Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Planning Green Paper Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change
Chapter two: The need for change
2.1 We need to know what is wrong with the planning system in order put it right. In this chapter we consider the deficiencies of the present system.
The planning system we have
2.2 The planning system falls short of what we need.There are a number of problems that need to be tackled.
2.3 Planning is complex, remote, hard to understand and difficult to access. Issues commonly raised include:
- the multi-layered structure of plans with up to four tiers in some areas at national, regional, county and local levels. Plans are often out of date and can be inconsistent with one another and with national planning guidance;
- national planning guidance is long and often unfocused. It mixes key planning policy principles which must be followed, with good practice advice;
- the rules applying to different types of development are often unclear. For example, some developments do not need specific planning consents, others do; and
- the planning appeal procedure can seem obscure. People find it hard to understand the way in which the system works. Both applicants and others with an interest in a proposed development can find it hard to understand the basis on which decisions are taken.
Speed and predictability
2.4 The planning process is too often perceived to be a set of rules aimed at preventing development rather than making sure good development goes ahead. Communities frequently feel detached from the process and suffer from planning blight. Business finds planning delays frustrating and potentially damaging to their competitiveness. Problems include:
- speed of decision-making.This is both slow and variable between local authorities. Over 90% of councils fail to meet the target that 80% of planning applications should, on average, be decided within 8 weeks;
- lack of predictability.The outcome of applications is frequently uncertain because there is insufficient clarity about the criteria against which an application will be judged. It is uncertain whether and why an application will be called in for determination by the Secretary of State or an appeal recovered.The time it takes to deliver a decision is uncertain;
- the process of up-dating plans is expensive and always takes several years. It is increasingly being regarded by local authorities as unaffordable. Although the current plan-led system was put into place in legislation enacted in 1991, 13% of local authorities have still to put their first plan in place and 214 current plans are now out of date; and
- speed of dealing with appeals and call ins. Last year, 80% of appeals dealt with in writing were decided within 17 weeks, 21 weeks if there was an oral hearing and 31 weeks for a public inquiry. Central Government only manages to deal with three-quarters of call-in cases within our own 20 week deadline.
2.5 The current system is very consultative but despite that, too often fails to engage communities.The result of all this is that the community feels disempowered:
- the procedures that lead to the adoption of a plan can be so protracted that few community organisations or businesses with an interest can afford to sustain their involvement.There is a perception that the system favours those with the deepest pockets and the greatest stamina;
- planning committees can make decisions on planning applications without the applicants or significant objectors having an opportunity to present their case;
- some planning procedures are legalistic and effective participation tends to demand at least some specialist knowledge. People who are inexpert in the workings of the system find this difficult and sometimes community organisations can find it hard to present their case without access to professional advice.
Customer focus and standards of service
2.6 Planning is not customer focused and local planning departments are overstretched. Problems include:
- people find it hard to obtain straightforward advice about how to submit a planning application. Once submitted, applicants are unable to access information about the progress of their application. E-business is poorly developed;
- user-friendly information about planning is not always readily accessible. Local planning departments are frequently so burdened with householder applications that they are unableto give more complex commercial and industrial applications the detailed attention they require; and
- there are serious skill and resource shortages in most planning departments. Elected councillors serving on planning committees are often insufficiently well trained to undertake their important duties.
2.7 Effective action needs to be taken against those who try wilfully to avoid planning controls. Without effective enforcement, confidence in the system is undermined. Unfortunately, where planning regulations are broken, there is a perception often accurate that they are not being sufficiently enforced.
2.8 All these problems are very real.They deprive us of the system we need to plan for a sustainable future.They make the planning system the subject of constant attack and its decisions suspect.This in turn has seriously demoralised the planning profession and damaged its ability to recruit new blood. Until there is a clear sense that the system has overcome these problems, it will not attract the degree of public confidence that a good planning system deserves.
2.9 We intend that planning should have a new strategic focus.We will simplify the complex hierarchical system of plans and replace local plans with new Local Development Frameworks. These will connect up with the local Community Strategy and help deliver the policies it contains.The frameworks will include a clear set of criteria by which local authorities will be able to steer development and use growth to deliver the vision for their areas. Action plans will be drawn up for town centres, neighbourhoods and villages.
2.10 There will be a fundamental change in planning so that it works much better for business. Business will be able to submit applications, confident of the basis on which their applications will be considered and that they will get a fast decision. Business planning zones will allow planning controls to be lifted where they are not necessary. New handling targets for local authorities will distinguish business from householder applications and we propose delivery contracts between local authorities and business for reaching decisions on the biggest planning applications.
2.11 We are going to deliver a system that better engages communities.We propose real community participation in the preparation of our new Local Development Frameworks and especially in drawing up action plans which bear on local areas and may result in the regeneration or conservation of particular neighbourhoods. Master planning of major sites will help developers plan for higher quality development in partnership with local authorities. There will be clearer information for planning applicants and new requirements for openness and accountability within the planning process.
2.12 We believe in good planning. Fundamental change is needed.This consultation document is about how we will deliver it.
Foreword | Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Response | Appendix