Bob Neil – no #NPPF “carte blanche”.

BBC on the TCPA (unmentioned) fringe

The Green Belt is safe in the coalition’s hands – despite warnings to the contrary from the National Trust, a minister has told Tory council leaders.

Local government minister Bob Neill said he was “saddened” by the Trust’s reaction to the planning shake-up.

And any suggestion he was “undermining” the Green Belt was wrong.

Critics fear a new national planning system will give developers a free hand to build over the English countryside.

The coalition is attempting to simplify Britain’s complex planning system to boost economic growth and kick-start house building, which has sunk to levels last seen in the 1920s.

But its draft National Planning Policy Framework contains a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” – which critics such as the National Trust have interpreted as giving the green light to developers.

‘Regrettable’

Mr Neill sought to reassure Tory council leaders, many from rural areas, that this was not the case at a packed fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

“It is not and never has been our intention to give carte blanche for building all over the countryside,” he said.

“It is wrong to suggest we are undermining the green belt.”

He described the Trust’s campaign against the shake-up as “regrettable”.

But he promised greater clarity on what “sustainable” means in practice – and what the government’s definition of “countryside” is – when the current consultation on the changes ends on 17 October.

He also faced calls for greater clarity on how the new framework would work with the government’s commitment to giving local people a greater say over planning decisions.

Speaking after the Town and Country Planning Association meeting, Mr Neill said he could not guarantee that there would be no development in open countryside or in conservation areas.

Local authorities had always been able to apply for land to be exempted from areas protected by statutory Green Belt legislation and this would not change when the new planning laws came into effect, he explained.

Some reports suggest building firms have interpreted the proposed new rules as clearing the way for Green Belt development.

But although he could not comment on individual cases, Mr Neill said developers should not view it as giving them “carte blanche”.

Earlier, Mr Neill’s ministerial colleague, Francis Maude, used more robust language in his denunciation of conservation groups’ fears.

He told The Independent On Sunday: “I think this idea that creating a presumption in favour of sustainable development is somehow a massive erosion of the ability to conserve, is bollocks, frankly.

“Actually the presumption that we are putting in place is arguably more constrictive, because it’s a presumption in favour of sustainable development instead of just development.

“So I think there’s a lot of misapprehension about this.”

In her keynote conference speech, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman also vowed to maintain protection for the green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and National Parks.

And she promised business start-up grants would be “re-focused” to create jobs in rural areas.

Mrs Spelman also announced plans to tackle tree diseases which threatened UK landscapes and forestry.

If the presumption has freinds like these who needs enemies? #NPPF

Financial Times

How presumption in favour of development existed for half a century

September 29, 2011 8:39 pm by Jim Pickard

The tactics in the battle of Daily Telegraph v George Osborne/Greg Clark over the planning system are the equivalent of trench warfare. The ministers insist, day in, day out, that they will not budge over its planned changes. Introducing a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development” will help the economy to grow, they fervently believe.

On the other side we have the Telegraph, which agrees with charities who fear that the changes (a new ‘national planning policy framework’) are a licence for developers to run amok.

The Tel believes that by running front page stories every day it will finally force the government to capitulate. So far we have had doomsday stories suggesting this slender document will result in the death of English countryside; Noah-style flooding; a collapse in house prices; and even the slaughter of all children born within 100 metres of an oak tree*. Equally, ministers seem to hope that if they keep repeating their arguments ad nauseum the Tel will just give up and turn its attention elsewhere.

I’ve written before about how both sides are exaggerating the potential impact of the changes.

What is curious, however, is that the new “presumption” has its antecedents which – on the face of it – were equally, if not more, positive for developers. (I only know this because someone senior at DCLG pointed it out to me.)

For four decades, until 1991, there was a presumption in favour of development which “did not cause demonstrable harm to interests of acknowledged importance“. That then changed into a “presumption in favour of the development plan, unless material considerations indicated otherwise“. Then in 2004 this was replaced by a John Prescott plan expressly designed to get thousands of new homes built.

In other words, the new guidelines are not massively different to those which came before – and which did not cause enormous angst.

