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EDITIONS
Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Six Forum: Town Planning
Ron Tate from the Royal Town Planning Institute answered your questions in a LIVE Forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.

  Click here to watch the forum.  

  • Click here to read the transcript



    Objecting to new building projects will become more difficult under new government proposals, campaigners warn.

    Under current planning law, residents can raise objections to any new buildings and the county council must consider those objections.

    But this can lead to long delays, so the government wants MPs to make decisions on big projects such as roads, airports and nuclear power stations.

    Residents will only be able to raise objections after a project has been approved.

    Activists say that this means local people will be forced to accept decisions made in London, and could lead to building on greenbelt land.

    Should the greenbelt land be used for new houses? What do you think of the government's plans?


    Transcript


    Manisha Tank:

    Have you ever raised objections to mass building works going on in your local area of the country? Well, in the future it seems that government plans may mean that you might not be able to make any of those objections until the plans have actually been approved. Does this mean that we'll see more building work taking place on Green Belt areas? What will the environmentalists say?

    Here to address your questions and comments on this particular area is Ron Tate who Chair of the Policy Committee at the Royal Town Planning Institute. Mr Tate, thanks for being with us. We've had a good response for this subject because obviously many people have their local area close to their hearts.

    We're going to start with an e-mail we received from Graham Burton in Kent. He writes, the Government complains that people aren't voting and we should get more involved in politics, especially at a local level. But at the same time, it seems to be seeking to remove people's voices from the planning process. Whose side are they on - ours or big business?


    Ron Tate:

    I think they're on everyone's side. We have a process now where when planning applications come in, most planning committees will offer the opportunity to the public to have their say before they make a decision on the application. We also have lots of plans being made and similarly those plans are put before the public and they have a chance to influence the plans before they are approved.


    Manisha Tank:

    But when it comes to actually opposing planning processes or big building works going on in local areas, some complain it takes an awfully long time - not just the public but also the businesses complain about the same thing. Sid in the UK asks: Why leave local residents out of the planning process - they paid money to live there?

    I think some of this is related to the idea that, in capital in particular, we may see big projects go ahead without anyone really being consulted in the interests of the wider economy.


    Ron Tate:

    I don't think that's a fair comment. I think the planning process does give ample opportunity for people to make their views known.

    When plans are being made, the local planning authority has a duty to consult the public: initially before they make the plan, once they've got a draft and once they've got a second draft. Some would argue that's too many bites at the same cherry. I think when business complains, it's often the big projects that perhaps go to public inquiries and these inquiries seem to take for ever. They're conducted in probably a far too legalistic way and it's dragged out. The main people who seem to benefit are the lawyers who are lined up on both sides and sometimes the public feel intimidated by having to speak in that sort of forum. What we're trying to do is to get to a situation where it is much easier for the public to make comment.


    Manisha Tank:

    We have got a text message just come in from S. Lee in South London: I think it's outrageous that Westminster can rule on local matters like this - planning. Shouldn't these decisions be up to local councils? Exactly how does it work?


    Ron Tate:

    We have a problem with things like airport expansion and power stations, where if you make a proposal in a local area, at the moment, the local planning authority is charged with having to deal with that. Some times the sort of issues that people will object about are - what is the national policy against which to judge this particular major proposal? And at the moment we haven't got a mechanism for deciding what national policy is.

    What the Government are attempting to do is to take a step in that direction and I think that will help the planning process. So each and every inquiry won't be faced with having to challenge government policy. If we're building a by-pass, we'll know whether national government supports the building of by-passes on particular routes. Then the local inquiry will be all about the local issues - about how that relates to the environment within which it's proposed and whether it's acceptable or not.


    Manisha Tank:

    Anon in Derby asks: An underpass is about to be built near my home. This will possibly mean the purchase of my home and 14 other houses on my street - all valued at around 270,000 minimum. I feel I have no influence on these plans - can you please advise?


    Ron Tate:

    There's always a difficulty when people's property is taken in the wider public interest. I'm not a valuer, but the land compensation code - when people have their properties acquired compulsorily - has been improved in recent years. So the compensation now is more than market value - quite what and quite how the disturbance payments system works - I suggest the anonymous caller actually takes some advice on this issue to make sure that they're being properly looked after.


