LGIU Briefing on the #NPPF

Excellent briefing to the local government world

Reaction to the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has provoked strong criticism and equally robust support in response, and has forced the government to both clarify some of the statements in the draft This briefing covers some of the main debates on the draft NPPF and outlines the government’s response so far.

The Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) unveiled the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) at the end of July 2011.

The draft framework will replace existing planning policy guidance (PPGs) and planning policy statements (PPS).

Reaction to the draft has provoked strong support and criticism, and has forced the government to both clarify some of the statements in the draft, and to underline its willingness to change aspects of the draft if necessary in response to the consultation. For these reasons, LGIU is publishing this updated briefing on the draft NPPF, which summarises some of the main debates on the draft NPPF and outlines the government’s response so far.

Summary of the main debates on the draft NPPF

Presumption in favour of sustainable development“Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay – a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision.” Draft NPPF Ministerial Foreword

The presumption in favour of sustainable development lies at the heart of much of the controversy surrounding the draft NPPF. The Ministerial Foreword, cited above, goes on to say that ‘this framework sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan or development unsustainable’.

And therein lies the rub. Organisations such as the National Trust are anxious that the framework needs a much clearer definition of what sustainable development is, rather than what it isn’t.

From the National Trust’s point of view, the existing draft is a “charter for development of any kind”.

At its crudest, this debate has been portrayed as middle class NIMBYs versus the development industry and housing campaigners. The former emphasises the environmental aspects of sustainability (The Telegraph’s Hands Off Our Landcampaign), the latter the economic and social (summed up by Property Week’sCampaign for Sustainable Development).

However, the reality is more complex. There is broad agreement that planning is an important part of the process of achieving growth, and that this will mean more development. But at issue is the type of development, given the generally accepted definition of sustainable development as needing to balance or integrate economic, environmental and social concerns.

Writing for the LGIU’s blog Steven Bland, an LGIU Associate, argues that:

“Growth… is important at the moment. But just as important is the quality of growth: we should be sending a signal of support to local authorities that they should aim for green growth, not business as usual growth. Widening a road or putting in a tramway may generate the same gross amount of GDP, but clearly they have different results on achieving climate emissions reductions, or reducing pollution.”

Toby Blume, Chief Executive of Urban Forum, argues that with the presumption comes an assumption: that development “will be sustainable unless it is proven otherwise.’ This, he says, “is frankly bonkers”.

“It removes the burden from enterprise, but places it squarely on those who will be adversely affected to defend themselves. This cannot be right, particularly given that we know poor people are disproportionately affected by impact of climate change (and so a disproportionate burden in defending these negative impacts will fall on them).”

Other commentators add:

“The conception of sustainable development set out in the draft NPPF ‘effectively ignores, or at best minimises, the problems and complexities involved in attempting to align what may well be competing goals and aspirations.” (The draft NPPF and sustainable development, Town and Country Planning, Jones P, Comfort D and Hillier D).

Many, including the government, argue that the purpose of the planning process is to resolve these competing tensions. Elected members have a central role in this, but their ability to fulfil this effectively may be compromised by a lack of a clearer definition as to what sustainable development is within the context of the draft NPPF.

The Director-General of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds points out that the draft NPPF “is already a material consideration in the decision-making process. It is critical therefore that the wording is clear on what sustainable development is.”

Implications of the draft NPPF for local plans and core strategies

“Local planning authorities should grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.” Draft National Planning Policy Framework, p4

The interaction between core strategies, local plans and the NPPF when finalised is a matter for ongoing debate. Without a core strategy or up-to-date local plan in place, the NPPF would in effect become the default plan for a local area.

However, planning lawyer Beverley Firth suggests that in practice this aspect of the draft NPPF could be contested:

‘The development plan will remain the adopted local plan, even if it is out of date. However, the NPPF would “knock out” a non-conforming plan and substitute its own terms, which take no account of any other material considerations. The NPPF must itself be a lawful policy, but one has to question whether this is the case.’

Part of the problem is that only 30 per cent of local planning authorities have an adopted core strategy. Conversely, this means that 70 per cent do not have a recently adopted local plan.

Even so, LPAs with an adopted core strategy will still need to obtain a certificate from the government that confirms the strategy conforms with the draft NPPF.

John Howell MP has said that the process for obtaining a certificate will not be “onerous” (Johnston and Carpenter, 2011). However, it may require adjustments to existing strategies to bring them into line with the draft NPPF.

