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PLANNING BILL PUTS COMMUNITY FIRST, SAYS ROOKER

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Major changes to the planning system - including new roles for both business and the community - have been unveiled...
Major changes to the planning system - including new roles for both business and the community - have been unveiled by planning minister Jeff Rooker.

Better consultation will be at the heart of a more streamlined, certain and flexible system.

Launching the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill yesterday, Mr Rooker said:

'The planning system is crying out for change. Too many councils fail to meet their decision-making targets. Their plans are out of date and no longer reflect the realities many communities face.

'The lack clarity in the system makes the outcome of decision making unclear and that hurts business.

'Planning needs to reconnect with people. It's seen as remote and difficult to understand. It's seen as a system set up for the convenience of planners, not consumers.

'It is a barrier to progress when it needs to be a bridge. We need to change. This Bill delivers that change.'

The Bill will act to stamp out abuses of the system by preventing repeat applications and 'twin tracking', where the same application is submitted twice. By reducing planning permission from five to three years and abolishing automatic renewal developers will not be able to sit on planning permission for years on end.

Charges in exchange for planning consent, known as tariffs, will not be introduced but there will be new guidance on how to make the planning obligation system of negotiations between planners and developers more transparent and simple.

The Bill streamlines planning by removing county structure plans, often seen as overlapping and contradictory. It leaves a two-tier system of complementary local and regional plans.

Mr Rooker said counties will still have an important role to play and will continue to be responsible for waste and mineral plans. They will support regional and local planning bodies drawing up strategic plans.

New local development documents will have core policies, development proposals and a clear map so everyone can see what goes where.

Planning authorities will have to complete a statement of community involvement to show how they intend to involve people both in drawing up plans for the future and in considering planning applications for specific sites.

Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) will be drawn up by regional planning bodies. Regional planning bodies will have to meet strict criteria set by ministers, including involving regional stakeholders.

In the short term, the interim regional chambers are expected to take on this role. Where regions choose their own assembly, responsibility for strategic planning will pass to the assembly.

The RSS removes the structure plan layer of bureaucracy. They are intended to be more flexible and responsive regional plans, better able to tackle strategic planning problems.

Local Development Documents will have to be compatible with regional spatial strategies. They will also be subject to independent scrutiny. If the Local Development Document conflicts with national planning policy the secretary of state can intervene.

The Bill makes it a statutory duty for both Local Development Documents and Regional Spatial Strategies to contribute to sustainable development. This means high and stable level of economic growth and employment, social progress, effective protection of the environment and prudent use of resources.

After consultation throughout the last year the government has decided not to press ahead with plans to move decisions on Major Infrastructure Projects to Parliament.

Instead, these will be speeded up by making clearer statements of government policy, supported by clearer regional strategies, with new rules to make better use of public inquiry times.

There are no plans to give third parties the right of appeal on planning decisions. Jeff Rooker said people affected by planning decisions already have the right to make their views known.

He said the improved consultation built into the new system will strengthen the role of communities. Giving them additional third party rights would bring the system grinding to a halt, he said.

New Business Planning Zones will be introduced. Guidelines will be issued on how they will work but the idea is to issue tight parameters to produce high quality, low impact economic development without the need for further planning permission.

Mr Rooker said:

'Business Planning Zones are designed to get the right development in the right place. They will be attractive to business because of the speed of planning consent.

'But they are not planning free-for-all. There will be tight constraints on the types of business, types of developments and types of places where they will happen.

'But if we want businesses for the 21st century we need planning for the 21st century and in the case of Business Planning Zones this means maximum flexibility.'

A new Statement of Development Principles will replace outline planning permission. The Statement will say whether an authority agrees in principle with a proposed development but does not grant planning permission, unlike Outline Planning Permission.

In another change from outline planning permission local authorities could use the statements to indicate the design and quality standards they expect from the development.

The Bill also modernises the compulsory purchase system.

The loss payment scheme will be extended to cover business. Basic loss payment will be 7.5 per cent of the value of the interest in land plus 2.5 per cent occupiers loss payment for occupiers up to maximum of£100,000. These compulsory purchase payments will not be available to rogue landlords.

Mr Rooker said:

'In July the deputy prime minister announced an extra£350m funding for the planning system over the next three years.

'That cash, together with the changes I've announced today, will make a significant difference to the way the planning system operates.

'It will be clearer and faster and more certain. It will be focused on getting the community meaningfully involved in decisions and in creating the right environment for business.

'It is a system designed to be flexible enough to meet the challenges of the future, fast enough to respond to the demands of the present and tough enough to protect the past.

'It is a system designed to build the sustainable communities of the future.'

Notes

1 Currently, 90 per cent of councils fail to meet their target of deciding 80 per cent of planning applications within eight weeks.

2 The process of up-dating plans is expensive and takes several years. Thirteen per cent of local authorities have still to put their first plan in place and 214 current plans are now out of date.

3 Cascading a policy change down through reviews of Regional Planning Guidance, Structure Plans and Local Plans cannot be achieved in less than about 12 years. After the last round of RPG reviews it took 21 counties more than five years to adopt a revised plan.

4 Local Planning Authorities received 582,000 planning applications in 2001-02. Nearly half of these (49 per cent) were from householders.

5 On 12 December 2001 the DTLR published the green paper 'Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change'.

6 This was followed by a three-month consultation period that drew more than 16,000 responses.

7 On July 18, 2002 the deputy prime minister made a statement to the house of commons about the way forward for planning and on the same day published 'Sustainable Communities: Delivering through Planning'.

8 It is hoped second reading of the bill will take place in the house of commons before Christmas.

9 The Bill will cover England and - in part - Wales.

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