Is there unfinished business over the #NPPF and the Green Belt?
Yes there is.
Of course It is unwise to open up all the debates again from last year and Osborne’s motivation is entirely ideological and anti-planning as it has been for years in back Policy Exchange reports calling for scrapping of the Green Belt. The best short term plan of action is to see if the NPPF works in practice and seek to unjam the mortgage market,
But I am not so naive as to believe that the NPPF is the perfect and forever settlement of our key planning policy issues. It is riven with contradictions and unresolved tensions.
Green Belt was designed to be ‘permanent’ but that meant over a horizon of 20 years, and as the prime minister conceded in his surprise planning speech last year it depended on regional planning to disperse the constrained development elsewhere, such as to New Town and Garden Cities, and later Inner City redevelopments.
That time is now up. Many areas such as Stevenage, Woking etc. cannot grow without either selective relaxation of the Green Belt. This was the key problem that underpinned the regional spatial strategies. It of course was controversial and the current government ducked the problem through proposed abolition. They now realise I think that this problem returns to haunt them as there is no solution for many towns embedded in Green Belt without either strategic review or strategic diversion.
The duty to cooperate clauses are now forcing many authorities to look at Green Belt reviews. Places such as Reigate, York and Bath simply wont get their local plans through without it and in some cases that may mean forced reviews across local authority boundaries – strategic planning. Within a couple of years there will be .several dozen major towns forced to undertake such reviews.
For towns outside the Green Belt the NPPF is clear, if you cant demonstrate 5 years supply then you get permission – even if it is not the best site – if their is no draft plan in place. For Green Belt towns however Green Belt overides the presumption – so you have to wait a couple of years for this to work through the system.
Would designating these under the ‘national infrastructure’ provisions help? If it is already in a development plan is their such a problem, apart from a small minority of cases where LPAs are trying to disown their own development plans. If not the key problem is that these would have to wait until there was a national policy statement for large scale housing – err would that not be a nation plan? Hardly localism. Of course the SoS could rely on RSS but in the South East this issue was delayed due to legal challenge because of the strange idea that Green Belt needed only ‘selective’ rather than ‘strategic’ review around towns such as Oxford and Woking. Similarly there was challenge in Herts because the panel did not consider the alternatives. It would seem then short of rank centralisation of ignoring the EU SEA directive there is no way around having to go through the painful but necessary surrogate regional planning process we are now going through.
Of course the broader question is whether contemporary decision taking processes are fit for purpose for large scale new housing schemes such as Garden Cities. I don’t think they are are a three stage process, local, inspector, SoS is to my mind crazy – but that is a separate issue from the establishment of the principal of where the housing should go.