For the last year the property and development sector has been holding its collective breath. Regional planning, so reliable in the delivery of new homes and employment land, was one of the first planning targets to be abolished by the Coalition government. Since then local government has been pretty much in limbo, unable to effectively forecast for long term planning because of the inertia at national level.
With good reason too. In opposition the Conservatives were desperate for the votes of NIMBY middle England. Suburban marginal constituencies were flooded with leaflets from aspiring Tory MPs claiming they would put power back in the hands of local communities to oppose development on green fields, regardless of whether a good technical case was made by the developers. The change from opposition politics to being a responsible government has been marked. However, until last week the government had no coherent platform to implement their Localism agenda.
Well all that has now changed. This week the government released the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to an eager audience. Despite its title, the intention of the government, led by the Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark MP, is to shift for deciding where development takes place away from unelected regional bodies and back to local authorities. 1,300 or so pages of previous policy guidance have been shredded and in its place we have 57 pages of highly subjective and, on occasion, ambiguous instructions.
One of the key themes that appears to run through this document is the ‘golden thread’ obligating local planning authorities to presume in favour of sustainable developments. Handily the Framework also gives us an idea about just what the government now considers to be ‘sustainable’. There are three key indicators, the three ‘p’s you could call them:
- 1. Prosperity (economic sustainability)
- 2. People (social sustainability) and
- 3. Places (environmental sustainability)
This is quite a handy piece of spin, and expect government ministers to refer to these key principles ad nauseum in interviews and at the despatch box, but they do provide the industry with a very useful new definition.
It will become increasingly necessary to evaluate future applications on whether they pass these critical three sustainability tests. They will, essentially, become the new key indicators for any planning application. The big question is this: can developers use this Framework practically to secure planning consent for their applications?
It appears as if the answer is quite a resounding ‘yes’. The Framework has been almost universally endorsed and supported by developers, planners and local authorities. It is perhaps telling that only environmental groups are up in arms opposing the principles of the Framework. The development of new housing will be provided with a special kickstart, with local authorities instructed to provide an added 20 per cent to their recommended housing supply. This appears to be the raison d’être behind environment group opposition.
It appears as though the reality of needing to actively encourage private sector development has sunk into the Coalition. The question now is whether engaging local communities in neighbourhood planning and providing local residents, businesses and councils with incentives to develop can really turn those NIMBYs into YIMBYs!