The LG Group warns the government that councils must have “a realistic chance of getting up-to-date plans in place before the presumption for sustainable development comes into force”, and that “the process and timescales for having plans approved or certified as conforming with the draft NPPF must be simple and streamlined.”

The current planning system: does it promote or restrict growth?

“Investment in business should not be over-burdened by the combined requirements of planning policy expectations.” Draft National Planning Policy Framework, p18

Some of the debate has focused on how much the existing planning system is at fault for what it is being blamed for: chiefly, a barrier to new development. The Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, stated recently that planning delays cost the economy “£3 billion a year”:

“In a global economy, where skills and capital are more mobile than ever, our planning system is a deterrent to international investment, and a barrier to the expansion of home-grown enterprise.”

In response, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) published a short document called Top Five Planning Myths. Under the heading “planning is a drag on economic growth” the RTPI argued that:

“The certainty provided by the planning system is essential in supporting business investment decisions. Such certainties include, in particular, the knowledge that there will be customers and a workforce, that infrastructure will be provided, and that other developments would not be allowed that would prejudice a business’s investment. Unconstrained growth is not in the interests of business.”

It referred to a 2003 select committee inquiry to planning and competitiveness, which concluded that ‘claims that planning damages the nation’s competitiveness seem to have been made without evidence.’

The government has also said that it wants to improve the planning system so that the default answer to development ‘is yes’.

This sentiment has been widely supported by business and developer groups: the British Property Federation (BPF) agrees that ‘a “nimby” (not in my back yard) attitude exists in many places, blocking much needed development.’

However, the RTPI’s planning myths campaign points out that government statistics show that 80–90 per cent of applications are already approved; in other words, the default answer is already ‘yes’.

Localism and community involvement in planning

“Neighbourhood plans give communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live… This provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community.” Draft National Planning Policy Framework, p13.

The government insists that its proposals will increase the role of local communities in helping to shape their own places. This is obviously of great significance to elected members, who currently work with communities to achieve this already.

The LGA agrees with the government that the draft NPPF will give communities ‘the power to set development priorities to meet their needs.’

The draft NPPF (p13) puts forward a new layer of plans called neighbourhood plans. These will allow parishes and neighbourhood forums to:

  • develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood
  • set planning policies for the development and use of land
  • give planning permission through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.

The RTPI’s Chief Executive, Trudi Elliott, is unconvinced. She argues  that these new proposals will only benefit ‘a handful of cases where a community might want to pursue a policy or proposal that does not have the support of their district council… this is astonishing given the drive to reduce bureaucracy in government.’

Managing community expectations about the content of neighbourhood plans could also put local planning authorities into a difficult position politically.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of the Local Government Association’s Liberal Democrat group and Leader of Portsmouth City Council, is concerned that the language of community ownership and control is fuelling an expectation that neighbourhood plans will not be able to fulfil because of the need for them to still conform with the draft NPPF (and local plans where relevant), with a consequent backlash locally.

Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in September he said:

“My worry is that we are giving the illusion to people that they can control the environment, without actually the reality of it. In my ward, I think if we went and asked people what they wanted in a plan for that local ward, there would be three things that would come out of it. Number one, there shall be no development ever here full stop. Number two, there shall be no subdivision of houses into flats. And number three, if we have to have any development or subdivision, there should be at least three off-street parking spaces provided for each one. That’s clearly impossible, but that’s what local people will articulate a desire for through this process.”

Related to this, some commentators have questioned whether local authorities are sufficiently skilled to take on the new relationship with communities that planning reforms in particular, and localism in general, requires of them. Simon Roberts, Chief Executive of the Centre for Sustainable Energy argues that “more than 30 years of centralisation in England has left local authorities and communities… de-skilled in the art of consensus-based local plan making”.

The government’s response so far

The government’s initial reaction to criticism of the draft NPPF, published in late July, was to take an adversarial approach. In early August, Bob Neil MP, Minister for Local Government, said opposition to the draft was a ‘carefully choreographed smear campaign by left-wingers based within the national headquarters of pressure groups’.

A month later George Osborne and Eric Pickles warned that “no one should underestimate our determination to win this battle”.

However, the criticism kept coming, with the National Trust’s petition calling on the government to rethink planning reforms attracting in excess of 100,000 signatures (see https://www.planningforpeople.org.uk/).

