Myth Busters Busted #NPPF

Today on the DCLG website – its not about spin its about fixing a deeply flawed document

Myth: Change is not needed / planning isn’t the problem
Fact: Planning is acting as a serious brake on growth, slowing the delivery of much needed needed new jobs and new business. There is a broad recognition that the system is slow, complex, bureaucratic and unresponsive. Reform is imperative for our economic recovery.

Of course change is needed, towards a planning system based on delivering sustainability rather than watering down sustainability to mean its opposite. Planning has enormously improved its productivity in terms of % of approvals and time taken to deal with applications as the RTPI mythbusters data shows. Research has shown a far more nuanced view amongst developers – see
Allemndinger and Dunse.

‘Rather than blaming planning for the UK’s low productivity, our evidence shows that businesses consider the planning system to be an essential part of
doing business in the UK’ (House of Commons Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee Fourth Report, 2002: para 5)

Complex, fair cop, but the NPPF adds to legal complexity and uncertainty. Several barristers have told us the NPPF will pay for their skiing holidays.

The average first-time buyer is already over 30. Housebuilding has slumped to its lowest level since 1924 and planning is a significant factor.

True, so what we need is more planning not less, smart growth and not sprawl;, investment in affordable housing and not 70% cuts. The main problem at the moment is not planning but weak demand and lack of mortgage finance. Planning is an issue for the longer term. But government planning changes have made much much worse. Before the recession housing starts were rising dramatically, after the elections housing starts and completions have fallen. One of the biggest causes has been the governments abolition of housing growth areas and regional plans. As the DCLG select committee found in May based on Telow King Research

The number of homes no longer being planned since the Government announced its intention to abolish regional strategies has now increased to a total of around 201,509. This number has risen dramatically since our first assessment was carried out in July 2010; this concluded that 84,530 dwellings were no longer being planned for.

Failed government reforms have not led to an increase in housing but a fall, hence teh desire now not to return to a plan led approach but to induce more housebuilding through an appeal-led system like we saw in the 1980s.

Combining all national planning policies into one concise document will improve clarity and unblock the system.

Noone is saying that it is not a good idea to rationalise policy. Wales has done this successfully without teh bacwards step of weakening planning as a whole – which the NPPF does. Rather than unblocking the system the NPPF will weaken negotation, weaken requirements for evidence, increase the risks and dealys of an appeal led system and institutionalise the arguments between adjoining local authorities, all off which are log jams on the system. Rather than speeding the system it will slow it down and harm economic growth. If appeals lead to lots of housebuilding on sites outside plans than it could lead to a boom bust cyles as in Spain and Ireland again harming the economy. The NPPF is bad for business, it will lead to loss of ewmployment premises. It is bad for growth and jobs. It is the last thing we need at this moment in our economic crisis.

But this isn’t a green light for any development anywhere. The Framework retains strong protections for the environment and heritage that we cherish

The issue is not ‘anywhere’ but the 56% of the England not covered by national designations and the 70-90% of that not covered by up to mdate plans, open source planning’s author John Howells mp has said that it these cases it would create a build ‘what you like where you lik…enirely permissive system’ which is what the NPPF has delivered.

Myth: This isn’t localism – the Framework takes control away from local communities
Fact: Not true. The Framework puts local people in the driving seat of decision making in the planning system. Communities will have the power to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected, through their Local Plan. Once a local plan is in place which has the support of the local community that is what will drive decision making

Legislation will abolish the old regional strategies and top down housing targets. It will no longer be possible for inspectors to enforce changes to local plans and new neighbourhood planning powers will give real control to local people.

Regional plans were composed of grouping of local authorities together deciding on housing. They were never top down, indeed it was a decentralisation of powers previously held by the Secretary of State. It was a convenient myth to blame the regional plans because housebuilding is so unpopular – even though essential. The government is now reinventing s ‘duty to cooperate’ system where again they will group together to provide targets – identical in its aim and function.

The ‘myth’ document conveniently forgets to mention what will happen in the vast majority of cases where a local plan is out of date because the publication of the NPPF has made it out of date – planning by appeal not planning by local communities.

The changes to examination of local plans in the localism bill are cosmetic – if LPAs dont make the changes they will have an unsound, rejected, plan.

The NPPF breaks the -undeliverable – promise in Open Source Planning that localism would mean local areas setting their own targets. Having realised that Nimbyism was leading to a collpase in planned housing sites they have done a u-turn. Groth trumps localism – just ask George Osbourne or anyone at number 10.

Myth: The presumption in favour of sustainable development will mean that every application has to be accepted

Fact: Not true. The presumption is not a green light for development. All proposals will need to demonstrate their sustinability and be in line with strict protections in the draft Framework. . Strong environmental safeguards remain as part of the planning system, including protecting communities and the environment from unacceptable proposals.

