The NPPF and the Threat to the Landscape

The UK is a signatory to a number of conventions through the Council of Europe.  These are not like so many EU conventions rule bound and regulatory, rather they are statements on our common ideals as European Nations, including the values as civilised nations to protect what we consider important.  By being s signatory to these short, broad brush and flexible treaties the UK government has committed to upholding these values.  There are important treaties on for example archaeology and heritage and important changes have come about to UK law to bring us into full compliance.

One of the most important, and most innovative is the Florence Treaty on Landscape (2000)

a new instrument devoted exclusively to the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe…Landscape” means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors…”Landscape planning” means strong forward-looking action to enhance, restore or create landscapes.

The treaty has been highly influential and has guided the approach and philosophy of Natural England in seeing landscape not just as a ‘Natural Beauty’ but as a cultural landscape infused with meaning and shaped by human action.

The key aspects are articles 5 and 6

Article 5

Each Party undertakes:

a to recognise landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity;

b to establish and implement landscape policies aimed at landscape protection, management and planning through the adoption of the specific measures set out in Article 6;

c to establish procedures for the participation of the general public, local and regional authorities, and other parties with an interest in the definition and implementation of the landscape policies mentioned in paragraph b above;

to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and in its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies, as well as in any other policies with possible direct or indirect impact on landscape.

Whilst article 6 requires each party to

i to analyse their characteristics and the forces and pressures transforming them;

ii to identify its own landscapes throughout its territory;

iii to take note of changes;

Each Party undertakes to define landscape quality objectives for the landscapes identified and assessed, after public consultation…[and]…To put landscape policies into effect, each Party undertakes to introduce instruments aimed at protecting, managing and/or planning the landscape….to assess the landscapes thus identified, taking into account the particular values assigned to them by the interested parties and the population concerned

Gradually this was being put into place, especially through the countryside character areas programme and how county level strategies for influencing district level development plans.

The NPPF though is a great leap backwards and would place the UK in clear breach of the treaty.

For example consideration of ‘protecting valued landscapes’ (para 164) only applies to plan making (para. 165) where ‘plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, where practical [etc.].  But you are not permitted to make such a comparative evaluation when assessing applications where there is no up to date development plan in place or there is not a 5 year supply.  There is no equivalent of para 69 of PPS3, rather when there is a shortage of housing, in addition to the presumption in favour of development there is a return to the 1980s ‘double presumption’ in favour of housing – that ‘planning permission should be grated’ no ifs and no buts, not even the qualification from circular 14/85 that this was overidden if this was contrary to ‘interests of acknowledged importance’.  As the qualifier in para 14 on the presumption in favour of sustainable development only applies where ‘adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.’ if a matter appears to be specifically ommitted in the NPPF, and the NPPF is clear – as hear – saying that development should ‘be approved’, then the decision maker would have no alternative but to approve the scheme.

The problem here is the narrow way in which ‘valued landscapes’ (para 164) is defined in para 167. Only the undeveloped coast, green infrastructure networks, the best and most versitile agricutural land and nationally designated landscapes are covered.  The 80% of the English Countryside not so covered would not be protected by this clause.

Developers will argue where the development plan is out of date that even though the LPA may consider the landscape beautiful, indeed the most beautiful around a settlement that it does not meet the definition of ‘valued landscapes’ in the NPPF and so development should be permitted and land allocated in a development plan  – even though it might be the least preferred around a settlement  and the most harmful site.

The consideration of landscape is shunted into the narrow area of only the most nationally important sites, and is granted much less importance than other factors, such as housing growth, which trump it in these cases in all circumstances.

Many would accept that the idea that we must protect the countryside for its own sake over and above all other needs is too strict, but even then they we say we should, wherever possible, steer development to the least sensitive and beuatiful landscapes.  The extreme language of the NPPF prevents even this.