On 15 September, Tony Travers, Director, Greater London Group, London School of Economics, concluded that “the coalition has made a dog’s breakfast of planning reform”.

Five days later, on 20 September, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to the National Trust assuring them that “I believe that sustainable development has environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension, and we fully recognise the need for a balance between the three.”

Since then, the government appears to have shifted to a more conciliatory mode. Speaking at a discussion on the draft NPPF hosted by the BPF on 22 September, Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation and Cities, responded to criticism of the presumption in favour of sustainable development by saying that:

“We’ve got a definition in the draft and I have said that we’ll listen to responses to the consultation. We’ve used the definition that previous governments have used but people have suggested that it could be clearer there, so we will respond to that.”

Specifically on concerns about a weakening in policy on town centres and directing as much development as possible onto brownfield land, the minister told the Guardian’s Local Government Network that “it was never my intention to depart from the obviously desirable situation in which derelict land should be brought back into use”.

Andrew Lainton, a planning consultant and member of Campaign Against Sprawl, detects that with the shift of tone “something quite extraordinary has happened – ministers have taken the very brave step of engaging with ideas and criticisms.”

At the very least, the messages from government appear to acknowledge that the draft NPPF is only that – a draft – and that consultation may require them to alter some parts of the framework.

What happens next?

Consultation on the draft NPPF closes on 17 October 2011. To submit a response complete the consultation form online or download a copy.

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee announced in July that it is to hold an inquiry into the draft NPPF. The deadline for submissions was 9 September 2011, and hearings will take place in October and November.

Related to this, the Environmental Audit Committee has also launched a short inquiry to look specifically at sustainable development and the draft NPPF. The committee’s work will inform the CLG Committee inquiry. Hearings will take place on 12 October 2011.

BLP Law Report ‘ Planning and Localism: Too much too soon’ #NPPF

Well worth reading here

So what do developers really think about Localism?
We surveyed a wide range of developers active all over the
country to find out, and present our findings in this report.
I think that Ministers may be disappointed by the feedback
of our survey, since there are some alarming statistics. There is
certainly an important message for Government in here.

So they produce the kind of inforgraphic that would make Edward Tufte explode with anger – all big numbers and no visual explanation

So just what is the Carbon Reduction Target the #NPPF is sticking to?

I’ve been reluctant to comment on rows between cabinet ministers which came out on the conservative party conference floor yesterday.  Although clearly when you have a junior minister speaking at a fringe and a chancellor on the main stage you know only to listen to one when it comes to what is policy.

Comment is necessary however because precisely what the target is will go to the heart of what the government believes is sustainable and therefore what should get planning permission.

Let look at what the chancellor said:

We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business’. …‘we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower, but also no faster, than our fellow countries in Europe’.

So the policy is to keep to EU emissions standards (a point ukip has already picked up on)  – but spun in a curious anti-environmental controls way – rather than as Chris Huhne wanted to do go further.  It may have been that this was a condition of the financing for the Green Investment Bank.

The EU is only committed to cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. Lobbying by a number of European countries, including Britain, and some businesses, to set a higher European target of 30 per cent has so far been unsuccessful.

The UK Government by law is currently committed to cutting carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 and halving the countries carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2025. In May, the Government agreed to adopt a fourth carbon budge, binding under the Carbon Change Act 2008,  that set a limit on the total amount of greenhouse gases to be emitted by the UK between 2023 to 2027 to 1950 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, a cut of 50 per cent on 1990 levels. But the decision followed a row between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which backed the targets, and the Treasury and the Department for Business, which were opposed to them, believing they might put UK jobs and the economy at risk. In the end the Government said it would adopt the fourth carbon budget but would review it in 2014.

So the Chancellor’s speech has left the current situation as clear as mud, is it a commitment to change the third carbon budget with new targets laid before parliament, or not to raise targets in 2014? However of course it is Parliament that sets the targets not the chancellor.  Those preparing local plans now should stick to the statutory targets now unless and until they are changed, otherwise they will not be meeting their legal duties.

Planning Resource on the RTPI #NPPF fringe

Planning resource Sarah Townsend

Neill told a Conservative Party conference fringe event organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) that, while campaigners had raised some serious points raised about the proposed planning reforms, much of the criticism has been “well wide of the mark”.