    Manisha Tank:

    Abbey Thomas, Suffolk asks: There are plenty of empty houses already in Britain. Why aren't those used to solve the housing problem? It feels like Britain is being tarmacked over with no green areas left.

    There are a great number of people who are holding onto the idea of keeping the Green Belt. You are talking to us from Southampton - it's certainly a big issue around there?


    Ron Tate:

    Well certainly there has been a lot of work done to identify how we can turn round vacant property much more readily than we've perhaps been able to in the past and indeed how we can develop our brown field land - land that's been used already - before we have to build on any green field land. But all the calculations show that we can't meet all of our housing needs in those ways and something like 40% of what we currently envisage we will need in the way of housing land is going to have to be provided on green field land - land that hasn't been developed before.

    But let's not run away with the idea that this means the entire countryside is going to be swallowed up under concrete. I think one or two campaigning organisations have been spinning the real situation for far too long - talking about concreting over the countryside - I see Max Hastings recently appointed as Chair of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, was making statements when he took over his chairmanship.

    If we actually took all of the existing urban area that we have in the British Isles, we demolished it, and rebuilt it on the countryside, we'd still have something like 60% left and lots of brown field land. So the amount of additional land for housing of 40% - that won't make lots and lots of countryside go under development - and why should development be a bad word? This development is actually needed - it's meant to house people properly.


    Manisha Tank:

    I think there are many members of the public who perhaps remain unconvinced on this point about developers. An e-mail from John in the London asks: I am supporting some building on the Green Belt sites if it drives down the cost of housing. Is this likely to happen?

    We've another e-mail from Paul Chambers, in London saying: We have a finite supply of land and once it's built on there is no going back. Shouldn't our planning laws always err on the safe side and certainly not play into the hands of those who stand to gain the most - the developers?


    Ron Tate:

    It's the same campaign that says development is a bad word that tars every developer with the same brush. They're taking the risk, they're providing the means, they're trying to read the market conditions - it is a perfectly legitimate activity. The houses we live in today, wouldn't be there if some developer in the past hadn't provided them.

    We do, in planning, err on the side of caution. We do check these proposals. We do check that they're using the land in a resourceful way. There's been government guidance to actually make better use of any of the land that goes forward for development by increasing the densities that we build at so that we don't waste the land.

    In London, there is a Green Belt around London but there isn't a Green Belt around every town and city in the country. They're only required in special places. Most towns and cities have green fields at the edge of them. So the idea that we're running away with all of the Green Belt land by developing is also a false assumption. Our institute has recently done some work on Green Belt policy. We've got something close to the size of Wales allocated to the Green Belt and if we built all of the housing that is required to be built on green fields, on actually Green Belt land, we'd develop only about 5% of it and that is at a density below that which the Government says we should be building at. So let's get the thing in perspective.


    Manisha Tank:

    Gordon B of Chippenham in Wiltshire has written to us. He asks: If the restrictions on building on Green Belt are lifted across the country, what is to stop companies from all migrating to one place i.e. the South East?


    Ron Tate:

    I think we've got to realise that industry is not footloose, it has its roots where it's located at the moment - for good market reasons - the labour force is there, the markets are there, the skills are there - we shouldn't run away with the idea that suddenly everybody is going to flock to the South East - they simply won't. There will come a point when the perception is that those areas are a disadvantage - perhaps from congestion or other things from this flood to the south - it isn't going to happen.

    We're not talking about releasing all of the Green Belt land - we're advocating that Green Belt policy should stay. All we're saying is that there needs to a fresh look at the guidance that goes with it and we shouldn't be quite as inflexible as we have been in the past.

    We've got areas of countryside that are treated worse off than the countryside itself. We're busy regenerating our rural economy, we need to do the same within Green Belt areas and we can't with the current guidance.

  • See also:

    20 Nov 01 | UK Politics
    17 Jan 02 | England
    30 Apr 01 | UK Politics
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