Architects' Journal 27/05/2004
BY by BRIAN WATERS
Consultation has just closed for the draft Planning Policy Statement 1 Creating Sustainable Communities and its sister paper Community Involvement in Planning*. Informed clusters of people have been meeting to prepare their responses and officials are now having to make the best they can of them. PPS1 is unusual in not providing a series of questions or issues to structure responses; these often seem rather limiting but in this case the papers being well dosed in 'motherhood and apple pie' propositions, they might have made it easier.
The Association of Consultant Architects planning advisory group under Andy Rogers has done its bit by focusing on Annex A 'sustainable communities' and Annex C 'design'. They comment that the key to improving the planning system and involving the community is provision of proper resources.
This can either be achieved by injecting more money and better quality staff into the process or by simplifying procedures, most obviously by cutting out duplications. Or both. The paper promotes neither. On the contrary. many areas of overlap are introduced and there is no clear guidance about how the recommended community involvement can be of the necessary quality or be funded in practice.
This is despite the statement at para 1.29: 'Planning policies should not replicate, cut across, or detrimentally affect matters within the scope of other legislative requirements, such as those set out in Building Regulations?'Why then in the design annex does it say: 'Authorities should ensure that they have sufficient information on which to make an informed decision on the design, timing and accessibility of each scheme (such as):
- the key design principles;
- the mix and distribution of uses;
- the time scale of the development;
- how access needs have been considered in developing the scheme, including any steps taken to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.'
The ACA comments that the last criterion is redundant, being covered by that Act as well as by the Building Regulations. The penultimate criterion is in practice also subject to the forces of the market. This duplication of regulation also appears in annex A, which says: 'Some of the key requirements of sustainable communities are: (inter alia) a safe and healthy local environment. . .'
Like many of the issues addressed by the Use Classes Order, they are fully managed by environmental health legislation and should be left alone by planning. Indeed the ACA repeats its earlier call for the reduction of Use Classes to just three: residential, commercial and noxious. 'All other controls (licensing, noise, safety, health, fire escape, etc) are already covered by other legislation.
Simplifying these burdens of planning will release resources, ' it says rightly. Community voice 'Strengthening community involvement is a key part of the government's planning reforms', it says on the cover of the second paper. In the government's paper Modernising Planning in 1997, a pattern of subsidiarity was foreshadowed with bigger decisions being taken either at parliamentary or at new regional levels of government, rather than, as at Heathrow T5, everything being debated at the local level. Part of that plan has emerged with the introduction of community framework plans in the Planning Bill.
The paper sets out operational principles for community involvement including: 'Front loading of involvement? policies should provide opportunities for participation in identifying issues and debating options from the earliest stages'. Stimulating such interest and openness is obviously desirable though the implication that it might reduce vociferous anti-development reactions to plan-compliant proposals when eventually they come forward seems optimistic.
The ACA comments: 'The community that is to be consulted must include not only the vocal minority but also the fisilent majorityfl. How will this be done? - and how can future users of the planning system (for example occupiers who need yet-to-be-built homes) be represented?'
At another sounding board session arranged by the ODPM at the T&CPA the point was well made that in any locality there is not one single community but many that coexist, many of whom are rarely heard in such planning participation exercises. PPS1 offers no new way of addressing these admittedly difficult issues.
The council tax paying voters will continue to have the loudest voices. Nor does it suggest that good pre-application consulations will necessarily help to streamline the statutory process or save any money for planning departments.
Planning Bill amendments
Now in the final straight, the government has announced its acceptance of some of the changes to the Planning Bill forced by the Lords**. These include a limited planning role for counties, changes to proposals on outline planning permissions, provisions for dual jurisdiction for a period following the lodging of a non-determination appeal and reduction of the duration of permissions from five years to three 'or other period as directed by the authority'.
To get up to date why not attend the ACA afternoon seminar at the London Building Centre on 24 May or in Derby on 29 June? Call 020 8325 1402 for details.
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership. Contact brian@bwcp. co. uk or visit www.bwcp.co.uk