when a decision was to be made on an application to build 8 three-storey houses in a leafy back garden here in the London Borough of Ealing.

    I was quite confident it would be refused because of the new governments’s directive on what is called “garden grabbing”. The government minister, Greg Clark said recently: “For years the wishes of local people have been ignored as the character of neighbourhoods and gardens has been destroyed, robbing communities of vital green space. It is ridiculous that gardens have until now been classified in the same group as derelict factories and disused railway sidings, forcing councils and communities to sit by and watch their neighbourhoods get swallowed up in a concrete jungle.”

    Well, ”garden grabbing” remains alive and kicking here in Ealing the Planning Committee passed the application – so much for local democracy.

    I hope the Localism Bill will actually help local residents to finally prevent “Garden Grabbing”.

    Yours sincerely

    Peter Gallagher

    3 March, 2011 at 6:57 am

  25. There are several challenges that the Localism Bill will need to overcome if it is to satisfy the aspirations of the many who care for their local area.

    1. The fear of the planning authorities with respect to the appeal.
    2. The Sixties model of the Local Plan and most planning documents
    3. The unaccountability of elected members in a timescale that makes them respond to their electorate rather than their party
    4. The competing Community Plan, Local Plan, Structure Plan, Parish Plan, Neighbourhood Plan.
    5. The reluctance of the planning authorities to recognise what is going on all around them until Central Government says it is OK to look
    6. The fact that most new housing, other than for organic growth, needs to go to the North supported with proper investment for economiuc growth
    7. The recognbition that there needs to be a second “City of London” to the North, in order balance population and resources.


    8. That most plans of whatever nature are maladapted for climate change and will simply create foreseeable difficulties in the future (the reason is that they fail miserably to distinguish between climate change and climate variability)

    kind regards
    Richard Pagett

    3 March, 2011 at 8:20 am

  26. Graham Willmott

    To improve the present situation what’s needed is to reduce continual opposition to every new development. But this will never happen until a buyer can defend his position.
    For a developer or householder to successfully sell a property it has to be attractive enough to be preferable to other properties on the market. By price, location, outlook etc.
    Buyers are going to spend a major part of their income on the most expensive purchase they will make in their lives.
    Often these purchases are on developments that have been designed and approved after many considerations have taken place.
    So why is it that some time later an individual can for example; get permission to put another house in his garden? Or a Builder can build a block of flats on ground that was a play area on the original plan thus altering completely the outlook for other householders that purchased properties from the original planned development.
    The weakest individual in this situation is the original purchaser. He/she cannot turn to the plans and say that this alters my purchase agreement or, for the Planning Authorities to defend the householder on the grounds that this alters the original planned development.
    Why, should one individuals chosen life style be changed by others because they want to make a profit?
    These new proposals do not include any form of protection for incumbent householders and it is about time that some form of protection to this effect is put in place. The purchaser of a particular property should be able to expect that what was purchased out of choice will be protected.

    4 March, 2011 at 12:05 am

  27. Jeannine Barber

    Dear Mr Clark,

    I would just like to refer to your statement in your lecture where you say that there seems to be a conception that “any new building is damaging and that all development is bad”. I agree that not all development is bad, but you can understand why this belief has grown up if you travel around England and see the amount of poorly designed, poor quality buildings perpetrated on some of our landscapes and cityscapes over the last fifty years. The centres of some of our cities have been demolished and replaced with anonymous functional blocks all in the name of progress. Those who opposed them were decried as Luddites and dared not speak out for fear of ridicule. Finally, but much too late, the folly of the previous planners has been acknowledged and some of these buildings have been pulled down. Further to this I do hope you will be reversing John Prescott’s Pathfinder Inititiative in Liverpool. Please don’t say it is too late, surely this is the moment for putting right the follies of the ODPM.

    You also say that “in rural areas the interplay of natural beauty and human stewardship has made this country’s landscapes the envy of the world.” Yet all over the countryside in the name of economic development “business parks” have sprung up, very often on green field sites. These “business parks” are very profligate in their use of space, with large green amenity areas and generous parking space. You say “I want us to be proud of our built environment”. I would like to know how large metal hangars which are identical to any to be found anywhere in the world can ever “make us the envy of the world” – so you can see how development has got a bad name.

    Your Localism Bill is fine in theory and I hope it works, but I am sceptical as to whether the local people will come forward:

    a) to become members of the Neighbourhood Forums
    b) with the time and the expertise to be able to devise a Local Plan

    My experience of local politics is that on the whole there are not enough volunteers to stand for the Parish Council and therefore people have to be co-opted, with the result that their knowledge of planning regulations is limited. I know that you are going to fund the local authority and various other organisations so that they can advise parish councils and the members of the Neighbourhood Forums, but I still think there is every likelihood that there will not be enough people of the right calibre to take on these new roles. In these times of straightened economic circumstances, the willingness to volunteer comes second to making ends meet.