Of course you could argue that during that period Britain saw some damaging out-of-town development, reminiscent of the USA – and that many green fields were lost. But it is wrong to suggest that Osborne’s new plan is in any sense revolutionary.

This may be a slight exaggeration

Being nostalgic for the 1980s style untrammelled rubbish which caused such a backlash it was swiftly abolished.  With friends like these?  Of course the presumption did not exist for four decades.  Until 1980 it only applied to zoned land, on unzoned white land there was a presumption against development.   It then barely lasted a decade, the presumption in favour of the plan came in in 1991 and the presumption in favour was finally killed off in 2004. Who in the DCLG is pedalling such bad history?

‘green issues are very far down the Tory party priority list’ – Damien Carrington Guardian #NPPF

Treehugging Tories seem lost in the Conservative party forest

Damien Carrington Guardian

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman and energy minister Charles Hendry address their party conference: worryingly, they had nothing new to say

Transport secretary Philip Hammond had his 80mph motorway speed increase to rev up party faithful here in Manchester at the Conservative Party Conference, and communities secretary Eric Pickles delivered the news of £250m for returning weekly bin collections.

So what did environment secretary Caroline Spelman, central to the fulfillment of David Cameron’s pledge to be the “greenest government ever“, have to please party supporters? A promise to set out this month “exactly how we are to going to combat the scourge of the diseases” attacking our native trees. I’m not joking, that really was the only new thing: all the rest was a re-cap of previous announcements.

So what should we conclude about the Conservative commitment to the “greenest government ever” as the conference gets underway? So far we have, a speed limit increase that would indisputably increase carbon emissions, as well as killing people, and a bin policy that will, without very careful implementation, reduce recycling. And there is more. Cabinet minister Francis Maude said criticism of the government’s controversial proposed changes to planning rules were “bollocks”, seriously undermining planning minister Greg Barker’s recent charm offensive. Elsewhere, Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, chair of the Commons Treasury select committee, added scorn of green and international aid policies to his dismissal of the government’s long-term economic plans as “incoherent”. Tyrie told the Daily Telegraph: “The Big Society; localism; the green strategy – whether right or wrong; these initiatives have seemed at best irrelevant to the task in hand, if not downright contradictory to it; likewise the huge spending hike on overseas aid.”

Spelman’s speech unsurprisingly omitted the axing of her plan to sell-off England’s public forests, or that her department suffered the biggest cut in Whitehall in the 2010 comprehensive spending review. On the planning row, which has pitted the Conservatives against their rural heartlands, she said little other than that the radical changes would deliver a “more sympathetic planning system.” Sympathetic to whom?

Earlier, Spelman had been reportedly told by Home secretary Teresa May to drop the controversial plan to cull badgers in the fight against TB in cattle, as there would not be enough police officers to manage the protests in the Olympic year of 2012. May also said it would kill Spelman’s career, a view I’d agree with given that the badger cull is a terrible policy, if it were not for her survival in post after the forest fiasco. But she won’t survive a reshuffle, I’d bet.

Spelman was followed by energy minister Charles Hendry, addressing the same 75% empty hall. The Tories should be on firmer ground here, as the department of energy and climate change has hugely out-performed the environment department, defending its budget and delivering a string of big policies, including the Green deal for energy efficiency, the Green investment bank and big changes to the energy market. But Decc is led by LibDem Chris Huhne, leaving Hendry able to merely parrot the modest threats Huhne had already made to the big six energy companies over soaring bills.

Hendry did score a couple of political hits, including taking on the Labour leader Ed Miliband’s attack on the UK’s big six energy companies who, Milband said, operated a “rigged market” and “ripped off” their customers. Hendry responded: “When Miliband lectures us on energy policy, let’s never forget that it was on his watch as energy secretary that we started to face the prospect of blackouts, for the first time in a generation.”

We’re back to the same old question: does the Conservative enthusiasm for the green policies that could deliver a clean and sustainable future for the UK exist beyond a few cabinet ministers and their tree logo? The repeated blocking of green ambition by the trolls of the Treasury and business departments, the comments of senior figures Tyrie and Maude and the total absence of announcements in the speeches I just watched suggest green issues are very far down the Tory party priority list. I’ll keep you posted.

