Two major criticisms – of the Planning Commission and its powers to replace decisions based on local public inquiries; and of proposals to weaken public participation in planning, Serious failure to create a new emphasis on positice implementation based on collective long-term ownership of land value growth. See the detail below.
To: White Paper Responses, CLG 16th August 2007
I write as a planner with 40 years experience in teaching and research and as acting for developers, LPAs and community groups.
The white paper is, for the most part, lucidly written and contains some fine material (especially on ‘joined-up thinking”). In the comments which follow I have concentrated on the three matters on which I consider that the White paper is seriously wrong.
1. Major infrastructure projects:
1.1 Government Polict Staments would be a valuable contribution to national spatial planning but they should NOT be assigned overriding power envisaged in the WP.
1.2 The proposed Commission could be valuable as a quasi-independent technical and research body to contribute studies, and especially to elaborate and explore ALTERNATIVES as specified under the SEA rules. However the Commission absolutely most not be given decision powers – these powers must remain with politicians. The role of experts is to advise.
1.3 As Roger Levett has shown in his response, planning inquiries contribute only a small part of the time taken (“delay”) in most decisions.
1.4 The UK has invented the excellent EIP procedure as an alternative to the open-ended, costly and daunting Public Inquiry and it should not be beyond our capacity to guide the evolution of public hearings in such a way as to safeguard both democracy and reasonable expedition. The fact that a few inquiries have taken years is NOT a justification for the proposed (effective) abandonment of public local inquiries on infrastructure projects.
1.5 Granted, NIMBY objections are a problem. But Inspectors, Ministers and the courts have usually been robust enough to over-ride NIMBY objections in the wider public interest. If they lack that courage they are unfit for office.
2. Consultations and SCIs
2.1 The UK institutionalisation of public participation – while perhaps imperfect – has been the envy of the world since 1968 and it is more necessary now than ever. It would be quite wrong to weaken it, and to scrap SCIs before they have really been tried – let alone evaluated.
2.2 There are 3 reasons why direct public participation is now even more important than ever:
2.3 Within local authorities the recent ‘reforms’ have concentrated power in the hands of small cabinets/executives and this is widely experienced as impeding effective community / citizen involvement in decision making;
2.4 Changes in the structure of local government have progressively reduced the number of elected local politicians which now stands, I believe, at about the lowest number per head of population anywhere in Europe. This greatly increases our dependence on public participation as a way of legitimating decisions on plans, policies and individual development applications.
2.5 The new rules of conduct in local government, emphasising the quasi-judicial role of planning committee members, greatly constrains the access of citizens to their elected representatives and inhibits representatives from effective contacts with constituents, local lobbies and others and males it harder for them to act and vote in line with the political positions which were the basis for their election.
What is most seriously missing from the White Paper is any reconsideration of land policy. In particular the opportunity is missed to stress the crucial importance of the community (government, local government, trusts or other collectivities) retaining a long-term interest in rising land and property values as a way of sharing the benefits of planning and development and financing infrastructure and urban and environmental management. Section 106 agreement and PGS are distractions because both tax simply the initial uplift in value and ignore the dynamic growth of values as settlements mature. The UK has fine experience of good land and development policies – from the site leasehold systems which brought us Bloomsbury and Bath through to the New Towns of the post-war period but the white paper ducks all these issues in favour of an implicit trust in a regulated neoliberal private regime as the source of action and ideas. It is a very disappointing failure and cannot produce sustainable communities.
This is brief statement as I am sure you will be deluged with comments. But I would happily expand on any or all of it.
Yours sincerely, Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards, The Bartlett School, UCL
22 Gordon Street
London WC1H 0QB
m: +44 (0)7813 1944 01
f: +44 (0)20 7679 7502
admin: +44 (0)20 7679 4797 or 7501 Judith Hillmore, Carol Fitzpatrick and Diana Sprot (replacing Simon Shiel who has left)