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PR 32 - Ditching the needs test will not protect the public good says planners

30 October 2007

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the representative body for over 20,000 town planners, said today that the heart of the problem of land banking, whether by housebuilders or supermarkets, is that private land is not being used for the public good. Where land use is being restricted, as is likely to be identified in the forthcoming Competition Commission interim findings, we should not be looking to remove positive planning protections that deliver high quality town centres, such as the needs test. Rather we should address how private interests can be made to respect the public good.

Rynd Smith, Director of Policy and Communications at the RTPI said: \"The needs test has a long history of successfully protecting our town centres. There is no need to ditch the needs test. Good planning is about taking an overview of what makes a place attractive, accessible, sustainable and even loved. Competition law alone takes no account of good planning or of making efficient and enjoyable places across a wide range of social, economic and environmental measures. There are many other ways to protect the public good that will not end up destroying our town centres.\"

Land banking, where land controlled by private interests is left undeveloped or restricted, has become a serious issue for both the Competition Commission in their review of the grocery market and the Government in trying to build 3 million new homes. The RTPI believes there are a number of ways to protect the public good from the negative effects of land banking. The RTPI calls on Government to address these issues in consultation with stakeholders.

• Firstly the Government could address the role of restrictive covenants and other private agreements that remove the potential for competing land uses, for example supermarket chains selling land in a town centre, yet restricting the use of that land by a competitor.

• Secondly Government could introduce a non-development land tax that financially inhibits private interests holding land that otherwise might be used to the public good, for example, by introducing more competition or by building more homes.

• Thirdly, new anti competition or anti-trust legislation could be used to restrict the dominance of any one supermarket chain or land holder that might restrict the operation of the market, in ways that unduly reduce retail or indeed housing choice.

ENDS

For further information please contact:

Andrew Kliman, RTPI Communications Manager, 0207 929 9479,

Rynd Smith, Director of Policy and Communications, 0207 929 9494,

Notes to Editors

1. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
The RTPI is a dynamic organisation leading the way in the creation of places that work now and in the future. We understand that just as people develop places, so places develop people. We are committed to the enhancement of our natural and human environment, using spatial planning to manage competing pressures on our built environments and the very real effects on our space. Through our 20,000 members, we constantly seek to create areas and places in which people want to live and work.

For further general information, visit the RTPI website at: www.rtpi.org.uk
41 Botolph Lane, London, EC3R 8DL, charity no. 262865