HC Deb 17 June 2004 vol 422 cc41-3WS
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill)

The Government is continuing to take forward a major programme of reform to the planning system to support its drive to create sustainable communities, promote sustainable development and achieve a better balance of housing supply and demand. Our goal is positive planning to achieve these objectives. Our programme was launched in the planning Green Paper of December 2001 and the Government's policy statement on planning reform of July 2002 "Sustainable Communities—Delivering through Planning".

The Barker and Egan reports have endorsed the Government's vision for a reformed planning system and the work we are doing to achieve this. We will be setting out how we intend to take forward the agenda of those two reports later in the summer.

Local planning authority performance:

We are making good progress towards the planning reform targets we have set. In particular, we have seen in the last six months the best improvement in a decade in the time which local authorities take to deal with planning applications. Since we published the planning Green Paper in December 2001, the proportions of local authorities achieving the targets for handling major commercial and residential applications has increased from 24 per cent. in January to March 2002 to 41 per cent. in January to March 2004. Handling performance on minor commercial and residential planning applications, as well as on other (mainly householder) applications have each doubled over this period. Furthermore, we have achieved our public service agreement target to halve the time it takes the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with called in cases and recovered appeals from close of inquiry to decision—in the quarter January—March 2004, 80 per cent. of the cases were dealt with in 16 weeks compared with 32 weeks.

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act received Royal Assent on 13 May. The Act puts in place a new statutory framework for regional planning and a reformed, more flexible local planning system which puts community involvement at the heart of the process.

The Act sets a statutory objective for plans—to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. It makes a number of reforms to development control to speed and improve the quality of decision making. Local development orders can be used to permit development that is acceptable at local level. There are new requirements for design and access statements to improve the design quality of new development; new processes for handling major infrastructure projects more effectively; requirements for statutory consultees to respond within a certain period; a shorter period of three years as the default for implementation of planning permission and consent; and simplified planning zones.

We have removed crown immunity from planning controls and we will be consulting on the secondary legislation required to make the new arrangements work and we have made a number of reforms to the compulsory purchase order system.

To support the Act we will be introducing new regulations and guidance in the summer and later in the year. This will include guidance on the new processes for regional and local planning and sustainability appraisal.

We are working with our newly formed Ministerial stakeholder advisory group and others to take forward reforms to the planning obligations systems. I am announcing separately today our timetable for taking forward the reforms.

Compulsory purchase reforms

We are pushing ahead with proposals for reform of the compulsory purchase system. Besides the reforms in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, we have uprated the thresholds setting the levels of home loss compensation payable to owner-occupiers and tenants whose property is compulsorily acquired, and are committed to reviewing these thresholds annually. We are also currently reviewing the results of consultation on proposals to revise and update the Crichel Down rules governing the disposal of surplus land acquired under compulsory purchase powers and expect to issue a circular containing the revised rules in the summer. We have recently started consulting on proposals to revise the compulsory purchase order circular on how acquiring authorities can exercise their powers is in line with the new provisions in the 2004 Act, and on the secondary legislation to implement the compulsory purchase order provisions in the Act. The Law Commission published their final report on compensation in December 2003 and will be publishing their final report on procedures later in 2004.

Planning policies

I am today responding to the recommendation of the ODPM Select Committee about our programme of revising planning policy guidance. We will be focusing our efforts on the most important planning policies.

Resourcing and supporting local planning authorities

Our reform agenda covers more than legislation and policy change, however. We are making substantial additional resources available to local planning authorities to enable them to respond to the changes and to drive performance improvement. We have paid out the second tranche of the £350 million planning delivery grant which rewards performance by local planning authorities; £130 million was allocated for 2004–05 against criteria covering both plan making and development control.

We have set performance standards for authorities with poor records of handling planning applications, of which there are 81 in 2004–05. We have introduced two new best value indicators that will allow comparison of the quality of planning services, replacing two existing indicators. The comprehensive performance assessment of district authorities is assessing strategies for balanced housing markets and public space. The assessments of unitary and county authorities are being brought up to date. Both sets of assessments provide a context in which to address performance improvement.

We are providing practical help and advice to support improvement. We have announced that the planning advisory service, to be hosted by the Improvement Development Agency, will be open for business in the autumn. We are continuing to develop the planning portal and other e-planning initiatives. We are providing financial assistance to planning aid.

Changing the culture of planning

We are engaged in a programme for changing the culture of planning. We have put sustainable development at the heart of planning through the statutory objective in the Act and in PPS1. PPS1 emphasises that planning is a positive, proactive process. It sets out principles for community involvement in planning.

As part of the skills agenda set out by the Egan report, we recently launched a new bursaries scheme to fund 144 awards for students who wish to undertake RTPI accredited one year post graduate planning courses and we will be working with stakeholders over the coming months on communicating the importance of planning, including new guides to the planning system for the general public and for business.

We set out a road map at the end of 2001 for a reformed planning system. We have come a long way since then, as this statement shows. The Government remains committed to an efficient, effective transparent and accountable system which delivers sustainable development. We will continue to drive forward the reforms and culture change to make this happen.