    My final point is that you have not really made planning completely local as we will still have the Local Plan, as devised by the Local Authority, as we have always had. I am afraid that where I live, the West Berkshire Council unitary authority (one of six in Berkshire) is not held in very high regard – in view of various unpopular planning decisions made over the years. Therefore, any planning application put forward by them will probably meet with quite a large amount of opposition. This suspicion will be further heightened by the perceived New Homes Bonus “bribe” of £10,000 per house.

    Yours sincerely,

    Jeannine Barber (Mrs)

    4 March, 2011 at 4:08 pm

  28. Howard Elcock

    Having at last read Greg Clark’s speech, I have a number of commebnts.

    On page 1 paragraph 5 he talks about xommunities – but what is a community? There is plenty of research demonstrating rthat poeple either iedify with a small area – a street, village, suburb etc – or with large areas like a city or a county. Hw seems to expect “commuiuties” and “community activities”like the goddess Athena, to emerge fully armed from somewhere but will this happen? My experience is that many people are too busy and too stressed to do this!

    Secondly, on page 2 he talks about the planning system being an impoediment to business. This argument was used (to my regret) by the last Government to justify weakening the planning system and is here being used again for the same purpose. However, the North-East Chamber of Commerce is on the record as sayiong that the plannng system is not the main obstacle to business investment – lack of workers with appropriate skills is.

    On page 3 the way he identifies RSSs with housing targets is illegitimate. The Regional spatial Stateries covered much more than housing and were a major means to deal with pollution, climate change mitigation and adjustment, subnational transport planning and sustainabnle growth -issues that are too geograhically widespread for councils to tackle on their own but which cannot easily be dealt with by Government Departments or agencies. Their over-hasty abolition by doctrinaire Eric Pickles is something we will live to regret – and was not consistent with the Coalition Agreement.

    On the next page, we have had bad exoperience here with developers’ S106 obligations in respect of the Necastle Great Park development, where the developers have not fulfilled their obligaitons on a sie whose development has gone badly wring and the City Councik has been unwuilling to enforce them in case the developers walk off the job. What Mr Clark proposes here will be wekcome if it works.

    In the next paragraph he talks about conflict between regional targets and local opposition trapping planning officers in the crossfire – this was not the case in this reghion and as so often, London based Ministers and many others assume that the problems of the South-East are the same throughout the country. they aren’t!

    It is very regrettable that the Government has reneged on the third party right of appeal and I hope CPRE will use all means available to get it restored. What Mr Clark propsoes is no substitute.

    Om page 6 we are told that where parish councils do not exist, neighbourhood forums will be used instead – but where are these to come from? A better route might be t9 encourage the formation of parish or town councils throughout the country..

    7 March, 2011 at 10:46 am

  29. Gavin Rider

    Greg Clark CAN NOT BE TRUSTED.

    The DCLG has been aware of problems with the evidence base used to justify rural exception site developments (in fact, with ALL housing planning) for well over a decade, but they have done nothing to improve things. When I have complained about the invalid “housing needs evidence” used to justify some recent exception site developments, the DCLG has responded by trying to give the impression that I am the only one who has raised such concerns and, in their opinion, there is not a widespread problem.

    I have just found a report written in 2007 by one of the consultants that produces Strategic Housing Market Assessments for local authorities – the underlying “evidence base” for planning decisions for housing. It is highly critical of the errors contained in many such documents, and it appears to have been directed at the DCLG so it is inconceivable that they would not be aware of it.

    This report can be found at

    In response to a complaint I submitted via my MP that the DCLG have not dealt properly with my complaints about invalid needs assessments, Greg Clark has said personally that his officers have not ignored my concerns. But that is PRECISELY what they have done and they are now refusing to respond at all on the subject.

    Greg Clark and the DCLG cannot be trusted. They will happily oversee the complete destruction of the rural environment to build more housing, simply to try and promote economic growth as recently touted by David Cameron. Building more houses that we do not really need in the countryside is not going to promote growth and it is not sustainable – it will simply result in thousands of low income families being relocated to the countryside with no hope of local employment and competing for jobs and local resources with the existing communities. No additional services or infrastructure come along with exception site developments because they are outside regular planning activity which would normally require them to be provided. This whole situation is like a car crash happening in slow motion.