Consider some practical examples:

For example consider hypothetically  if Cambridge, Macclesfield, Stafford, Knaresborough or Stratford-Upon-Avon had a shortfall in their 5 year supply.

Cambridge – the NPPF would allow development around the Gog-magog hills

Macclesfield, Eastwards up the slopes of its dramatic pennine setting

Stafford around its castle, such a landmark on the M6

Stratford – northwards up the slopes of the Welcombe Hills

Knaresborough, west of the town and the dramatic valley of the River Nidd

All would be permitted, none of these meet the definition of ‘valued landscapes’ and none of these areas being ‘extensive’ could be classified as Local Greenspace.  Even if protected in local plans if without a 5 year supply they would be ‘out of date’ and the presumption in favour of development applies, indeed a double presumption.

First Post NPPF Recovered Appeal

Still looking through an interesting appeal out today the former RAF Upwood in Huntingdonshire, subject to a successful JR on a previous refusal.

Still looking through the decision but this stuck out

The Secretary of State has had regard to the Draft National Planning Policy Framework document, issued for consultation on 25 July, but as this document is
still in draft form and subject to change, he has accorded its policies little weight

My emphasis.

As Huntingdonshire has a recently adopted core strategy is unsurprising the appeal was dismissed. The developer paid too much for the land and the SoS agreed, for a scheme that was greatly in excess of development plan requirements.

Record Fine for Demolishing Regency Semi

This house is in Trafalgar Road Twickenham, the oldest conservation area in Richmond I believe, where every house is the same.

In January the Richmond and Twickenham Times was inundated with calls this week after the property was bulldozed without permission.

Richmond Council had granted permission for a two-storey extension and basement to be built on the side of the property in June 2010. Clearly the owner thought it would be easier to construct the basement excavation by demolishing the house first.

This week the owner has been given a record fine.

John Johnson, 50, was ordered to pay £80,000 for the demolition of 6 Trafalgar Road – in Twickenham’s Trafalgar Road Conservation Area – along with £42,500 toward Richmond Council’s court costs, when he appeared at Kingston Crown Court this week.

The fine is the highest imposed for demolishing of a building in a conservation area in UK history.

The court heard how neighbours had been left “angered and frightened” when on January 7, 2011, the entire house, which dates back to 1845, was bulldozed to the ground without any notice.

Gary Grant, prosecuting on behalf of Richmond Council, revealed Johnson’s neighbour Lucy Grothier had been in bed recovering from an operation when she awoke “to what felt like an earthquake”.

Johnson, a financier and rental property investor currently living in rented accommodation Broom Water West, Teddington, bought the house in Trafalgar Road – made up of semi-detached late regency villas – in 2007 for £1.05m.

He was granted permission from the council in June 2010 to build a two-storey side and rear extension and basement to his house, which involved partial demolition to parts of the building.

However, Johnson admitted he had been “grossly negligent” in failing to apply for the correct consent needed to demolish the house.

Mr Grant said: “Mr Johnson did not apply for the necessary Conservation Area Consent to permit the total demolition of the house.

“Nor, surprisingly, did Mr Johnson even ask Richmond Council planning officers what permission or consents he required before totally demolishing the house.”

Despite stressing his intention was always to rebuild the house to its original appearance, it was revealed the financial benefit to Johnson in rebuilding the house from scratch rather than refurbishing and extending as he was granted permission to do so, was predicted to be £109,320.

In mitigation, David Travers said: “Mr Johnson plainly is aware of the distress and anxiety these proceeds have brought not only on himself but on his wife.

“He’s aware he now has a criminal conviction. He has been told about considerable cost to which he can expect and will have to pay and he has now the burden of having lost the good relationship with many , not all, but many of the neighbours.”

The homeowner pleaded guilty to a charge of demolishing a property without conservation area consent.

On sentencing, Judge Paul Dodgeson said: “The harm you caused is both emotional and physical. The distress you’ve caused to your neighbours has been obvious by their presence in court today.”

