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PR 39 - Professional town planning body welcomes planning reform bill but warns: key tests must be met

27 November 2007

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has broadly welcomed the Planning Bill. However this is a very technical piece of legislation and much of the workings of newly established agencies such as the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) and new commitments such as the development of National Policy Statements (NPS) have still to pass a series of tests. Of central importance to the RTPI is the role communities will play. Real community engagement cannot and must not be sidelined.

RTPI Secretary General, Robert Upton said: \"The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) welcomes the Government's commitment that National Policy Statements will be debated fully in Parliament before adoption. These are policy issues of great national importance, and they should be determined by MPs, ultimately accountable to their constituents.\"

\"But the RTPI is clear there is no valid reason why most aspects of most National Policy Statements should not be location-specific, that is broadly indicative of routes or locations. It would be a grave mistake to think that making National Policy Statements less location-specific will reduce concern or obviate debate. On the contrary, the only sound approach is a transparent approach – full disclosure leading to informed debate.\"

\"The introduction of the 'right to be heard' by an Independent Planning Commission is warmly welcomed. We agree with Government not to include a right to cross-examination as the process needs to be manageable, and the IPC must be in control of it.\"

\"The Government must not make the mistake of thinking strength of purpose means riding roughshod over communities. Public debate is both necessary and right: you cannot avoid it, and you shouldn't try to. We want to see that the processes of community engagement proposed are effective, properly resourced and deliverable. We won't support anything that short-changes the public.\"

A summary of the Planning Bill:

• There will be a right to be heard by any group that registers with the IPC on a development. But there will be no right of cross-examination.

RTPI Position: The RTPI support these measures as it provides a chance for stakeholders to have their say but keeps the process manageable. However, the IPC must demonstrate to the public that it will provide a robust and credible quality control over the technical evidence justifying development options that is put before it.

Govt will stress the IPC is autonomous and independent – except where the minister thinks the National Policy Statement is flawed (i.e. new evidence has come to light which undermines the NPS) or where the issue of urgency is involved. In that case the Minister will make the decision.

RTPI Position: It is fundamentally important the IPC is independent and seen to be independent. The IPC can only be a success if it is not perceived to be a rubber stamp

• All NPS's will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

RTPI Position: We believe this is key to the process being fair and democratic. All the big issues of the day should rightly be heard and debated in Parliament.

Climate Change

RTPI Position: Para 147 of the Bill says climate change must be taken into account when drawing up development plan documents. The RTPI is wholly supportive of this measure as mitigating and adapting to climate change is a central tenet of RTPI policy. Including it within the Bill is a very positive move forward in tackling climate change.

• There will be a change to the Town and Country Planning Act to speed up appeals

RTPI Position: Speeding up the planning appeals process is of interest to all, however the system needs to be properly resourced in order to afford real change.

• Local Member Review Bodies

RTPI Position: The RTPI has no confidence in these bodies and will wait to be convinced by Government once they have laid down the details of how they will work.

• Plan-based tariff called a 'Community Infrastructure Levy

RTPI Position: At long last it appears that the Government has taken the advice which the RTPI has offered for years. It is a means of securing necessary local infrastructure based on an appreciation of local need clearly expressed in the local development framework.

• House Holder Development Consents Review

RTPI Position: The RTPI supports the introduction of the HDCR and are glad to see it has been released after a long time in gestation within Government. The RTPI launched the HDCR along with then planning Minister Keith Hill. Unfortunately this is a much watered down version.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Andrew Kliman, RTPI Communications Manager, 0207 929 9479

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:
41 Botolph Lane, London, EC3R 8DL, charity no. 262865

2 The RTPI has outlined tests that it will uses to assess how the Independent Planning Commission will work

3. RTPI Press Release on Eight Point plan for a workable IPC

4. RTPI web review of the Planning Reform Bill