Why we need a coalition on the #NPPF – with a positive, sustainable alternative

As John Vidal pithily stated in the Guardian today those campaigning on the NPPF ‘are working individually and not as a coalition’.

It was just such a coalition ‘Save our Forests’ that was so instrumental in producing a government U-Turn.

There have been and are such discussions, but they have yet to fully gel.

Unless there is a joint campaign, setting out a clear positive alternative it will be very easy for the government to caricature opponents as a BANANA* Berbour Brigade.

The problem is that the misconceived planning reforms has resulted in a double crisis, a crisis of a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, and a drift towards an appeal-led lassez-faire solution – planning by appeal, which whilst paying lip-service to sustainability will simply mean the opposite.

It is not that most opponents are against development, no they are against sprawl. They want to see properly designed and planned solutions, led by the community and not forced by appeal.

Ministers say claims of sprawl are ‘alarmist’ they are wrong. With 95% of local authorities not having up-to-date plans in place there is already a scramble to put forward appeals, on schemes which are often poorly designed, lacking in sustainability credentials, and causing congestion. All problems which the NPPF will make it harder to resist by watering down policies.

Ministers & the HBF, seem to think that if we had lots of little schemes of 2 or three houses all nicely designed in each village there wouldn’t be a problem. Well given the 250,000 dwellings a year we need, thats 25 dwellings for each of Englands 10,000 dwellings a year for the next 15 years, or 375 dwellings for each village in each local plans, doubling the size of most villages. Such scattered solutions will be destructive and a poor use of resources creating a car dependent society. To meet our requirements we need bold planned solutions not a scattergun approach.

We need a Camapaign Against Sprawl proposing such an alternative to the anti-planning NPPF. It would give the lie to those arguments by showing that opponents of the NPPF are not opponents of housing and growth but opponents of sprawl and unsustainable development. Its core principle would be that only good planning, not the downgrading of planning, can achieve this.

It is not proposed that the Campaign Against Sprawl is a separate organisation but is instead:

a) An umbrella grouping of different bodies, with seed core funding and temporary staff secondments.The model would be Wildlife and Countryside Link.

b) A ‘task and finish’ campaign initially. If the campaign is successful the decision could be made at a future date to continue as a ‘do tank’ – see below.

c) Rather that individual members it would have supporters signing on through new media. The group would aim to spread through new media to the extent that traditional media would sit up and take notice – as with the recent Save Our Forests Campaign. There would also be local supporters groups at a town and village level. These would form the Campaign Against Sprawl Network. Existing groups could sign on to the network by supporting the national groups aims.

d) It would initially be registered as a company limited by guarantee with seed core funding provided by one or more of the founder groups.

e) The approach would take inspiration from American groups promoting ‘Smart Growth’ -such as the Smart Growth Network and the Congress for New Urbanism, the aim would be to promote a Smart Growth agenda rather than just a growth agenda.

f) It would publish research but would be more than a ‘think tank’ it would be a ‘do tank’ acting as a counterweight to the Policy Exchange’s anti-planning agenda

Core Principles to Gather Groups Around

A lot of groups might disagree with the thrust of the NPPF, but they might disagree on the alternative policy measures to be promoted.

Not all potential associated groups will agree on everything, but if they can agree on a common core of principles they will gain strength through presenting a common face and a clear alternative. Individual member groups will still be free to campaign on a stronger line on a specific point that other groups could not.

These core principles should be such that it would be difficult for sensible environmental groups, responsible developers and politicians with any sense to disagree with. They should not be motherhood and apple pie vague principles but principles of how things should be planned. The positive alternative to sprawl.

Politicians might easily retort – well of course im against sprawl – against which the response would be – if you are then it means this kind of planning system and this kind of national planning policy – why not put this into practice.

The following sets out a potential draft manifesto, designed to gather maximum support. Comments and suggested amendments are invited.

 

A Suggested Manifesto – 10 Principles

Smart Growth Not Sprawl

The most popular places are where you can shop, work and send children to school close to where you live. This requires compact well planned , mixed use communities not ever increasing low-density sprawl.

It makes good economic and environmental sense to use existing infrastructure and plan in ways that save land and transport costs and costs of new infrastructure.

Sustainable Development is Ecological Development not Growth at Any Cost

Sustainable development has to be defined to take full account of ecological factors and limits. A circular economy will make us more competitive by reducing energy costs and treating waste as a resource. Growth defined any other way will just be short term property development not Sustainable Development.

Growth Choices should be Planned and not Imposed at Appeal 

We believe that the tough choices about where development should go should be plan-led and democratically determined and not providing for our housing and business needs is not and should not be an option. Appeals are expensive, time consuming and create conflict. They should be a last resource.