He admitted in a few years a rebuilt house would be “difficult if not impossible” for a casual observer to determine it was not a 200 year old building but, added “nothing will be able to alter the fact that what is there is a replica”.

What a grossly inadequate fine, less even than the financial uplift. The fine in such cases should be equal to the full value of the building demoilished or the uplift, whichever is greater. He has also saved over 100k in extra basement excavation costs.

RSPB comes out against NPPF as ‘greenwash’, ‘We will be rolling up our sleeves to fight this’ – One of the Practitioners breaks ranks

There are interesting comments from the RSPB fromSimon Marsh – its acting Head of Sustainability and one of the practitioners group, and Martin Harper their Conservation Director.  The RSPB also seem to be shifting their position and coming out against it.

Martin Harper said on his blog that New Planning Policy is a Step Backwards for Nature

just two short months ago, a small group of expert practitioners, tasked by ministers at the department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), with my colleague Simon Marsh amongst them, published their draft of the NPPF.

The critical difference is that today’s publication is the Government’s own draft. Whilst this bears more than a passing resemblance to that produced by the practitioners’ group, there have been a number of significant changes…

Firstly, it formally marks the government’s desired shift in the emphasis on planning decisions, placing one factor – economic growth – higher than others in decision-making. …

It is understandable why some are clamering for economic growth, but we must have the right checks and balances in place to ensure this does not come at the expense of nature. It is already clear that the draft NPPF fails to put in place the measures necessary to ensure that the purpose of planning really is ‘to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development’. It is therefore unfit for its own, self-defined, purpose.

Secondly, it also marks a lost opportunity to use the NPPF to support the Government’s ambitions to restore the natural environment as outlined in the Natural Environment White Paper. The RSPB has long argued that the NPPF should be ‘spatial’ – to help decide how to maximise the value that our natural resources offers us. This would help us guide development to the most appropriate locations, thus avoiding conflict, as well as identifying areas which would be suitable for restoring wildlife to England….

For now, despite the strong, and welcome, references to restoring the natural environment in Greg Clark’s foreword, the draft NPPF is effectively green-wash. During the consultattion phase, the balance of truly sustainable development – which helps us to live within environmental limits – needs to be restored.

Whilst Simon Marsh on his blog states

Our first, and overriding, concern, relates to a profound shift in emphasis for the planning system, centred around the so-called ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. A tricky concept to bring to life, in principle this sounds good, but in practice? Well, let’s just say it has raised many eyebrows!

Ideally the presumption in favour of sustainable development would be just that – a presumption that unless development can prove it is sustainable, against a robust series of tests, it should not go ahead. This version, however, reads more like a presumption in favour of development, with the ‘sustainable’ tacked on to please the greenies.

This profoundly misses the point. Unless our much-needed economic growth is truly sustainable, we will be setting up problems for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

The draft establishes a reasonable (if not fantastic) definition of sustainable development at the outset, but then the presumption clearly places one ‘pillar’ of sustainability – economic growth – higher than the others as an objective for the planning system. This inconsistency is carried through the entire draft, and is a shift away from the current approach of the planning system which seeks to give equal weight to environmental, social and economic needs in decision-making.

What would this mean in practice? Basically, it could make it much harder for a local authority to refuse permission for a proposal that would damage the natural environment, unless someone is able to show that the ‘adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’. And that doesn’t sound straightforward.

Our second concern relates specifically to the measures outlined in the NPPF to support and encourage the restoration and enhancement of the natural environment. Whilst there are some welcome policies on this in the draft text, they do not go far enough to achieve the ambitions set out either in the government’s Natural Environment White Paper, or in Greg Clark’s own foreword.

