Leeds City Council Draft NPPF #Response


Key points

•fails to give explicit support to urban regeneration (and the implications of
population growth within such areas of Leeds) as a priority and a stimulus to
economic growth,
• gives no direct support or set any positive target to make effective use of
previously developed / brownfield land within urban areas (for which Leeds has
demonstrated considerable success),
• excludes ‘windfall’ development and student housing, as a component of
housing land supply calculations (despite strong historical performance in Leeds
and also past acceptance by the Planning Inspectorate that student housing can
be included as a component of housing land supply calculations), placing
emphasis upon the need to demonstrate a ‘5 year rolling supply’ of deliverable
sites, plus an additional 20%.  The fundamental consequence of this at a local
Leeds level with major pressures for housing growth (compounded by the lack of
priority afforded to regeneration and the exclusion of ‘windfall’ and student
housing from the housing land supply calculations – which could amount to a
figure in excess of 465ha over a 15 year plan period), is to create an ‘over
provision’ of housing land supply creating immediate pressure for greenfield and
green belt release, at a time when the City Council is seeking to take forward
long standing regeneration priorities and to plan for local needs, whilst
developing a strategy for longer term growth,
• there is no reference to ‘garden grabbing’ in the document (despite more recent
amendments to PPS 3),
• there is no reference in the document to planning enforcement,
• fails to define “Sustainable Development” and promotes a ‘Presumption in
Favour’ of Sustainable Development to an extent that the framework is
unacceptably weighted (through a default position) in favour of development, to
an extent that this is likely to have an adverse impact upon local communities
and environmental quality (including local environmental designations such as
Conservation Areas and Special Landscape Areas), acting as a further
detriment to the retention and attraction of new investmen

Tea and Shortbread at the NT Stand – Sarah Townsend at Conference #NPPF

Planning resource

Planning reform opponents butter each other up

Sarah Townsend visits the National Trust’s stand at the Tory party conference in Manchester, where ministers have been queuing up to have their photographs taken sipping tea.

Yesterday morning at the Tory party conference I spent an interesting hour or so at the National Trust’s stand – yes, drinking tea from a teapot and eating shortbread biscuits (!) – but also hearing what its public affairs team had to say about the juicy debate on the government’s planning reforms.

The charity has of course been a key player in the debate – first causing a stir by warning that the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) would cause a “planning free-for-all” and, more recently, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to write the trust a letter of reassurance that the reforms would not destroy the green belt and that any proposed development would have to contribute equally to social, economic and environmental sustainability.

While the team at Planning towers felt that Cameron’s letter was rather lightweight – it made no pledges to look into the National Trust’s and other groups’ concerns (as ministers have since gone to great lengths to prove they are doing) – the trust’s chief executive Dame Fiona Reynolds publicly welcomed it, implying it was a significant step forward in the NPPF debate. Even on Tuesday night, talking to me at a fringe event organised by the Daily Telegraph and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Reynolds was extremely reluctant to say anything that might be construed as suggesting that the trust is aggressively critical of the proposals. She said: “We do still have our concerns about the document, yes, but we are really happy with the way things are moving forward – there is a very positive debate going on with government.”

And, speaking during the main event, she said: “You’re probably all hoping for a rant from me but I’m afraid you’re not going to get one! We are now in discussions with [decentralisation minister] Greg Clark and we think peace is breaking out on all fronts. Why this outbreak of bonhomie? It’s because, while [the NPPF] doesn’t do what we want it to do, we don’t think it does exactly what the government wants it to do either.”

Back at the National Trust stand, I asked Geri Silverstone, the charity’s external affairs consultant, why the trust has been so welcoming of Cameron’s letter and why it now feels that the debate is moving in a productive direction. He said that, while it’s true Cameron did not say anything groundbreaking in his letter, “you just have to look at the politics behind that move”.

“We didn’t put pressure on Cameron to respond to us, but he clearly thought, ‘We [the coalition] don’t want to be at war with the National Trust’, which is pretty significant. And in any case, any positive interaction with the government is very welcome,” he said.

The government has been accused of shoddy handling of the PR fall-out that followed publication of the draft NPPF in August. It’s pretty clear to me, having spent three days at the Tory conference, ministers are going to massive lengths to try and smooth this over. I heard Bob Neill speak three times, Pickles twice and Clark once, and lost count of the number of times each insisted that the coalition is not out to destroy the countryside and is taking on board people’s concerns.