It is difficult to see how plan to release brownfield land to provide 100,000 new homes will do much to boost jobs and growth – Micheal White Guardian #NPPF

Will Conservative scheme to boost housebuilding be effective?

Michael White Guardian

It’s easy to see why Tory ministers facing their annual conference plan to release enough brownfield sites to provide 100,000 extra homes. But it’s harder to see either why the policy will do much to boost jobs and growth in Britain’s stalled economy – or placate critics suspicious of coalition motives.

Weekend figures from Hometrack’s property analysis show that 22% more houses and flats came on the market in September, but that supply easily outstripped demand among would-be buyers worried about their jobs, disposable income and the direction of property prices. Outside overheated pockets, prices dropped 0.1% last month – the 15th successive fall.

Ministers battling the National Trust and other conservation groups over their scarily slimmed down planning regulations (1,000 pages cut to 52) are also battling with the construction industry to get them to build more. Aren’t the Tories meant to be in hock to the industry, ask critics? Why can’t they do more?

The awkward fact is that, in the present pervasive uncertainty, builders are as jittery as everyone else. They are sitting on a backlog of planning consents that would allow them to build 300,000 right away if they wanted to, if they could get the necessary funding from tightwad banks – or would-be buyers could raise a mortgage. Even David Cameron admits “this is a market that isn’t working”.

The bottleneck has reduced new home registrations to 9,978 in August – 1,300 fewer than July – well down on Labour’s (modest) peak of 185,000 (2006) and a far, far cry from the postwar peak year of 1968 when 425,000 homes were built.

Lib Dem ministers would like to see big pension funds and other cash-rich investors finance more building too – especially in smaller projects which help break de facto local monopolies which allow builders to bully councils.

So Keynesians and (a growing lobby) growth-sensitive Tories who want George Osborne to finance infrastructure projects and other worthy job-creating schemes can raise a small cheer for the announcement due to be made this week at the Tory conference in Manchester.

Public bodies now sitting on land – just in case its value goes up, not down – will be required to hand it over on a “build now, pay later” basis. The 100,000 promised would be welcome; so would the 200,000 construction jobs the package might create if the bottlejam eases.

But suspicion persists. The new planning rules will scrap “section 106” agreements which provide half the 50,000 affordable new homes, making it less likely that they will feature in the new 100,000. The Conservatives also confirmed the plan to restore higher discounts on the right of social housing tenants – both council and housing association – to buy their homes.

Ed Miliband admitted last week that Labour had been wrong to oppose Margaret Thatcher’s policy in the 80s, but the Blair/Brown governments discouraged sales and only latterly allowed the proceeds to be spent on replacement housing.

Eric Pickles and his housing minister, Grant Shapps, now promise a one-for-one replacement policy, but are only releasing some of the money.

Since new housing is more expensive and new tenants will be required to pay 80% of the market rent it may not be much of a bargain.

Cameron at least now admits that an average age of 37 for first-time buyers who can’t access the Bank of Mum and Dad is “appalling”. That’s progress, but it’s also party politics.

Locals ‘bloody well behave’ how Tory Donors shaped the #NPPF – Sunday Times

Sunday Times

Developers who donated millions of pounds to the Tories successfully lobbied the government to remove a “Nimby” clause from its planning policy that would have “paralysed” housebuilding plans.

In its controversial National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the government has dropped a key “localism” clause that appeared in Open Source Planning, the Tories’ green paper on reforming the planning system that was published in February last year, three months before the election.

The clause, much to the dismay of developers, would have allowed residents to appeal against large building projects in their areas.

Another proposal, that builders should consider compensating residents affected by developments, which the industry opposed, appeared in Open Source Planning but does not feature in the NPPF.

When Open Source Planning was published, Michael Slade, chief executive of the developer Helical Bar and a significant Conservative party donor, described it as a “threat to future development, in particular to housebuilding, which could even be paralysed”.

The British Property Federation, which represents more than 130 property companies, and the Home Builders Federation, which represents Britain’s main housebuilders, joined the protests. All now support the NPPF.

