The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has urged ministers to improve the Localism Bill ahead of its second reading in the House of Commons today (January 17)
After lengthy consultation, the institute, which represents 23,000 of Britain’s planning professionals, has sent a briefing to key MPs explaining eight initial proposals for amendments to the Bill.
These include recommendations on how to make the neighbourhood planning system less complicated, consideration on whether a truly spatial national policy framework should be a statutory document, and proposals about how to narrow the gap between national and local planning.
RTPI president Ann Skippers said: ‘The RTPI welcomes the recognition by the Coalition Government that planning is a key part of its localism agenda though we feel there are areas where the Bill could be improved in order to help the Government meet its key objectives and its international obligations.
‘Our eight points set out innovative solutions on neighbourhood and local planning, and larger-than-local and national planning, and will be promoting amendments to the Bill along these lines.’
The suggestions come as the RTPI believes it is particularly important to ensure that planning legislation is clear, unequivocal and not open to constant challenge.
This, the RTPI believes, could help the Government achieve its key objectives of economic recovery, climate change and the environment.
The recommendations in full
Neighbourhood and Local Planning
1. The primacy of the local plan must be clearly explicit in the Act and will work with its members, Government and other bodies to secure a swift and full coverage of local plans in England.
The Bill gives local plans a strong role in acting as the framework for neighbourhood plans but not all authorities yet have these plans in place.
2.Neighbourhood Development Orders and the Community Right to Build could only be brought forward through a Neighbourhood Plan.
This proposal seeks to reduce the complexity of the neighbourhood planning system, ensure that NDOs are considered within a wider neighbourhood context and do away with overlapping plans which will be difficult to navigate both for communities and for the development industry and infrastructure providers.
3. Those undertaking a neighbourhood plan could be properly constituted bodies as recognised by, for example, charitable status and could have a duty to consult within the neighbourhood area at a formative stage in the plan.
This proposal is designed to increase clarity and accountability in neighbourhood planning. The majority of the population of England live in areas not covered by Parish or Town Councils and the Bill allows for the setting up of neighbourhood forums in these areas. The criteria for these are minimal and they are not required to have democratic legitimacy.
4. The criteria for establishing a neighbourhood forum could be extended to include businesses operating through a Business Improvement District.
The system in the Bill is geared towards the needs of residents but does not provide a clear focus on the needs of local enterprises and others who may also want to join together to plan their area. Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) are already embodied in legislation.
5. Neighbourhood plans, and the referendums on them, could be used to express the community’s priorities for investment in their area. These would still have to accord with the strategic priorities set out in the local plan but could, for example, express the community’s own priorities for the neighbourhood element of the CIL.
This proposal will help to ensure that neighbourhood planning is clearly linked with sources of investment in neighbourhoods such as the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL),the proposals for a New Homes Bonus and Community Budgeting and thinking on community assets and would make neighbourhood plans more positive and meaningful.
Larger than local and National Planning
6. Other measures might be required to make planning effective at a larger than local level. These may include a duty to consider joint plans, the strengthening of the role of national guidance (see below) and the roles of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in spatial planning and, if they have such a role, whether they should be statutory bodies with their objectives and duties, including a duty to consult, spelt out.
Apart from area specific proposals, such as those for London, the Bill relies on only one proposal relating to planning at a larger‐than‐local level: the ‘duty to co-operate’. Whilst (LEPs) were heralded as playing an important strategic planning role, they are not in the Bill.
The RTPI is a charity registered in England (262865) and Scotland (SC 037841) page 4
7. The Bill should define the duty to co-operate in much clearer terms, without the use of limiting examples, in a form that allows for monitoring and, if necessary, challenge.
No indication is given as to how reluctant local authorities, public bodies and communities will be encouraged to co‐operate, nor what sanctions will be taken - and by whom - if they fail to do so. The duty to co‐operate appears, as drafted, to be a duty to respond to consultation.
8. A National Spatial Policy Framework should be a statutory document with the Bill spelling out its status for all decision-takers and placing a duty on Government to consult on it and to regularly review it. This proposal is based on the understanding that the presumption in favour of sustainable development and, crucially, the definition of sustainable development will be in the national framework.
The RTPI has long recognised the need for, and campaigned for, a National Spatial Framework but is concerned that neither the proposed National Planning Policy Framework nor the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is given a statutory role in the Bill. The RTPI considers that the national policy framework must be spatial and needs to have a clear status in terms of, for example, the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit.