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PLANNING WORLD UNITES TO PUT DEMOCRACY BACK INTO BILL

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The government has been given a stark warning that in its hurry to...
The government has been given a stark warning that in its hurry to

streamline the planning system, it risks eroding democratic control over

future developments.

A key reform underlying the Planning Bill, publishedyesterday, is the removal

of statutory planning powers from county councils. The Bill envisages a

two-tier structure with planning responsibility held by local (district or

unitary) councils, and a wider strategic planning role resting with, as yet

unelected, regional assemblies.

On top of that, new Business Planning Zones, where planning controls would

be reduced, seriously erode local people's rights to have a say in

developments, says the LGA.

The LGA has joined forces with leading bodies in the planning field to press

for changes in the Bill (see Notes for Editors). These include the Civic

Trust, Planning Officers Society, Town and Country Planning Association,

English Heritage, County Councils Network and the Council for Protection of

Rural England.

Jane Chevis, chair of the LGA planning executive, said:

'A planning system that has no direct democratic mechanism for people to

voice concerns over plans that affect them on a county and regional wide

basis is a recipe for bad and unpopular development. People will not

understand why their counties have been left out of the planning process

despite their key role in balancing the social, economic and environmental

well being of their areas.

'One Bill promises to give people a choice in a referenda whether to have

elected regional government, while simultaneously another bill proposes

bypassing county councils in favour of those very regional bodies,

regardless of whether they will ever become elected assemblies. The

government has prejudged the voice of people across the regions and counties

of England and risks creating a planning system that is less accountable to

the people it affects, and which would therefore inevitably lead to less

popular and poorer developments.'

Notes

1. The following position statements have been agreed by the Civic Trust,

Planning Officers Society, Town and Country Planning Association, English

Heritage, County Councils Network and the Council for Protection of Rural

England.

Position Statement on a statutory planning role for county councils

'We propose that a statutory planning duty for county councils be

introduced. Failure to establish a statutory planning duty for county

councils will inevitably erode the strategic planning function and result in

reduction in funding for strategic planning and a subsequent loss of

strategic planning skills which will be to the detriment of both the

Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and the Local Development Frameworks

(LDFs).'

(The government's Planning Policy Statement (July 2002) proposes that the

role of county councils will be to advise district authorities on the

preparation of LDFs , provide technical advice to the regional planning body

and assist on the sub?regional aspects of the RSS. However, there is no firm

proposal in the two statements covering these matters that this role will be

statutory.)

Position statement on Business Planning Zones

'We question the need for, and purpose of, Business Planning Zones and doubt

that the concept would work in practice. The proposals must be attractive to

businesses and have the support of local authorities if they are to work. At

present there is little support for BPZs from either the business community

or local authorities. We doubt that BPZs will speed up the planning

process, strengthen accountability and public confidence in planning, secure

development in the areas where it is needed, or deliver the high quality

development that is required to meet the government's urban renaissance

agenda. Instead, we consider that the introduction of action plans, as part

of the LDF document, would be a better mechanism for encouraging and

effectively managing the growth and high quality development of businesses.'

(Business Planning Zones are to be identified in the Regional Spatial

Strategies and designated by local authorities to accommodate both high-tech

development and to act as a stimulus for new job creation in areas of low

growth or high unemployment. BPZs will be areas where planning consent will

be reduced, although an environmental impact assessment will be required

before a BPZ can be designated)

2. County councils currently employ a significant number of planning experts

but, given the many competing pressures on councils e.g. from education and

social services, it is unlikely that they will be able to devote scarce

resources to retain this expertise unless they have a statutory role in the

planning system. If their role is to 'advise', 'provide technical input' and

'assist' other bodies they are unlikely to be able to justify the retention

of significant planning expertise for this purpose.

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