Slade chairs the Conservative Property Forum, a party organisation that charges “key players” in the property world £2,500 a year to meet ministers. The forum was addressed on the Open Source Planning proposals by Grant Shapps, now housing minister, at a breakfast meeting in February last year. Although it was a private meeting and no one has revealed what happened, the key clauses have since been dropped.

The forum also acts as a fundraiser for the party and Slade said last week that during the election year it raised “£500,000 plus” for the Conservatives. He made a personal donation of £50,000 during the second week of the election campaign.

The Tory party has long benefited from property company donations. In 2009 alone, contributions from the sector doubled to more than £2m. In the past three years, donations have exceeded £4m.

David and Simon Reuben, the billionaires who own Millbank Tower in Westminster, have given almost £500,000 over the past decade while Terence Cole, a London-based developer, has donated almost £300,000. IM Properties, one of the UK’s largest privately owned property companies, has given about £1m in the past two years.

The property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz and his family have contributed more than £150,000 since 2006, while London & Regional, run by Ian and Richard Livingstone, has donated £50,000. The Candy brothers, Nick and Christian, the luxury flat developers, donated £60,500 in 2009.

David Rowland, the property and finance mogul, gave £2m before the election. A Tory party spokesman has insisted: “The Conservative Property Forum is a discussion forum for people with an interest in property. It in no way influences policy.”

By contrast, however, Slade insists: “We [the Conservative Property Forum] have the chance to engage with ministers to help them formulate policy. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

Not all donors are members of the group, nor do they all take part in lobbying.

Open Source Planning was written by the MP John Howell and intended as a template for planning reform under a Tory government. It says: “We will make the system symmetrical by allowing appeals against local planning decisions from local residents, as well as from developers.” This became known as “third party right of appeal”.

The document also suggested that developers should consider entering into “voluntary agreements to compensate nearby householders for the impact of the development on their amenity, in return for their support”. Neither proposal appears in the NPPF.

Slade has accused opponents of the NPPF, including the National Trust, of “hysteria” and supports what will be a presumption in favour of builders, with councils having to prove their case for refusing plans.

“We’ve given the local authority the power … the quid pro quo is bloody well behave — act responsibly,” Slade said.

In December last year, the government recruited four people to sit on a “practitioners’ panel” to help to draw up the NPPF. As The Sunday Times revealed last month, three of the four panel members had a direct involvement with the building industry. Simon Marsh, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the only panellist without such a link, said he could not recall any discussions about “third party right of appeal”, suggesting that a decision had already been taken to drop it.

Paul Miner, senior planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Clearly developers have been putting the government under a lot of pressure and the government now needs to make sure when it comes up with a final planning policy that it’s one that’s fair.

“If the public sees the planning system as being unfairly skewed against them, there will be much more resistance and much less development taking place.

“We were given a very clear indication in Open Source Planning that the new government was serious about devolving power to local communities and making sure we have a fairer planning system that was taking away the skew in favour of the developer. And what we’re seeing so far is a very different reality.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that any suggestion that government policy had been swayed by party donors or that property developers had too much influence was “utterly refuted”, adding that a wide range of people had been consulted over the NPPF.

‘Save our countryside’

Actors, celebrity chefs, historians and writers today urge ministers to reconsider planning proposals before they “irrecoverably damage the countryside”, writes Kate Mansey.

In an open letter published in The Sunday Times, Bill Bryson, the author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Tony Robinson, the actor, Sir Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate and Antony Beevor, the historian, express “deep concerns” about the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). They are joined by Kate Adie, the journalist, Monty Don, the TV gardener, Rick Stein, the chef, and Sister Wendy Beckett, the art historian.

The letter says the proposals will make it easier for developers to build on greenfield sites rather than using brownfield land first.

“The NPPF marks a significant relaxation of protection for the majority of our countryside — so called ‘ordinary countryside’,” they write. “It also moves away from a ‘brownfield first’ approach to development which has been in place since 1995 … we urge ministers to listen to the deep concerns being expressed by people across the country and make substantial changes that will protect and enhance our extraordinary countryside.” Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE, said: “This letter is timed to concentrate the minds of delegates arriving for the Conservative party conference in Manchester.”