Yet the NPPF is creating a return to an appeal-led system rather than a plan-led one – all because a lot of authorities do not have up to date plans. We believe there should be a period during which local authorities can put their plans in place before the ‘presumption’ in favour of development comes into force.

We also believe that national government cannot just stand back and let local authorities argue about where growth should go if this creates risk of planning by appeal. There should instead be statutory joint working arrangements where a group of local authorities can decide by a vote, following widespread consultation and environmental assessment, where the major growth goes.

Value and Improve all Landscapes and Neighbourhoods

It is important to give the highest protection for nationally important areas such as Green Belts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But most of us don’t live in these areas, we value what is import to us locally and decry the gradual erosion of local places and local facilities.

We know our natural ecosystems can only be revived if we plan at a landscape scale not just isolated protected islands.

If there has to be development in the countryside it should where possible avoid the most beautiful areas, whether nationally protected or not. Where there is development it should make places better than they were before.

National policy needs to protect the whole of the countryside and undeveloped coast. Transfer of land from rural to urban should be set through democratically determined plans. Development in the countryside should be according to strict rules which allow for small rural businesses, and prioritise affordable housing and first-time buyer housing for local people not second homes.

Prioritise our Towns and Cities

 Greenfield sites should not be the first choice. National policy should prioritise brownfield sites and sites within existing towns and cities, whilst avoiding town cramming. Local communities would still have the choice of not developing some brownfield sites if that is the best local option.

Jobs Not Just Houses

Its not smart growth to force people to drive long distances to work, yet the governments proposals will see many many employment premises go over to housing, forcing places ofr work to many out of the way locations, if they can afford premises at all. Small businesses will not be able to afford premises and local authorities will avoid zoning land for economic growth.

The Land is Everyone’s Inheritance

When areas are zoned for development it is not right that people make large profits just because they inherited land. Nor is it right that young families cannot afford to pay inflated land prices and be burdened with debt while those who own land outright can live off the hard work of others. We need to find new ways of ensuring that the uplift in land values, created by the community through plans, is shared by the community, and used to pay for infrastructure, schools, and affordable housing.

The biggest shortfall in housing since the 1980s has been the fall in council house building. A new wave of social housing doesn’t have to be council housing, there are lots of models, but without a massive revival in affordable house building, funded by innovative means, we will only meet part of our nation’s needs.

We need Walkable Neighbourhoods and Transport Choices

We need developments where we can walk and cycle and not always have to use the car. We need to promote sustainable transport and not allow development even though it creates unacceptable levels of congestion, as the NPPF would allow.

We also recognise that much of the development we need will generate traffic so to avoid our rods clogging up we need to reduce existing traffic on the roads through pro-public transport investments and policies.

Good Design Matters

The NPPF would significantly downgrade the importance of good design by allowing allowing refusal of ‘obviously poor designs’ this is the same test and low bar of planning in the 1980s, when shoddy, monotonous and poor designs were forced through.

Its not Saying Yes to Everything

Sometimes to get a better scheme you have to say no. The NPPF would undermine the negotiating strength of local communities and allow developers to promote poor schemes without amendment.

We believe that the presumption of favour of sustainable development should only apply to development that incorporate reasonable and justified improvements and amendments. We also consider that the presumption is imbalanced and a license to poor developers. It should be balanced by other presumptions, such as a presumption in favour of quality urban and landscape design and a presumption in favour of increased biodiversity

 

Ive set up a placeholder website with nothing so far but these draft principles and the ability to sign up.  http://campaignagainstsprawl.wordpress.com/

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on August 30, 2011, in National Planning Policy Framework, urban planning. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I;ve read various comments about the ‘anything goes’ aspect of the NPPF in the absence of up to date plans. Examples – 50% of authorities have no plan in place, or as here 95% of authorities don’t have up to date plans. Can you point me to what clarity there is about this? What is mean’t by an up to date plan? Which authorities have them and which don’t? Does this mean getting a new plan in place or do plans under the existing or previous framework or saved policies under them count.

    I’m not a planner and am unsure about how some of this works.

    • An up to date plan means one that complies with national planning policy, including its requirements for a 5 year housing land supply.

      Around 30% of way local authorities have adopted plans (2004 act style plans), this should rise by a % or two in the coming months as plans get adopted.

      Of those with adopted plans they will have to get a ‘certificate of conformity’ to show compliance with the NPPF. Arrangements for this have not been revealed, we should know more later in the week. Because the NPPF adds 20% to the 5 year requirement very few plans are likely to pass the conformity test. Some part of plans may pass and other not but the 5 year supply test is the critical one.

      Here is a list and map of adopted plans from earlier this year.

      http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/1975894.pdf

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