Green Balance is a strong believer in the merit of an effective planning system which efficiently decides how land should be used, with wide public support. We therefore aim to demonstrate how planning can be done well, and, where there are shortcomings, propose procedural improvements.
Green Balance has been actively involved in some challenging debates on the shape of the planning system. We advised:
Green Balance led a team of experts to write the key text promoting limited Third Party Rights of Appeal in Planning, for a consortium of national non-government organisations in 2002. A third party right of appeal was proposed in a pre-election Conservative policy paper in 2010, in the Liberal Democrats manifestos in both 2010 and 2015, and the Green Party manifesto in 2015.
After the Government announced the creation of new National Parks in the New Forest and South Downs to celebrate the Millennium, discussion followed on the distribution of planning powers – both plan-making and over planning applications – between the new Park authorities and pre-existing local authorities. Green Balance prepared a detailed analysis of Planning in the South Downs National Park for the National Trust’s contribution to this in 2001, setting out the principles that needed to be applied, the practical options available, and their risks and benefits.
The wealth created by development raises land values. How best to capture part of this value for public benefit has long been debated. Our main study of this is A Taxing Question: the contribution of economic instruments to planning objectives (Town and Country Planning Association, 2000, co-authored with Bob Evans of South Bank University). This research was informed by a series of four seminars, and examined in particular how development could reasonably be taxed without discouraging the development itself from proceeding.
When the Department of the Environment Transport and the Region needed a short guide to The UK Planning System, initially for a meeting of EU Ministers in 1998, it turned to Green Balance. This was coupled with a summary of the European Spatial Development Perspective on international aspects of urban and regional planning. In today’s more challenging environment for the planning system our suggested approach is to press harder for evidence-based solutions to land use questions and to work with the grain of public opinion, see Unplanning the countryside (2012).
Prior to its merger with the Royal Town Planning Institute, ROOM – the National Council for Housing and Planning – ran a campaign to promote ‘Positive Planning’. Green Balance drafted two of its principal documents on Defining positive planning, 2000 (with additional detailed case studies in a supplement in 2001) and on Delivering the Urban and Rural White Papers: positive planning in action, 2002.
More recently we have promoted good practice in the application of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a procedure integrated into the planning system which must be applied to any development ‘likely to have significant effects on the environment’. This centred on an Evaluation of English Heritage involvement in EIAs for this Government agency (2012). Richard Bate also introduced a debate on wider EIA issues at the main annual mineral planning conference in 2012 with a short paper (EIA: are we getting it right?).
We also carried out a significant project for the Welsh Local Government Association on how best local authorities could apply the principles of sustainable development to the planning system in Wales (see Research).
Green Balance responds to Government consultations to the extent that our resources allow. (See also 'National Heritage Initiatives' under Heritage.)
Local Plans are the primary point of reference for deciding whether to approve or refuse planning applications. The Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing to reform Local Plans and commissioned a 'Local Plans Expert Group' (LPEG) for advice. LPEG published its report in March 2016. These were dominated by recommendations convenient for local authorities by limiting scrutiny, proposing obligations to release land for development at great environmental and social cost if necessary, and largely ignoring public expectations. The public credibility of Local Plans depends on the procedures used to agree them, so Green Balance gave detailed written evidence to the DCLG Select Committee review of the LPEG recommendations.
In October 2012 the Government began a review of all current planning policy guidance and the need for new practice guidance. Lord Taylor was asked to establish a review group, and their report in December 2013 was published for consultation. Green Balance took an active part in the review process, broadly supporting the recommendations. However, our principle concern, set out in full in our Response to DCLG, addressed the proposal for the Government to ‘signpost’ from its own website any best practice issued by non-Government bodies. We argued that it is critical that everyone knows what is official and what isn’t, and the presence of guidance on the official website should be the proper approach. Only a small number of the 348 consultation respondents agreed with us, while 89% supported the Taylor Review Group recommendation on ‘signposting’. The Government announced in May 2013 that it was accepting the Group’s recommendations except for ‘signposting’ and except for the immediate cancellation of 103 documents (which we had described as ‘unduly cavalier’).
We also responded to the DCMS consultation on ‘Improving Listed Building Consent’ in July 2012.
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