    7 March, 2011 at 11:13 am

  30. Peter Cleasby

    I have no problem with the Minister’s statement that he is pro-growth and pro-development. We need more houses – as anyone (of normal financial means) whose children are at an age where they are looking for somewhere to buy will know. This is a well-intentioned Bill which attempts, among other things, to reduce the knee-jerk hostility to new housing by giving “communities” – and there are indeed problems of defintion – more influence over planning decisions.

    But it is a huge political gamble. Get it wrong – ie, nothing really changes – and the disillusionment with politicians will be much greater than it already is.

    The key mechanism in all this is how the different tiers of “planning activity” will interact. If a district council can ignore – or appear to ignore – the wishes of its parishes, then the whole exercise is meaningless. The Bill is far from clear on this, and short of abolishing any form of rational spatial planning it is unlikely to be able to provide that clarity. Wjat happens in practice will be far more important than trying to provide for every contingency in legislation.

    So it comes down to how councils and people will behave towards one another. Noisy public conversations are needed – the reverse to the attitude of my parish council in Devon which has responded to a request by the RCC as to why it not produced any sort of parish plan by saying “it’s too difficult”. There needs to be sensible local discretion about how neighbourhoods and communities are defined, and an adult and open disccussion between the truly local elements and the district/unitary councils who take planning decisions.

    7 March, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    • Gavin Rider

      Peter, there is a clear distinction to be drawn between the affordability of housing and the supply of housing. Unfortunately, the relatively low cost of agricultural land is being deliberately and consistently exploited to promote housing construction in the open countryside where there may be no real need for it. Those responsible for promoting such schemes often present exaggerated or downright concocted ‘evidence’ of the need for them. Much of that ‘evidence’ is produced by people who have a vested interest in promoting new developments for personal or corporate gain, not to satisfy the real housing needs of rural communities.

      If there is evidence to show that a planning decision has been made on the basis of unreliable evidence there MUST be a right of appeal against it, otherwise the countryside will be systematically raped by developers until there is none left. It has been going on for years and the process is accelerating, and like a supertanker gaining momentum it will take a lot to stop it.

      CPRE needs to launch a torpedo to sink it.

      7 March, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      • Richard Wilson

        Too right: can i push the button? 🙂

        8 March, 2011 at 3:36 pm

  31. Richard Wilson

    Under the present system unwanted development continues in our village regardless of objections, the most recent planning application was even waved through before residents had an inkling.

    If the proposed legislation were to encourage planning authorities to take due consideration of local residents’ concerns then i would obviously be in favour but i remain sceptical.

    8 March, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    • Gavin Rider

      I would be grateful if you could identify the local authority concerned so that I can obtain a copy of the housing needs assessment that was used to justify the development from them.

      Thank you.

      8 March, 2011 at 11:07 pm

  32. Mary Neff

    I don’t understand how the New Homes Bonus is compatible with localism. Essentially, it is central government saying to local government: ‘Build houses. We don’t care about their quality or whether they are needed or where they go. We just want you to build, and here is an irresistible offer. If you don’t build, you’ll get very little money, much less than you need to run local services. The money will have been given to those who do build.’ As Eric Pickles said to a fringe meeting at Conservative Party conference, in the current financial climate it would be ‘a very foolish council indeed’ that ignored the possibility of generating extra cash.

    It follows that the New Homes Bonus is clearly intended to influence planning decisions. Its pupose is to encourage local authorities to approve developments they would not otherwise have approved.

    I would be interested in the Minister’s comments.

    9 March, 2011 at 7:42 pm

  33. Edward Falkirk

    A couple of people have mentioned climate change already, but I am very surprised that this issue wasn’t addressed by the Minister. The last government used planning to tell communities that they had to think about climate change, arguably with too much prescription and too little attention to winning ‘hearts and minds’. Localism will mean that communities will be free to think more for themselves about climate change. My worry is that there is so much uncertainty and misinformation about what to do about climate change that neighbourhood plans will come up with contradictory or well-meaning but worthless solutions. For those that do come up with good solutions, like requiring new developments to be south facing to maximise solar gain, the inevitable lack of robust evidence (who will pay for it after all!) will mean that clever lawyers will reverse these at planning appeals.

    9 March, 2011 at 10:12 pm

  34. Tim

    Greg Clark says that planning must be simplified to let people get involved. Hear hear. There is quite a lot of planning guidance which can bog down everyone but the professionals that developers pay smooth development through the pesky planning process.

    But at least the rules are written down! If we end up with a dumbed down ‘simple english’ guide which is too general, all decisions will become ad hoc. What about accountability?

    9 March, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    • Gavin Rider

      There is no accountability! As someone who has tried to hold a local authority to account over their acceptance of false housing needs evidence, I can say that they will simply ignore you if you challenge anything they do.

