Country Life Editor #NPPF threatens ‘to tear the heart out of our green and pleasant land’

Clive Aslet writing in the Telegraph :

Thame, in Oxfordshire, makes an unlikely battleground. …This is the heart of Toryland – and the people of Thame will have felt especially glad when the Coalition came to power. Not only did it bring their preferred Prime Minister to Downing Street, but it seemed to spell the end of John Prescott’s regional strategies, with their dirigiste targets for housing growth. These had earmarked Thame, with its population of 11,000, for nearly 800 new houses. According to Angela Willson, chairman of one of the residents’ associations, the town simply could not absorb an addition on this scale.

When the present Government threw out the South-East Plan, Thame breathed a sigh of relief. But it is now amazed to find itself preparing for another fight – with ministers who are meant to be champions of localism. Recently, the Coalition announced a radical overhaul of the planning system, which aims to throw out the old rulebook, the size of a telephone directory, and replace it with a pamphlet of 52 pages. George Osborne summed up its intent during the Budget: “The default answer to development will be ‘yes’.” Anyone wanting to halt the bulldozers will, in the words of the planning minister Greg Clark, be guilty of “selfish nihilism”.

The object is to let development rip through those parts of Britain that aren’t formally protected as National Parks or part of the Green Belt. This is most of what us still regard as our green and pleasant land – “all fields, high hedges, and deep-rutted lanes”, as George Eliot put it. Labour pursued, with varying degrees of success, the commendable policy of directing development to brownfield sites: post-industrial wastelands that do nothing to enhance the urban environment. That has been thrown out of the window. Nor is any protection being given to agricultural land, which is now fair game for development, even though climate change and increased demand for food make it ever more likely that we will need it in future.

As a consequence, it isn’t only Thame that’s up in arms. Lydd, among the dunes of Romney Marsh, doesn’t want to swallow more housing when its young people are leaving. The Slad Valley – Cider with Rosie country – is similarly dismayed.

One might think it axiomatic that the Conservatives would be in favour of – well, of conservation. But their behaviour is horribly reminiscent of the 1980s, when Nicholas Ridley, a gent and watercolourist in his spare time but a card-carrying laissez-faire zealot in public life, introduced the term “Nimby” into public discourse.

Reforming the planning system isn’t such a bad idea. But there’s a reason that bodies such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England are furious about the new National Planning Policy Framework. A carefully evolved (if frequently cumbersome) system of checks and balances has been junked in favour of a presumption that big development will get its way.

The National Planning Policy Framework is supposed to be a consultation document – although you couldn’t tell from the odium that ministers have been heaping on those who object to it. But advice from the Planning Inspectorate suggests that, even in its draft state, it “is capable of being a material consideration” in planning cases. In other words, this radical change to the way our environment is managed is already being introduced, without so much as a parliamentary debate, much less a vote.

No wonder, too, that the National Trust is up in arms. For more than a century, it has showed a gentlemanly disdain for campaigning. But the Tories have gone so far out of their way to pull its tail that the beast has reared up. And instead of mollifying it, the local government minister Bob Neill has felt the need to blame criticisms of the National Planning Policy Framework on “a carefully choreographed smear campaign by Left-wingers within the national headquarters of pressure groups”. Reds under the state beds? Don’t make me laugh. To pick a quarrel with the National Trust – whose membership dwarfs that of any political party – the Government must have a pretty compelling argument, especially since it’s nursing a bloody nose over the sale of the forests. And it does: we need more houses, right?

Well, no. If there were a demand for new housing, builders would be putting up properties left, right and centre on their massive land banks. As it is, the rate of building has slowed to little above zero. Since the credit crunch, the public has started to cut its coat according to its cloth: over the past year, the number of households being formed has plunged, since would-be buyers can’t find the deposits that building societies are asking.

We certainly do need some new housing, of the kind that low-paid people can afford. But the volume house builders don’t do affordable. They want to construct homes that will make them money, built on greenfield sites that are attractive to their customers, while costing little to prepare (unlike the post-industrial, brownfield landscapes that could really benefit from being torn up).