Untrue what a presumption means in law is that you dont have to provide evidence, it is taken that the development is acceptable, the ‘default answer is yes’ as the government is fond of saying. This is what concerns English Heritage as you wont have to provide evidence for laternation or partial demolition of historic buildings. If the government is now saying that developers do have to show evidence of sustainability then they should drop the wording ‘presumption’ it is a legal, logical and operational nonsense. In dozens of areas the NPPF is a deliberate watering down of current envuironmental safeguards, with to be fair some tightening here and there. See our detailed analysis.

The Presumption is principally about good plan making. Once a local plan is put in place local decisions should be made in line with it

No it is also about decisions made ‘in default’ where the plans are out of date, which of course the NPPF will make out of date. This is made clear in the governments statements on the 15th June when the ‘presumption’ was launched. ‘Grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date’

Myth: Communities won’t be able to protect green spaces or countryside

Not true. Green Belt Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other designated land will retain the protections they enjoy today. In addition communities will be given a new power to protect locally important green spaces which are a vital part of residents’ quality of life.

Rather than imposing targets or blueprints from above, this Government is changing things so that local people and their councils decide for themselves where to locate development and how they want their local area to grow. Development will need to be sustainable and not in breach of the framework’s environmental protections.
Myth: The Green Belt will be concreted over
Fact: Not true. The new framework re-affirms the Government’s commitment to maintaining Green Belt protections that prevent urban sprawl. Inappropriate
development, harmful to the Green Belt should not be approved. Legislation will also remove the top down pressure on councils to build on the Green Belt.

Untrue Green Belt controls would be weakened in several ways, some for no good reason. The local green space designation is welcome, but the NPPF would weaken protection of other ‘extensive’ and well loved landscapes see here.

Local authorities, through sub-regional and regional groupings have long planned together where development could go. What the government is changing is removing the means to divert pressure outside the Green Belt. What this means is that many Green Belt Local authorities such Grant Shapps Welwyn Hatfield are having to consult on more than doubling loss of Green Belt since the government’s reforms. Either the government stands as local authorities are forced by the NPPF to relax green belt to meet NPPG housing policies or they will see a shortfall in national housing. The government will either fail on the green belt or fail on housebuilding. They are getting rid of the one means to ensure that both objectives can be met at the same time.

Myth: These proposals were written by developers, for developers
Fact: Not true. All views were considered when drafting the framework and ministers meet a range of organisations including environmental, countryside and cultural groups. This document is about doing the right thing for Britain’s future properity and wellbeing. There is a strong consencus across many different interest groups that the planning system needs reform.

The draft version of the NPPF by the ‘practitioners advisory group’, which this version closely follows was written by the major developers representative, a developer (housebuilder), an anti-planning conservative councillor (whose fellow councillor in charge of planning in his own authority has publicly disagreed with on the NPPF on my blog) and an RSPB representative who later described the whole process as Greenwash. Major bodies such as the British Property Federation claim not to have been consulted. Others were despairing at the lack of input and the governments fixed mind. The ‘practitioners advisory group’ including no plan makers, no development managers and no place designer – in short no real practitioners and no real experts on how to fix planning.

Myth: You are trying to bribe communities rather than addressing the real problem
Fact: In the past, communities haven’t shared the benefits of growth. This was wrong. Councils that choose growth will receive extra New Homes Bonus funding And People will be able to say how a proportion of the Community Infrastructure Levy, money raised from development, is spent in their area. That is not a bribe, it is sensible recgnition of the benefits that growth can and should bring to an area.

A wide range of groups have raised legitimate concerns over the legal problems posed by the propose clause 124. Indeed the government has agreed to ‘look again’ at the matter.

Myth: There are already hundreds of thousands of planning permissions granted for homes that aren’t being built

Fact: These changes are about meeting the long term needs of this country. Even if every one of these houses was built, it would only represent the number of homesthat we need to build each year if we are to meet housing need.

Both statements are true, there are a lot of permissions not being built but when the recession ends we ill need a lot more.

Myth: This is a sham consultation. You have already instructed planning inspectors to make decisions in accordance with the Framework

Fact: Not true. We have not instructed the Planing Inspectorate to do anything. As a matter of standard practice, the Planning Inspectorate issues guidance to Inspectors to ensure that they take a consistent approach when draft policies are issued

A bit of a storm in a teacup. The government is right, however it did not have to treat the draft as a material consideration, they were very keen to do so such as for example issuing the statement ‘planning for growth’ after the budget. It is a legal option to treat it as such not a requirement. For example their own version of the NPPF policy changes was not material when in consultation and actually was dropped because of opposition.

Myth: Will this allow wind farms to spring up in the wrong places
Fact: Strong environmental safeguards remain part of the planning system. Onshore wind is an important part of our national energy security and our low carbon goals. But the presumption in favour of sustainable development is not a green light for wind turbines everywhere.

The NPPF seriously weakens protection of landscape impact in consideration of windfarms and sets no clear targets.

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