Martin Harper comments back

As my colleague, Simon Marsh, points out in his blog, unless economic growth is sustainable, we will be storing up problems for our children. The reality is that the NPPF has gone too far by clearly places one ‘pillar’ of sustainability – economic growth – higher than the others as an objective for the planning system. This inconsistency is carried through the entire draft, and is a departure from the current approach of the planning system which seeks to give equal weight to environmental, social and economic needs in decision-making.

This is such a fundamental shift in emphasis, that we will be rolling up our sleeves to fight this.

I really cant see the shift they are talking about. It seems like an embarrassed admission they were fooled into greenwashing the draft to me.

For example there was never any concept of environmental limits and the word for word definition of the sustainability is the same as before. But that is by the by. What is clear now is that the NPPF is solely endorsed by pro-development interests

BPF/BCC letter desperate to protect flawed NPPF

Here is the full joint letter to the Telegraph clearly prompted by a call from the DCLG press office desperate to head off the killer and accurate criticisms of the NPPF from the National Trust.


We are bewildered by some of the reaction to the Government’s plans to simplify and speed up the planning system.

A number of organisations, including the National Trust, have resorted to hyperbole and scare tactics – suggesting that the new national planning framework will lead to the despoliation of the countryside and to Los Angeles-style urban sprawl. No wonder Ministers are reported to be concerned at this response to what seems to us to be a wholly reasonable document.

The reality is very different. The new planning framework simplifies and improves the existing rules, and encourages responsible growth through a new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. It does not diminish the ability to protect Green Belt.

Few realise that built-up land in England represents under 10pc of the total. It will still be less than 10pc under the new framework. What will be different, however, is the ability of our worthy but painfully slow planning system to support the growth that our economy so desperately needs and is currently failing to achieve. Job creation, affordable housing, and the businesses of the future are what’s really at stake here – not the concreting-over of the countryside.

We urge the Government to stand firm on its proposals for planning – and ensure they are followed through on the ground in the months and years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Liz Peace CBE, chief executive of the British Property Federation

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce

Is getting surrogates to ask the government to ‘stand firm’ an indication of a consultation process or minds closed to all alternative arguments.

The BPF and the BCC know the NTs concern is not about the Green Belt, as their second press release yesterday made clear. It is about the complete removal of all protection for the open countryside, for its own sake, for the first time in the 60 year history of modern town planning.

You can still have increased housing, which we desperately need, without removing fully that protection or indeed the mechanisms, such as strategic planning, that ensured that loss of the countryside occurred in the most sustainable and suitable locations. The NPPF removes those safeguards ensuring that, on appeal, if you don’t have a 5 year supply then housing schemes would have to be automatically approved even if it was the least sustainable option around a town or village and even if it was the most attractive piece of countryside. This is indefensible and clearly shows that the BCC and BPF have little more than the most superficial understanding of the NPPF and mean their knee jerk and ideologically riven comments will hold little sway with anyone with a deeper understanding of the planning system.

You might criticise the NT for holding the view, though they haven’t expressed this in this campaign, that no countryside should ever be lost. But do criticise them for that and not the wholly justified and accurate criticisms they have laid out. This shows the need for a much more detailed and sophisticated analysis and criticism of the NPPF, not one which attacks the integrity of anyone who criticises the extreme pro-landowner philosophy of the NPPF, an extreme and ideological position not shared by the vast majority of the british public.

The Parametric Planning Revolution

In the last 10 years the Architecture Profession has undergone the largest revolution in its methods since the advent of CAD. 

It has a name – also applying the styles and forms that have resulted ‘Parametricism’.

Now that revolution is coming to urban planning.

‘Parametric’ means the ability to alter parameters and create a design from those parameters making making a design intelligent – a design becomes a computer model that understands how the parts are related.

In architecture the best known approach is through the program ‘Revit’, for example rather than constricting an endless series of lines in CAD, which are costly and timeconsuming to amend you model the number of floors and the size of windows and the building model will adjust itself.  This is known as ‘building information modelling’ or BIM for short.  Now most CAD programs offer some BIM functionality.