Much of the pressure for reform is coming – as it did under Mr Brown – from the Treasury. For George Osborne, it seems that construction is simply an economic lever to pull: our verdant countryside can be sacrificed for a blip in the growth rate. But even if growth returns, we should think twice before letting the planners have their way. We have had growth spurts before, and they buggered Bognor and crucified Kettering. In the new economy, the most flourishing towns will be those where it’s most agreeable to live: that’s why Winchester and Cambridge are thriving, while Hartlepool and Cumbernauld New Town aren’t.

Instead of concreting over the countryside, development should be redirected to brownfield sites. …We have all too many urban wastelands that would benefit from being redesigned. We also have a rich and cherished landscape of fields, streams, hedges, oak trees, orchards, canals, cottages, gardens and market squares. Call me a selfish nihilist if you like, but I say: hands off.

Dear oh dear, with freinds like this does the campaign against the NPPF need enemies.  What a load of old saloon bar prejudices.  If he looked into it he would find that the arguments over RSS and the NPPF have nothing to do with Thame, or Lydd, as here the local authority have accepted that scale of development for the towns.  (Stroud is a bit more complicated). In fact a rule of thumb is that medium sized towns should expect around 15% increase in houses over 15 years, so it can be claimed, and indeed residents of Didcot and Henley, and development interests, have claimed that Thame is not getting enough!  Is the best he can do to mention a new town he doesnt like, as opposed to somewhere like Letchworth he might, and in another country to boot.

When mortgages are easier and the economy recovers the temporary dip in housebuilding will lift.  Its not that there isnt demand, its a lack of money to make that demand effective. Households are still forming, and forced into expensive rented premises with deposits so high the bank of mum and dad is being tapped to pay depsoits.  In any event, can he name the post industrial landscapes in South Oxfordshire or South East Kent where the development could go, and if not will he force small firms to move to Hartlepool and take their employees with them?  With articles like these ministers might be dusting off Nicholas Ridleys famous shotgun and putting Nimbys like Clive Aslet in their sights, to the detriment of planning that makes a real difference.

‘Talking Points’ How the PR plot was Lost on the #NPPF

From Wikipedia

A talking point in debate or discourse is a succinct statement designed to persuasively support one side taken on an issue.Such statements can either be free standing or created as retorts to the opposition’s talking points and are frequently used in public relations, particularly in areas heavy in debate such as politics and marketing.

A political think tank will strategize the most effective informational attack on a target topic and launch talking points from media personalities to saturate discourse in order to frame a debate in their favor, standardizing the responses of sympathizers to their unique cause.

When used politically in this way, the typical purpose of a talking point is to propagandize, specifically using the technique of argumentum ad nauseam, i.e. continuous repetition within media outlets until accepted as fact

The rise of the talking point is one of the sadder developments of recent years. We know from You Tube that Ed Milliband and George Osbourne can only do interviews with their set talking points script with SPAD (special advisor) fed lines.  John Stewart of course is merciless whenever he spots them.

What is noticeable about the National Planning Policy Framework is the epic failure of the DCLG narrative.  It is if they had thrown out chapter one lesson one of political PR.

Rather than talking points we have had attacks on the veracity of campaigners – just talking, and often talking without thinking of the way it will be transmitted and dissected on social media.

Indeed when you have several ministers in a coordinated attack on the National Trust – that well known bolt hole for extreme lefties, presumably reading Chomsky whilst at the same time making jam and shortbread for the gift shops – shows an incredible aptitude for raising political awareness and suspicion in middle England.

What talking points did the Government have?  Well the government it seemed at first to have three but only used one a lot – ‘The Greenbelt is Safe’

That didnt take long to be shot down.  Campaign groups soon piped back they were concerned primarily with the countryside outside the Green Belt, AONB etc.  This just punctured the hidden assumption behind the government talking point – the public would confuse as usual greenfield and greenbelt.

The second soon came from Grant Shapps – the NPPF is not pro-sprawl.  As I have remarked on here the NPPF doesnt even use the word sprawl so how can he say that?

Besides as Kirkwalls pointed out – it sent out a message of either being confused or weak

If Government are not running scared – they are certainly giving a confused message. Every time someone says “the NPPF is going to change the world as we know it” – and deliver Government policy of more growth. Up pops a Minister to say “Oh no it won’t”

That is not the kind of media strategy that lasts as as soon as the footings go on on the additional development people will reaslise that they were not being treated as adults.