Cameron – much that had been written about the #NPPF had been “really quite misleading” – Sunday Times

BBC Reporting Sunday Times Interview

Mr Cameron said that the coalition’s controversial plans to change planning laws were needed to boost economic growth. “The planning system needs reform, it really does,” he said.

“When you have guidance that runs to thousands of pages it just become an enormous regulatory quagmire.

“It’s also completely untrusting of local authorities. It’s almost saying: ‘Those idiots in town halls can’t make decisions.’ I think that’s wrong.”

The plans, which include a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, have been criticised by groups including the National Trust who fear they will extend urban sprawl in England.

However, Mr Cameron said much that had been written about the plans had been “really quite misleading” and insisted that he was “an absolute lover of the British countryside”.

Observer – #NPPF ‘a major setback for affordable home building’

Planning reform to scrap targets for affordable social housing
Proposed changes will play into the hands of greedy developers, say conservation groups

Strict rules compelling house builders to include affordable homes in private developments will be scrapped under the government’s controversial changes to the planning system.

The revelation has raised fresh questions about the proposals, which ministers claim are vital for tackling the housing crisis. They have already drawn fire from conservation groups, who fear they will lead to an increase in building on greenfield sites.

The National Planning Policy Framework, which will edit down more than 1,000 pages of legislation to just 52, removes a threshold under what are known as section 106 agreements, requiring that private developments of 15 properties or more contain an element of affordable housing. It also abandons stipulations that councils set a target for the number of affordable properties they intend to be built in their area and, on larger sites, to establish the proportion of private and affordable housing needed.

Instead, the new framework says only that planning authorities should “use an evidence base to ensure that their local plan [in which a local authority sets out its building strategy] meets the full requirements for market and affordable housing in the housing market area”.

The National Housing Federation, which represents England’s housing associations and has been broadly supportive of the framework, warned that the combined impact of the measures will represent a major setback for affordable home building. It said more than half of the 50,000 affordable homes built each year in England are built under section 106 agreements, worth more than £2bn annually. There are also concerns that a reduction in mixed housing developments will see poorer people “ghettoised” in less attractive areas.

“While we broadly support the government’s planning framework and its potential to help get more homes built, there are serious dangers that it could let private developers off the hook in terms of delivering thousands of affordable homes on their developments,” said David Orr, the federation’s chief executive.

“With no targets for local authorities to meet in terms of building affordable housing in their area, the new framework could see these section 106 deals ripped up in future and many developments built without any social homes at all. This would be a disaster for the millions of people stuck on housing waiting lists.”

The federation estimates there are 700,000 people on waiting lists in rural England. But critics fear the framework plays too much into the hands of property developers who favour building expensive properties on greenfield sites.

The issue is likely to cause heated debate at this week’s Tory party conference. Many backbenchers are nervous about the strategy. John Redwood appeared to criticise the government’s plans recently when he attacked the “myths” of housing shortage on his blog. Redwood claimed “there were 738,414 empty homes in the UK in 2010 – there will be around the same number today. Yet I read we are short of houses and need to build more.”

The issue has angered conservation groups, with many members considered traditional Tory voters. More than 100,000 people have signed a National Trust petition urging the government to rethink the reforms. “There is a desperate need for new, affordable housing, especially for young families in areas of the country where the number of households is growing rapidly,” said Ben Cowell, the trust’s director of external affairs. “But this fact alone cannot be used to overturn the need for a properly balanced approach to decision-making.”

Cowell warned that the scrapping of the affordable housing threshold “could do a huge disservice to the provision of proper levels of housing”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government defended the plan to scrap the affordable housing threshold and target. “Five million people are languishing on social housing waiting lists,, the average age of a first-time buyer is 37 and house building has fallen to its lowest level for any peacetime year since 1924,” she said. “The draft framework will help to deliver more affordable housing by requiring councils, in consultation with the community, to make sure local plans meet the full requirements for market and affordable housing so that it caters for the demand in their area.”