Can anyone think of a more debated 53 pages in the history of planning policy and local government? For the last two months since its publishing the National Planning Policy Framework has been the subject of an almighty tug of war between those pro and anti development. Ministers, stung by criticisms levelled at them from, amongst others, the National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, have been engaged in an unprecedented defence of their new policy.
The prime minister’s recent letter to the National Trust defending the NPPF and promising to protect rural Britain from overwhelming development is surely also without precedent, as is the ferocious nature of The Daily Telegraph’s campaign against a Conservative government policy.
Everyone knows that a private sector recovery is dependent on the government taking a pro-development stance. Labour has reflected on this too, as they have for the need to deliver affordable homes. Their recent conference announcements to prioritise the development of 25,000 affordable homes and reverse only some of the themes of the NPPF demonstrate a cross party determination to build more homes and promote development. Labour does run the risk that centrally funding these new affordable homes through taxing bankers’ bonuses rather than incentivising developers could be seen as being a return to a more centralised system of planning.
The main theme of the NPPF is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Those opposing this claim that it unfairly promotes greenfield development by removing the default preference for brown-field options. What is clear is that there has to be some synergy between this policy and the broader localism themes being promoted by the government.
It is fair to say that the predominantly cautious Localism and Decentralisation Bill appears at odds with the planning guidance governing it. Redwood Consulting has recently worked with Clive Betts MP, the chairman of the All Party Select Committee for the Department of Communities and Local Government. He has expressed the concern that a localism agenda, which seeks to allow communities to more easily say ‘no’ to development, is totally out of sync with the NPPF, which makes development more easier for developers.
The three criteria for what is classed as a ‘sustainable’ development are quite ambiguous, as only the economic argument really needs to be made. How can developers ensure that key decision makers are provided with this evidence base and are comfortable endorsing such applications?
At Redwood we work hard with developers and communities to prepare quality developments that local people want. We always work to the demands of current policy and with the planning environment being more and more focussed on ensuring local buy in (localism) and development sustainability (NPPF) it is increasingly important to walk the tightrope.