Then, while I was at the National Trust stand, Neill turned up with his entourage and a photographer from the events company manning the conference, and had his picture taken sipping tea and smiling with someone from the trust. He didn’t even drink the cup before moving on. Silverstone and his colleague, James Lloyd, told me that the same thing had happened earlier that morning with Pickles, and that they had had no involvement in orchestrating any of it. But they did said they had presented Pickles with a bag of scones after he said in a speech on Monday that he was rather partial to a cuppa and a scone in a National Trust tearoom. It’s certainly obvious that both sides are in the process of lavishly buttering each other up (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Meanwhile, Lloyd told Planning that he has been carrying out some research into the government’s economic argument for reforming the planning system. Both the NPPF and the planning chapter in the Treasury’s ‘Plan for Growth’ – as well as, presumably, other related policy documents – say that delays in the planning system cost the national economy up to £3 billion a year. Ministers and civil servants alike have quoted this figure in speeches as a key reason why planning reforms are necessary. But Lloyd says the figure is discussed both in Michael Ball’s 2010 report on the planning system, and the 2006 Barker review of planning, as being an outdated overestimate, which it is “problematic” and unreliable to update, for a whole host of reasons. “So the government’s whole economic argument for planning reform is questionable,” Lloyd said.

12,500 Home New Town at Waterbeach Barracks Cambridge Part of Government Brownfield Land Releases #NPPF

It was with interest we waited to see details of the sites for the 50,000 new homes on brownfield land announced by the government to see if they were genuinely new or a renouncement.  Good to see they are genuinely new – although the close of some sites had been announced over the Summer none of the sites as far as I can see had been released p[previously and so were not in current development plans.

The biggest by far is Waterbeach Barracks Cambridgeshire.  Planned for 12.500 homes.  This was announced as surplus in July.

Its release surely has much to do with the potential of the land so close to Cambridge (6km north) as the logistical support activities it undertakes can be carried on anywhere.

Liam Fox said at the time

“Those sites which can be sold, especially high-value sites, will deliver much needed receipts to the defence budget,” he said.

“We plan to vacate and dispose of Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire which, subject to the necessary planning consents, will support the government’s broader aim of increasing the supply of new housing.

What of local reaction.  Well it is perhaps no surprise that the Waterbeach conservative party has already launched a campaign against the proposal, with a rally already proposed. and a facebook page. Perhaps the prime minister will be asking them to lobby outside the local job centre.

The site has history there was great debate several years ago about strategic options in South Cambridgeshire, it came down to a choice between Waterbeach and Oakington Barrecks.  Oakington was chosen and is now the proposed Northstowe New Town.  In part because of the availability of the Oakington site and in part because of the issues concerning congestion on the A10, which Waterbeach lies beside.

Interestingly Waterbeach was proposed as an Ecotown and was of course fearcely opposed at the time by the conservative party.  Here is the detailed submission by LDA design.

The Waterbeach site is of course opposed by the local LibDem councillor Michael Williamson, who believes building houses on the barracks site would be a bad idea because of the “appalling A10 which has major issues”“Northstowe has not been build yet, so what is the point of closing Waterbeach?”

Of course the housing demand around Cambridge is so great, as well as the amount of in-commuting for work, that the more suitable brownfield sites the better.  So is it suitable?

Its a part brownfield/part greenfield site (109 Ha out of 554 total)  including a disused airbase and the barracks.  It has lots of community facilities such as a swimming pool in place.  It is outside the Green Belt – which is only a couple of miles wide running to the Southern Edge of Waterbeach the barracks is on the northern side.  The residents of the new development would have direct pedestrian access to the main village street.  It is also next door to Cambridge Research Park.

The call for sites submission says

Mixed use new community comprising up to 12,750 dwellings forming a linked urban extension to Waterbeach, with employment, town centre, local centres, education, sports facilities, new train station and bus interchanges, a rapid bus service alongside the A10, and public open space including parkland around Denny Abbey Scheduled Monument

Site Size (hectares): 554.0

The train station (on the Cambridge to Ely Line) and proposed arm of the guided bus way could be key given the notorious congestion along the A10.  The station would be served by three trains per hour but the problem is that it is single track.  Costly track doubling works may be needed and the DfT did not support having a new station so close to the existing village station.

The site has been suggested and considered as part of several sub-regional studies over the years.  It has always ranked second to Northstowe, not being ruled out in principle but there have been doubts about the deliverability of the transport elements of the proposal.

The Ecotown assessment in 2008 considered the proposal proposed too much development too close to the ancient monument of Denny Abbey and

‘Development up to the line shown not suitable – would compromise historic context of site – this would therefore be a showstopper”

It requested a 1km buffer from the Abbey.