Similarly Andrew Stunnel said it promoted good design, another talking point that didnt stand up a moment to scrutiny.

The new approach since Monday seems to be saying that the BANANA approach is unreasonable and we need more homes.  We yes of course we do, no one is seriously holding to a no greenfield position (though clearly some groups would like it to be as little as possible).  But this simply serves up a counter talking point – if we do need more homes, and more on greenfield sites – which seems inevitable given the crisis in housing that the revocation of regional strategies has exacerbated – should they not be well planned and well designed in locations determined through democratically agreed plans rather than through planning by appeal.

The problem for ministers is that the true talking point of the NPPF ‘Look landowners we will give you what you want’ has no leverage. In the days of Jane Austin maybe but it today appeals to no large political constituency.

Indeed thye best talking points for the anti-NPPF campaigners have been supplied by ministers, PPSs and SPADs.  Such as John Howell Mps ‘build what you like, where you like’

Those of of use who have been judiciously collecting them for many months following the daft attacks by ministers on Planners as ‘Enemies of Enterprise’ and ‘Drag Anchors’ have known that at the right time their circulation would be dynamite.  Deliberatly creating enemies is never a good idea.


Shaun Spiers Guardian #NPPF ‘Weakening planning controls will not get the economy moving, it will just result in more poor quality developments in the wrong places.’

Shaun Spiers of the CPRE has written an opinion piece for the Guardian

Poor Greg Clark. The decentralisation minister is one of the most thoughtful members of the government…But his proposals have been strongly criticised and now he lashing out at critics rather than listening to them.

Combining localism, growth and environmental protection was always going to be a difficult trick to pull off, but it was a welcome ambition. Unfortunately, Clark did not get the chance to try. Early in the life of the government the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, desperate to stimulate economic growth, turned on the planning system. In his March budget, George Osborne announced “a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that the default answer to development is ‘yes'”.

That trashed the idea the planning system exists to serve the public interest, integrating social, environmental and economic ends. Its purpose, Osborne made clear, was to favour one sectional interest over all others: that of business.

It is not surprising that the Treasury wants the planning system to serve narrowly economic ends. Gordon Brown spent 10 years as chancellor trying to liberalise planning. What is surprising is that David Cameron has let Osborne get away with it. The prime minister genuinely loves the countryside and has spoken with passion about the importance of local distinctiveness. I know he is busy, but he should pay attention now to the growing row about planning reform, or he will have to do so later.

So, why is CPRE, along with virtually every other environmental and conservation body, so alarmed by the government’s draft national planning policy framework (NPPF)? And why are the developers and planning consultants so pleased?

The presumption in favour of development is crucial. The NPPF aims to make planning principally an instrument for delivering economic growth. It is clearly about development, not sustainability. The message for local authorities is “build, build, build”. Their local plans should be plans for growth. And if they don’t have a plan in place, developers can build what they like, where they like.

In fact, there is no convincing evidence that liberalising planning will stimulate growth. It is far from obvious that moving towards a Greek-style planning system is the key to a stronger economy, or that Britain needs an Irish-style development boom based on a weak planning system. Weakening planning controls will not get the economy moving, it will just result in more poor quality developments in the wrong places.

Second, the NPPF removes protection of the countryside for its own sake, a policy that has stood for over 60 years. It maintains protection for national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt, but the rest of the countryside – most of it – is up for grabs.

Third, the brownfield-first policy introduced by the Conservatives in 1995 has been scrapped. When the policy was introduced, almost half the new houses in England were built on greenfield sites. Within 10 years, three-quarters were being built on brownfield land.

And as well as ending the brownfield-first policy, the NPPF will require local authorities to allocate much more land for housing than is necessary to meet their housing targets. Whatever ministers intend, this will make it impossible for local authorities in the green belt to find enough housing land without either building in the green belt or redrawing green-belt boundaries. Stand by for battles in the constituencies of Greg Clark, Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps!

