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Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon White Paper

Date: 19/4/2011

This response is made on behalf of the Planning Officers Society (POS).

The Society represents the most senior professionals and managers of planning functions in the English Local Authorities. We are rightly styled as the credible voice of public sector planning.

We set out to:

  • enable public sector planners to work together with Government and partners
  • be a strong and united voice for public sector planners supporting and shaping planning policy and practice in local communities
  • be a preferred point of contact for public sector planners where they can access learning, support and networking opportunities
  • find common ground with other disciplines, organisations and the media to improve the planning process, policy and implementation
  • broaden our membership and create a strong cohort of young planners, representative of the ethnic and gender diversity of the UK.

The Society's aim is to make planning more effective in delivering sustainable development to support the well-being of our communities.

The Society welcomes the Government's transport White Paper "Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon".  It strongly supports the balance of the Government's vision for a transport system that helps deliver economic growth, and is greener, safer and improves quality of life.   In particular, the Society welcomes the Government's commitment to:

  • reduce the carbon emitted by transport;
  • shift travel behaviour to walking, cycling and public transport;
  • support the development of electric and other ultra-low emission vehicles
  • reduce the carbon impact of longer journeys
  • empower local authorities and communities to encourage sustainable travel.

The Society supports the principle of the development of high speed rail.  The lack of such a network across the country is a significant shortfall in providing a much more sustainable alternative to short haul flying and will free up the existing rail network for other train paths, including freight services.   In this respect, ensuring that there is sufficient capacity for freight and passenger movement is key.  Given the sensitivity of the issue, any proposed high speed rail routes should be subject to rigorous planning appraisal.

The Society also welcomes the many ideas and examples of good practice set out in the White Paper. 

The Society has two main concerns:

  • the need to clarify the respective roles of Local Enterprise Partnerships and local transport authorities in transport planning;
  • the need better to ensure that the new planning system will be able to deliver sustainable patterns of development that support the Government's vision for the transport system.

The roles of Local Enterprise Partnerships and local transport authorities

The Society recognises that transport can play a key role in supporting and/or promoting economic prosperity.  In this context, Local Enterprise Partnerships should be involved in the development of the transport system of their areas, and the White Paper recognises this (paras. 3.4 to 3.9, and 7.24 to 7.29).  However the Society is concerned that there remains confusion about the respective roles of Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities.  The White Paper states that "We expect the Local Enterprise Partnerships to form a view on the strategic transport priorities which best support sustainable economic growth in their areas and to play a key role in implementing significant devolution of transport decision making to local areas."  (para. 3.7).  Yet later (para. 4.11) the White Paper states "It has always been important for local authorities to plan and implement their ideas for transport carefully, and this task has added salience given the constrained public sector financial environment.  The Government believes that the statutory Local Transport plans (LTPs)...remain the best way to do that."

While the Society warmly welcomes the Government's commitment to the continuation of LTPs, which are produced through the democratic processes of local authorities, there needs to be more clarity about the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships, which are not democratically accountable, in transport planning.  The Society is concerned that one reading of para. 7.26 could be that it is the Partnerships, and not the local transport authorities, who identify the strategic transport priorities for their areas.  Apart from the democratic issue, transport investment should address all the transport needs of any area, not just those related to the economy, and should take account of the environmental and social impact of such investment.  It is unlikely that Local Enterprise Partnerships will be interested in this wider view of transport and its impact.  On the other hand, local transport authorities have long experience in this area.

The role of the planning system

The Society welcomes the White Paper's recognition of the role of land use planning in guiding development to the most sustainable locations (paras. 3.11 to 3.14).  However the Society is not convinced that the new planning system will be able to provide people with the opportunity to reduce their need to travel.  For this to happen, cross-boundary working is often essential, particularly where large towns and cities lie within more than a single local authority area.  The Society recognises that the White Paper itself seeks to address some of this misgiving in para. 7.28. This emphasises the need to align local and national strategic transport planning with each other and with land use planning.  That recognition is welcome, but the Society is not convinced that encouraging authorities to work together is sufficiently robust.  The Society has made a similar point in relation to the "duty to cooperate" at Clause 90 of the Localism Bill.  It welcomes the further attention that it understands the Government is now giving to this issue.

At the other end of the scale, it is difficult to see how in some circumstances, particularly in rural areas, the community approach to planning will achieve more sustainable forms of travel.  If small pockets of additional housing are to be permitted wherever a community chooses, the reasons for that development may pay no regard to its travel implications.  The result may be a proliferation of relatively long journeys by private car, as the occupants of new housing travel to towns for employment, education and/or other services.  It would be helpful to ensure that, when a community puts forward new development, it is required to demonstrate that the associated transport implications can be addressed in a sustainable manner.  The proposed carbon tool (paras 3.30 to 3.32) could perhaps be made available to communities, as well as local authorities, to help them in this respect.

Don Gobbett; POS Transport Topic Forum Convenor. April 2011





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