He cited comments made by planning barrister Joe Harper who, according to Neill, is “one of the top planning lawyers – I am happy to trust his statement that much of the criticism of the NPPF has been ill-informed”.

However, Neill stopped short of providing examples of such “ill-informed” criticism.

He insisted that the government will take on board concerns raised about the NPPF, consider consultation responses and be prepared to act on those concerns – in the form of “rewording” parts of the document – where there is justification.

Neill said: “There have been some serious points raised [about the reforms] but there have also been those that are well wide of the mark.

“But of course we will listen to people’s concerns and act where necessary. I am also conscious about the need for a proper transition arrangement [for those councils that have not yet adopted local plans].”

Trudi Elliot, chief executive of the RTPI, said during the session that transition arrangements would be crucial in preventing the planning system from slowing down while the industry waits for the reforms to take effect.

Jeremy Kuper – Guardian ‘The Bottom Line is that Millions of Homes need to be built on Greenfield Land’ #NPPF


The prime minister’s recent intervention in the housing debate came just in the nick of time. “Housebuilding is too low in this country, and it is a shocking statistic that the typical first-time buyer is now in their mid-thirties,” he told MPs. “So we need change – we need more houses built.”

The battle of the greenfields has begun following proposals to relax planning laws, and there are daily barrages in the press. The National Trust, Simon Jenkins, Dominic Lawson, environmentalists and assorted campaign groups are in one corner; the Pro-Housing Alliance, housebuilders, the government, “generation rent”, and the 5 million people on waiting lists for social housing in England in the other.

So who are the nimbys? Steve Morgan, chairman of Redrow, controversially described opponents of proposed planning changes as “well-heeled people who are already very comfortable in their own environment”. But research seems to bear this out.

A recent report appears to show that wealthy executives, flourishing families and affluent greys are most likely to oppose any new development and they have the skills and networks to create formidable roadblocks to change. They are most likely to have opposed planning applications in the past, and are more likely to read local newspapers to look out for any new development proposals.

Broadly speaking, the public would still choose to buy their own home. Gone are the heady post-war days of homes for heroes, and the concept of mixed communities. Fairness these days seems to consist in supporting proposals to help first-time buyers rather than building more social homes.

The government can confidently state that Labour’s top-down targets for building millions of new homes failed, like the ill-fated eco-towns. But it still needs to increase housebuilding, not just for the economy – as many opponents are now claiming – but to meet the future needs of the population.

Simon Jenkins claims there is enough brownfield land for 3m new homes, but based on the most recent figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the reality would be closer to 1.2m. Even if all this land were decontaminated by tomorrow, this plan would entail using all the brownfield land in England, and much of it is away from where people want to live, and where there’s work.

Tens of billions in public money would be needed to clean up these 30,000 hectares of brownfield land, money that is simply not available. Meanwhile population densities in these locations would have to be very high, certainly based on Jenkins’ estimate. Possibly these are exactly the kind of homes he imagines.

According to the Pro-Housing Alliance the number of new homes needed is approximately 500,000 a year for the next seven years. Brownfield can only form a small part of the overall strategy. More use could be made of empty homes, and initiatives could help first-time buyers. The bottom line is millions of homes need to be built on greenfield land. This housing shortage is a crisis.

England is to have a policy of localism, but for whom? Should people with second homes in the country be able to object to planning applications in these areas, while the sons and daughters of local families cannot afford to buy because of a shortage of affordable homes? The well-heeled cannot be allowed to determine the future face of the landscape, to preserve an imagined green and pleasant countryside in aspic. But in this property owning democracy, some are more equal than others.

A Note to Ministers – Some Changes MPS have suggested to the #NPPF not to make in a panic

When we say to the NPPF we really mean to national planning policy, with or without the NPPF.

We have been keeping a list of suggestions made by members of all parties – but most have been made by back bench cxonservative mps – which we dont think would work or would have very counterproductive effects.

1.  Dont Plan over 15 years – Do it spontaneously

This was tried by John Prescott in his early years as Minister, he had an aversion to long term planning at the time, and went instead to annual targets.  It was a mistake and abandoned.  It led to too few houses being built and delaying looking at long term options, such as urban extensions, which have to be planned over the long term to be economically viable.  For example you dont build a secondary school (publicly or privately funded) if you can’t fill it.  Short term based planning leads to short term based solutions and the accretion of these over the years which experience from England and other jurisdictions leads to sprawl. First one small settlement then another than another none of which add up or create a quality place.