I still hope that we can have a serious dialogue with the government. But public pressure will be necessary, as it was with the proposed forest sell-off. Thousands of people have already written to their MPs to oppose the government’s plans. We hope tens of thousands more will do so.

CPRE wants to make localism work. And we recognise the need for development, including much more affordable rural housing. But what is being proposed will be bad for the countryside, bad for towns and cities, and will not win public consent. The government should think again.

The only thing I would disagree with Shaun on, im not going to disagree because of many of his talking points are issues we have raised here, is that localism would have worked – I think it failed out of the starting gate by the rush to reduce housing numbers – which no Chancellor would have let by; and secondly the ‘more housing than is necessary‘ argument. That is a more technical point but many inspectors were requiring ‘1 or 2 years spare supply’ for flexibility purposes anyway, which works out at 14% (2 years) and some regional offices asked for a 15% float (5% per phase). The awkward 20% figure though seems to come out of nowhere and perhaps is compensation for the abolition of the NHPAU figures which included an allowance for backlog and rebalancing the affordability of markets. Experience of the late 70s and 80s suggest that if you try and exactly match household formation to housing target you are forever falling short and pushing up house prices, partially because plans are late and partially because household formation figures are always out 2 years late. Anyway thats the sort of grown up argument we need to have and havnt been having with the bad tone set by ministers.

Grant Shapps calls on NT to withdraw ‘scares and hyperbole’ #NPPF petition – Judge for yourself its wording

Grant Shapps, Housing Minister, has called on the National Trust to withdraw its petition (via an interview, rather than direct to them) on the grounds that it is ‘misleading’ and ‘deploys scaresand hyperbole’.

Well let the petition speak for itself and you can make your own mind up.

I believe that the planning system should balance future prosperity with the needs of people and places – therefore I support the National Trust’s calls on the government to stop and rethink its planning reforms.

Hmm where the scares and hyperbole there it just says its unbalanced.

Perhaps he means the introductory page.

The Government’s planning reforms could lead to unchecked and damaging development in the undesignated countryside on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

New plans published by the Government contain a core presumption that the default answer to development will be ‘yes’.

We are deeply concerned that the Government’s proposals allow financial considerations to dominate, which could result in a green-light for poor quality or development in the wrong place, threatening the local places valued by you, while failing to deliver wider benefits to your community.

There is nothing here that says that there should be no development, just that it could be not properly controlled. There is a good argument to be had with the NT about how much greenfield and where. That is an adult debate. Not the childish debate of accusing them of making ‘laughable claims’ or that they are in favour of ‘nihilistic selfishness’ Ministers merely make themselves look like arrogant bullies by such behaviour. And as many have said people are more likley to trust the NT than politicians.

Lets look at that ‘unchecked development’ claim and look at the facts

-Ministers have said on many occasions that we need development levels similar to the 30s (around 300,000 a year) to catch up with the shortfall of recent years
-They are now saying that this will need to be mainly in the countryside
-They are abolishing the policy protection of the countryside
-They are weakening the requirement that loss of the countryside be plan-led
-The planning minister has said that developers will be able to build ‘what they like where they like when they like under the reforms’
-The government had abolished controls on density and parking

So the government is precisely proposing a return to 1930s style sprawl. They are simply annoyed that such a prominent organisation has read past the spin and understood the document.

Uncertainty over Right to Light Reforms Stunting Prime Office Redevelopments


Property developers are shying away from new projects until more clarity is brought to laws surrounding secretive “rights to light” deals, exacerbating a shortage in prime London offices and potentially stunting economic growth.

“Nobody can do anything until this process is resolved, and they’re worried by the threat of a court injunction. I suspect some of them (UK skyscraper developers) have had some anxious thoughts,” a senior executive at a FTSE-quoted developer said.

The Law Commission is reviewing whether the rights to light framework is workable, after a court ruling in 2010 that part of an office building in Leeds, northern England, be torn down over the issue.

The Highcross versus Heaney case was later settled without being tested at appeal and the building remains intact, but the case has left uncertainty in the industry.

“It’s not clear that (the ruling in the Heaney case) would have been upheld at appeal, and that’s why it is uncomfortable to developers,” said Barry Hood, a director at rights to light surveyor Gordon Ingram Associates….