This approach also made it much easier to estimate materials costsing and energy performance of buildings.  It also enabled much more extreme modelling of structural forms.  As the building model knew how much a steel beam weighed, for example, it has allowed studios such as Zia Hadid’s to push the boat out in terms of what is structurally possible.  

 Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid Architects argues that the unified style of architecture for the 21st century will be parametricism.

Post-modernism and deconstructivism were mere transitional episodes, similar to art nouveau and expressionism as transitions from historicism to modernism….Parametricism implies that all architectural elements and complexes are parametrically malleable. This implies a fundamental ontological shift within the basic, constituent elements of architecture. Instead of classical and modern reliance on rigid geometrical figures – rectangles, cubes, cylinders, pyramids and spheres – the new primitives of parametricism are animate geometrical entities – splines, nurbs and subdivs. These are fundamental geometrical building blocks for dynamical systems l…that react to ‘attractors’ and can be made to resonate with each other via scripts.

A few years ago people started experimenting with BIM programmes on wider urban areas.  City modelling, and various standards for it – such as CityGML – have been developed.  More recently dedicated programs have been developed.

As Stephanie Norton has written.

Parametric urban design is a new design discipline that utilizes elements of both urban planning and architectural design. It promises to radically update urban design, real estate development and master planning, in the same way that Building Information Modeling (BIM) and software like Revit and ArchiCad have transformed the architecture industry.

Adopters of the parametric planning process are able to make design decisions based on objective data built into an urban 3D model. A key component of this new technology is the automatic measurement of sustainability and livability factors, and the ability to address such issues as:

  • Activity throughout the 24 hour cycle
  • Land/building use mix
  • Density
  • Traffic analysis
  • Number of dwellings within 5 minutes walk of any site amenity (example:  a bus stop)
  • Average distance from every dwelling to green space
  • On-site Energy use and/or production
  • Green space per person
  • Total parking spaces

Parametric city models are extremely powerful – if you make a change to the spatial design, all information is updated immediately, allowing the implications of design changes to be understood immediately as well. For example, you could change the mix of ‘affordable’ and ‘market’ housing, adjust the street layout, or add storey’s to a building, and then instantly see the impact on the viability of the plan.

There are a number of potential solutions.  I can personally vouch for Modelur, a sketch up programme, and british based CITYCAD, designed for very large scale design (though I found it could handle large enough areas in the Middle East where planning is by the sq km).  Both of these are really first gen though and you really wish they could do far more – such as more easily link to CAD and GIS programs.  ESRIs recent purchase of paramateric specialist Procedural City Engline is a hopeful step formward, as is Autodesk’s exciting Project Galileo.

In contrast to traditional CAD tools, where the building is described by its width, length and height, with parametric approach, the building, and indeed the whol zoning district can also be designed by a combination of desired final parameters, e.g. built area, gross floor area or number of storeys.  It is very satifying in CityCad to design some cross sectional streets and plot out how they play out across a layout.  

The future use of these techniques will enable much more interactive design, especially during presentations to clients and during public consultation.  Sadly with british planing so far removed from urban design decisions it will likley to be the faster growing and urbanising economies that will make use of it.  

Select Committee – Call for Evidence on National Planning Policy Framework

 Press Release

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has been invited by the Minister for Planning and Decentralisation to examine the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published on Monday 25 July.

The committee is pleased to accept this invitation and intends to hold oral evidence sessions on the Framework in October and November. The purpose of the committee’s inquiry will be to ensure that the document forms an adequate, clear and comprehensive framework of national planning policy.

The committee does not expect to examine in detail the policies on individual areas of planning policy set out in the document, although it may return to specific areas of planning policy in later inquiries.