      You have no right of appeal.

      10 March, 2011 at 12:32 am

      • Brian Skittrall

        Another area where there is no accountability is fraudulent planning applications. I have seen several applications where the developer has misrepresented their development (e.g. by showing it in a smaller scale than its surroundings) and there is no sanction on the developer when this is discovered.

        In your case, you could make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. It is unlikely to affect an approved application, but can not only make the Council think twice the next time, but can give the Council the ammunition that they have been waiting for to resolve internal problems that they are already aware of.

        10 March, 2011 at 10:20 am

      • Gavin Rider


        I have complained to the Local Government Ombudsman, and their reaction is twofold:
        a) they are not empowered to intervene in anything that involves more than an individual. In other words, if the injustice affects the wider population equally (as in the case of an unjust development) they are not empowered to investigate the case.
        b) they consider that there is not sufficient personal injustice to the complainant for them to take on the case. They will take on a case if an applicant is refused a council house, for example, because that is unique to the individual, but they won’t take on a case if a complainant has not suffered significant personal injustice that is not shared by others to an equal extent.
        This is the “Catch 22” of the planning world. There is no means whereby the public can hold local authorities to account over bad planning decisions. Nada.

        10 March, 2011 at 10:30 am

      • Brian Skittrall


        If you can show a personal impact then they should take your case on. There is an ongoing complaint locally about a windfarm decision and the ombudsman is acting for a single, barely affected householder. Can you phrase your cimplaint in terms of personal impact.

        10 March, 2011 at 10:51 am

      • Gavin Rider


        No, I have tried and they have refused. It should not be relevant whether or not someone with a personal reason to complain makes the complaint, it should be judged on whether or not the injustice being perpetrated by the local authority warrants independent scrutiny by the Ombudsman.

        The Ombudsman’s logic is rather like the police not bothering to respond to a call to report a burglary in progress because the person making the call is not the one being burgled. It is ridiculous.

        10 March, 2011 at 2:54 pm

  35. Tim

    Greg Clark says that planning must be simplified to let people get involved. Hear hear. There is quite a lot of planning guidance which can bog down everyone but the professionals that developers pay smooth development through the pesky planning process.

    But at least the rules are written down! If we end up with a dumbed down ‘simple english’ guide which is too general, all decisions will be ad hoc. What about accountability?

    9 March, 2011 at 10:20 pm

  36. Dr Tom Kelly

    I think Mary Neff has hit the nail squarely on the head with her assessment on the New Homes Bonus.The designated growth areas of the Prescott ers have not delivered anything like the number of houses envisaged, but this is not due to a lack of granted planning applications. The lack of housing delivery is entirely due to a lack of demand by potential buyers. Developers will not build houses they cannot sell, but they have adopted an alternative unscrupulous but legal strategy of taking advantage of the slow build rate to force planning authorities to grant many more applications than required even by the ambitious plans.This is nothing more than land banking of sites which local people would never dream of covering with housing developments which is diametrically opposed to the concept of localism.
    The powers that be in the DCLG apparently fail to realise that granting even more planning applications will sell not one extra house and the proposed New House Bonus concept seems to suffer from the same lack of common sense, since neither developers nor LPA’s have any real control of completion rates in the current and probably foreseeable future.

    9 March, 2011 at 10:42 pm

  37. Bob Widdowson

    In my county, Herefordshire, the local authority is including in its LDF plans to build a Hereford by-pass largely funded by development of up to 8000 homes along the proposed route and elsewhere in the county through the Community Infrastructure Levy.
    What is the priority here? The road or the houses? The new homes bonus only adds to this – another source of funding for the road.
    This is a mess. Local people may want the road in the mistaken belief that it will remove local congestion at a stroke but certainly don’t want the 20% to 30% growth in population from the new houses to pay for it.
    No amount of ‘neighbourhood planning’ is going to influence this. The issue here is strategic planning based on what many people feel is an outmoded view if economic development. Where does the debate about economic development strategies based on ‘growth’ (which links to the population issues one contributor has raised) take place. So much of the planning debate takes place within a confining box of seemingly unchallengable assumptions.
    Fundamental issues are so often deemed to be outside the planning debate – ‘not a planning issues’. Hence business parks, in our case, polytunnels and the imported labour to support them, and a range of commercial developments are nodded through in the cause of ‘economic development’.
    That’s what our by pass is for. We are told that without it the county will die, will be unable to compete and so on.
    But what will happen with it? And in a county rich in agricultural land and products is there not another world possible?

    10 March, 2011 at 1:09 pm