2. Let Neighbourhoods Veto large schemes – be able to say less as well as more

Current evidence suggests the vast majority of local campaigns are about less development rather than more and if measures such as neighbourhood referendums to block development were introduced, as the Policy Exchange are about to suggest in a pamphlet, it could have a chilling effect on housebuilding.  Sadly the anti-development of all kinds ethos is deeply en grained in our psyche.  What is more it is at least partially rational, a desire by the more well off homeowners to keep prices down through scarcity.  The geographers even have a name for it ‘the Taxpayers hypothesis’ and there is lots of evidence to back it up.  Sadly this is one area where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – if 50 parishes decide that one parish is the most sustainable location for a development – through their cllrs in a local plan – than 1 parish cant democratically have a veto, it would be the height of selfishness.

3. Dont have a rolling 5 year housing supply

Lets hope the Telegraph report on this was something misheard drunkenly in a late night bar, because it would be disastrous.  The 5 years supply rule has stood the test of time for over 30 years.  It adds discipline to the system and without it their would be no incentive to do local plans at all.  It abolition would likely see a precipitous fall in housebuilding.

4.  Include all Empty Homes in the 5 Year Supply

A complex issue.  Some northern town have a large number of empty homes awaiting clearance but still a fairly strong demand for new homes (Leeds) so including all empties would be perverse, especially if there is no funding or plans to bring them into use.   A better approach is that adopted in London where all long term empties (+6 months) that are brough back into use count against targets.  Also funded programmes to bring them back into use could be included in identified supply (providing forecasts are realistic and their is proven demand).  This is the approach adopted in our alternative NPPF draft.

5. Include all Windfalls in the 5 Year Supply

Another complex issue that deserves a sophisticated solution.  The problem is that many housing land supply studies in the noughties were double counting, projecting forward rates of windfalls from the past from years where there were 100% windfalls because all local plan sites had been built out.  That means they were counting the same large brownfield site twice and under counting the amount of new housing needed as a result.  Local authorities claim that it makes then identify greenfield land that might bot be needed for 30 years in areas where windfall rates of small sites in urban areas are high.  There is a case for including windfalls from small sites (typically 10 or fewer homes) because these would not have been included in strategic housing land availability studies and so there would not be double counting.  They would have to be heavily discounted though as this includes a large number of properties that would no longer be permitted because of anti-graden grabbing policies and projects forward rates at the top of the market.  This compromise approach is what we suggest in the alternative draft.

6.  Dont include a buffer to the 5 year supply

This is an unnecessary row because the draft NPPF was very badly worded on this point and still hasn’t been properly explained (or indeed possibly even understood in the corridors of power).  The p[problem is long experience going back to the housing land studies of the 1970s which found that if you try and exactly match supply to demand you are always chasing your tale and slightly under-providing.  This is because a proportion of sites identified will not come forward and plan making tends to slip.  The convention adopted was to test for the % not built out – (can be as low as 5% or as high as 30% by authority typically 15%) and add that to your 15 year local plan supply.  Inspectors tended to require ‘1 or 2 years’ spare supply – which works out at 15% extra, and some government officials used to advise adding 15% which many plans have done.  When people first read the 20% they thought the 15% figure had gone up and authorities who might have adopted their local plans last week now thought they faced a free for all on appeal!  It turns out that the 20% was not to be added to the 15 years supply but to the five year supply – so it becomes six years, but that this doesn’t add to the grand total.  After the governments chief planner tried to explain this to me it became apparent a diagram was needed (one is in the alternative draft).  Either you have the one year spare rulke, or 15% or so over 15 years, it doesnt matter so long as everyone understands it.  To abandon the need for a buffer though would be planned undersupply.

7,  Ban all garden grabbing

The NPPF needs to say something on this but it needs to be fundamentally a local matter as to exactly what and a national 100% ban would shift pressure to greenfield sites on the edge of towns.  The right balance was struck in the Chris Patten SOS era when there was a brief passage on ‘backland’ development in national policy that worked very well and prevented the worst excesses.   There has to be a role for carefully designed and planned intensification of existing housing in accessible locations.   If local authorities on top of that wanted a 100% ban they could but they would have to find alternative land elsewhere. That is the recommended approach in the alternative draft.