The committee would therefore welcome comments from interested parties on the following questions:

  • Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

  • Is the definition of ‘sustainable development’ contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?
  • Are the ‘core planning principles’ clearly and appropriately expressed?
  • Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear?  Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?
  • Does the NPPF, together with the ‘duty to cooperate’, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?
  • Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?
  • Witnesses may also like to offer a brief general assessment of the fitness for purpose of the draft Framework as a whole.

    Please do not send the committee copies of responses to the Government’s consultation. The committee will have access to all non-confidential responses to that consultation, should it wish to see them. Responses to the committee should specifically address some or all of the questions set out above.

    Memoranda addressing any or all of these issues, in accordance with the guidelines set out below, are invited by Friday 9 September 2011.

    Interested parties may wish to note that the Environmental Audit Committee will be carrying out its own brief inquiry into the presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in the draft Framework, following its report on that subject earlier this year. Submissions to either inquiry should be sent to the CLG Committee rather than to the Environmental Audit Committee. The CLG Committee will make these submissions available to the Environmental Audit Committee, and the results of the EAC’s inquiry will feed into the CLG Committee’s eventual report.

    Each submission should:

    • be no more than 4,000 words in length
    • begin with a short summary in bullet point form
    • be in Word format (no later than 2007) with as little use of colour or logos as possible
    • be accompanied by a covering letter containing the name and contact details of the individual or organisation submitting evidence

    A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail and marked “regeneration”.

    It is helpful, for Data Protection purposes, for contact details not to be included in the text of submissions, but sent separately in a covering letter.  You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.


    Clive Betts MP Slams Government for Ignoring Select Committee Advice on RSS Abolition

    Labour MP Clive Betts Chair of the DCLG committee says government has ’ignored evidence’ on regional plans

    In a letter to secretary of state Eric Pickles, he says that the government’s reponse to its report on the abolition of spatial strategies failed to take account of the evidence received by the committee.

    The abolition of regional spatial strategies has seen housing targets for councils scrapped, and has been the subject of lengthy legal action from housebuilder Cala Homes, which found the department had initially acted unlawfully.

    The select committee’s report found that the abolition of regional planning left a hole in strategic planning, and that the New Homes Bonus, brought in to ensure councils still have an incentive to build homes, faced a number of practical problems.

    Betts said,

    “The committee is disappointed by the Government’s response, which largely fails to take account of the weight of evidence which it received in two particular areas. The first is the need for a stronger framework for strategic planning at the larger-than-local level; the second, the problems of practice and of principle associated with the New Homes Bonus scheme.

    We plan to return to the topic of arrangements for strategic planning when the Government publishes its draft National Planning Policy Framework. Meanwhile, we shall also watch with interest the development in practice of the New Homes Bonus scheme. We are pleased to see that the Government has agreed to review progress and report back to Parliament after 3 years. I expect the committee to return to this subject at some point to see to what extent our concerns have been borne out in practice.”


    CABE Chair under fire for ‘prejudice’

    The Traditional Architects Group yesterday spat off a missive to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt about an editorial in the 14th July AJ

    “One of the good things about the 2012 London Olympics is the realisation that we have a set of great buildings produced not by Quinlan

    Terry, Robert Adam, John Simpson, but by Hopkins, Hadid, Make… None of it endorsed by the Prince of Wales…”

    It is the policy of this and recent governments to favour no architectural style in planning decisions, as spelt out in Planning Policy Statement 1. Yet by contrasting some better known traditional architects with those working on the Olympics, Mr Finch has expressed his very clear bias against traditional

    architecture. Members of the TAG experience the effects of similar views to Mr Finch’s on local design reviews, architectural awards and competition. TAG, on the other hand, has always championed pluralism in the built environment and believes that choice and diversity lie at the heart of any democratic system.

    We were, therefore dismayed and alarmed by this overt prejudice expressed from the top of the government’s own design watchdog. Mr Finch is not a private person and his position on the Design Council is well-known. His statement makes it clear not only to readers but to staff and members of the Design Review boards that there is a significant prejudice against one style or architectural philosophy at the highest level