London developers are wary of how courts may use the Heaney precedent, and whether they and their profits could be hit by injunctions requiring part of a new building be torn down.

Rights of light issues have traditionally been resolved informally, often with millions of pounds changing hands, before building work begins, or via a developer-friendly workaround using Section 237 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

“Now, developments aren’t starting because people are terrified about an injunction,” another senior property industry source said, adding this would inhibit future economic growth.

High-profile developments affected by rights of light wrangles included London projects such as Stanhope and Schroders’ 8-10 Moorgate, Monteverde Group’s 6 Bevis Marks, Land Securities’ Walkie Talkie, and Helical Bar’s Mitre Square.

PAS Offers Sneak Peak at #NPPF Planning Reform Seminar

The Planning Advisory Service Blog has just offered a sneak peak at the content of their seminars for planning professional on how the revised system will work.

The most interesting bit was a preview of the PINS talk which echoes many of the working through the implications posts on here.

Duty to cooperate: This can take many forms, including: a joint core strategy, joint working or a memorandum of understanding. There is scope to use different means and mechanisms. But the ideal circumstance to meet this duty would be a joint core strategy or a commitment to joint working. The legislation is less rigorous than the draft NPPF on this topic.

Certificate of conformity: This is not mandatory. It isn’t clear yet who will be examining plans and issuing the certificate of conformity. Reading between the lines, there are issues about this certificate. An authority may be at risk if their plan is not in conformity with the NPPF. But equally, if an authority puts their plan forward for a certificate and it is not found to be in conformity, this will be publicly known…

‘Up-to-date’ plan: The draft NPPF is clear that without an up-to-date local plan an authority will have difficulty refusing applications for sustainable development in their area (i.e. development that is considered sustainable based on the definition in the draft NPPF). Making a comparison with the examination for CIL charging schedules, the authority decides whether the document is up-to-date. It could be similar for core strategies. The bottom line is, make sure your housing figures are up-to-date (within the last year).

“The Telegraph did this to us a few weeks before, with Jude Law’s proposed basement”

Dont you just love Celebrity Planning applications and how they are misrepresented by the press

Lovely reply from the Highgate Society here on our recent story on Kate Mosse’s ‘Basement’.

Local people were told by the Press that Kate Moss was building a basement; the Highgate Society’s comment was that we would have to see the plans first, and when we did, found that there was no basement. We said that we therefore had no concerns. The Telegraph did this to us a few weeks before, with Jude Law’s proposed basement; we said that it was so small that we had no problem with it, but it did not stop them putting on their website “Jude Law at loggerheads with Highgate Community” and “influential Highgate Society resolves to block the plans.”
However, you misunderstand the basements issue in this part of the world. There is now a gadarene rush to build palatial residences with huge basements overlooking Hampstead Heath (one currently ghoing up or, rather, down is 22,000 cubic metres), on what is the watershed of Hampstead Heath. One lone basement is, of course, of no concern; but a string of them will set up a cofferdam effect which could seriously affect the water supply to the Hampstead Ponds in this area of very complex yet poorly understood hydrology. This is potentially so serious that the City of London (owners of the Heath) are very worried about it and are taking it very seriously; why not talk to them? The proliferation of unknown underrond springs and streamlets in the area has already resulted in developments causing severe ground water problems for neighbours.

Its now Luvvies Against the #NPPF

Now the Stage has got in on the NPPF

Theatres Trust director Mhora Samuel has hit out at a planning policy proposed by the government, which she says ignores culture.
The document does not deal with culture specifically, except in relation to heritage conservation and veteran trees. Examples it gives of community facilities are shops, meeting places, public houses and places of worship.
The Theatres Trust has issued a statement asking colleagues from across the culture sector to respond to the government’s proposals to “ensure that culture is afforded the same status as sports, heritage and leisure”.
It adds: “The Theatres Trust believes it is important to act now to ensure there are policies to protect and plan for the cultural places and spaces that we need today and in the future. The National Planning Policy Framework needs to contain explicit references to culture.
“The Theatres Trust is calling for the policies on creating ‘sustainable communities’ to recognise that the planning system needs to deliver the right cultural facilities to meet local needs.