Prime Minister ‘I Dont Accept’ Need to change wording of #NPPF

BBC News

At the weekend the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon admitted on BBC South East’s Politics Show that they hadn’t been able to sell the policy and said there may be a change in language when the final consultation ends later this month.

Prime Minister David Cameron admits that planning reform is a tough task

I put the issue to the Prime Minister when I interviewed him. But he said: “I don’t accept that.”

He said: “Actually, there is a demand in many villages that if we knew we could have a few extra houses that would help support the local school, the local post office, the local pub, we’d be happy for that.

“What we don’t want – it’s the fear of a massive development coming in.

“And through our new neighbourhood planning system that’s going to enable that sort of development, more incremental, more sustainable to happen.”

He said we must have a “sensible debate about what we mean by reforming the planning system”.

Tough challenge

But when I pressed him saying that debate has been going on and the Planning Minister and Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, has been explaining the system, but Michael Fallon still admits they are at risk of losing some of their core vote in the South East, he concedes:

“We have a task on our hands to explain what we mean by reform of the planning system.”

But he insists it’s entirely different from the situation earlier this year when the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, was forced to perform a u-turn and scrap the government’s plans to sell off England’s forests.

His message is – they may have had difficulty selling their planning reforms but it’s a problem about perception and not about the policy.

The government will have to work hard to persuade voters in the South East that the reforms are not an attack on England’s green and pleasant land.

The PM still seems to be holding the preelection theory that there is no need to plan big developments neighbourhood planning will solve everything.  The trouble is that if you distribute all housing growth between all 10,000 uk villages thats 375 per village over 15 years tripling the size of most.  Such a scattergun approach is crazy.  You need to concentrate much growth for it to be sustainable and as soon as you do the neighbourhood affected will oppose it.  It a naive theory disporoven by all experience.

Bob Neill ‘“Government is a learning process, we can improve things, we can improve the’ #NPPF – Telegraph


Conservative Party Conference 2011: Planning changes ‘were never intended to be developer’s charter, says minister

Controversial new planning rules will be “improved” because they were “never intended to be a charter for inappropriate development in the countryside”, a minister has admitted.

Bob Neill, the Local Government and Planning minister, told The Daily Telegraph that “by the end of the year we will be in a very different place”.

The comments are the first time that the Government has admitted there will be far reaching changes to the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which distils 1,300 pages of planning guidance into as few as 52.

The new document writes into planning rules a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, without defining clearly what it means, leading to fears it could give builders carte blanche to build on large parts of rural England.

Mr Neill said that the framework would be “improved” because ministers wanted to reassure people that the reforms would not see uncontrolled development across parts of rural England.

Speaking after a fringe meeting on the changes to planning rules yesterday, Mr Neill said: “Government is a learning process, we can improve things, we can improve the document.

“By the end of the year we will be in a very different place. We are genuinely prepared to listen to sensible improvements that have been made.

“The overhaul thrust was right. It was never intended to be a charter for inappropriate development in the countryside.”

Under the new regulations, every council is required to publish details of what land is available for development but to date fewer than a third have done so.

Changes which are being considered include an 18 month “transition period” to give councils more time to draw up local development plans to protect areas from builders.

Ministers are also looking at including a requirement that councils have to try to build on brown-field or previously developed sites.

However, they will include special protections for back gardens, to ensure that “garden grabbing” – when builders develop gardens – does not start to increase.

Officials are also looking at dropping a requirement that forces councils to plan for enough housing to support a five years of building.

Mr Neill said: “We want to reassure people. We are more than willing, without compromising the overall objectives in the policy, to sit down and find ways and means and phrases to spell out that.”

Asked if the Government had got it wrong over the changes, he said: “Like anything in Government you can always learn how to do it better.”

The Daily Telegraph has launched the Hands Off Our Land campaign to urge ministers to rethink the proposals, joining the National Trust, Women’s Institute, the Countryside Alliance and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in opposing the plans.

Yesterday, at the Conservative conference, Eric Pickles, the Local Government secretary, said that the Coalition was intent on protecting the countryside.

He told party members in Manchester: “Our countryside is one of the best things that makes Britain great, and we will protect it. Our planning system must also have integrity. It must be seen to be fair to all.”

The 18 month transition period – as we have suggested in our loaternative draft – would be a very good thing – lets hope the Telegraph has got the wro0ng end of the stick on the 5 year supply (they may be talking about the 20% buffer I think).