Its assessment was C) (A best D worst) ‘location where growth is possible but major issues /assurance needed, in this case on transport and environment/deliverability.  The deliverability issue has gone the site is now surplus.

So the issue is one of design and sustainable transport.  Hopefully sites like this will make the government realise that they cant just flog sites off like this to developers grant them permission tomorrow and let it rip.  Only good planning of a largely car free sustainable community would make sites like this work at all.  It requires an exemplar design of Smart Growth and being on potentially two rapid transit links (if it could be made to work) shows a real opportunity.  This is not to say that the site could eventually take up to 13,000 dwellings, who knows until the detailed work has been done.  I suspect unless the difficult transport issues are resolved it may be a lot less, but none the less if you are in favour of Smart Growth instead of sprawl then this is the sort of site that should be supported in principle.  Other options in the north of Cambridge area are far less accessible or sustainable.

#NPPF Talks what Talks?

With Greg Clarks offer of serious talks on the NPPF one might have expected a plan from the government by now of how the ‘forensic’ process is expected to work.  No such luck.  No clear plan of action other to range a series of one off meetings, mostly bilaterally and labourisouly go through the NPPF para by para.  You could easily be cynical and suggest this is ‘divide and rule’ or worse to wear campaigners down by exhaustion and boredom.  There is little point going para by para those chapters of the NPPF that need to be rewritten – like the introductory chapters, or where whole chapters are missing, such as on the countryside.

Worse such a chaotic process does nothing to ensure the final document would work as a whole.  So ive propeared the following paper for a possible process.

From Draft to Final NPPF – a Forensic Process

Suggested Outline Project Plan


The timescale for finalisation for the NPPF is not great.  Its needs to be ready by April 2012 according to the DCLG performance agreement with the Cabinet office.  Whilst there are now genuine offers for talks there is no clear process or project plan about how to get to a good place.

Some bilateral talks have begun between non-governmental stakeholders.  For these it appears very likely that there can be some agreement on certain paragraphs e.g. brownfield first.  But such an ad hoc process is likely to be very unsatisfactory in that:

-Ministers and civil service involvement would be passive, if there is deadlock on certain areas they need to be active;

-It excludes other groups who haven’t been shouting loudest but which may have specific expertise to bring and who may be concerned about issues which haven’t yet hot front pages – e.g. transport.  It could simply be deflecting conflict and problems down the track;

-It doesn’t fix the fundamental reasons for policy formulation breakdown for which the NPPF will undoubtedly be taught as a case study in the future;

-Faces offs are unlikely to be able to resolve the more technical issues such as the operation of the presumption or what happens when plans are out of date – especially if neither side in the face off is a planner;

-Para. specific discussions don’t deal with the thrust/tone and philosophy of the document.  For many this is the key issue;

-Fixation of existing wording is unlikely to be helpful if there is fundamental disagreement on what it means.  This by itself shows that the existing wording is not fit for purpose and will generate confusion costs.  In those areas it is better to ask what it is trying to achieve and then recast it to achieve that;

-Face offs are ineffective when both sides wear their day job hats and cant reach agreement.  Agreement might be possible to be reached however under Chatham House conditions.  This was of course the intention of the Practitioners Advisory Group – but again is a text book example of how not to constitute such groups.

Why Did we Reach Policy Making Crisis Point?

The recent Institute of Government Report – Making Better Policy, offers many good pointers on how effective policy making works.  Reading the report it is clear many of the good practice mechanisms there were not followed.  What were minister’s goals for the NPPF?    Was their advanced commissioned research, was their rigorous policy design, was their thorough appraisal of policy impacts rather than post facto justification,

As the report says

There are good reasons to think that policy making is improved by drawing on multiple sources of
expertise, and by bringing in outsiders able to challenge departmental thinking. Bringing in a wider
range of expertise – whether from local government, delivery bodies, academia or civil society – on
a short-term basis should be regarded as standard practice.

But that is only effective if

a)       There is two way flow so civil servants are empowered and not undermined by challenge and

b)       You bring in the best people not those to reinforce a predetermined outcome.


A Way Ahead

It needs to be run as a proper Prince 2 task and finish programme with a programme board, a proper inception report (some pointers towards one in this sketch) with clear headline goals agreed by the minister.  This might be a very simple goal. ‘To produce by …a redrafting of the NPPF which meets ministers goals of meeting the nations objective development requirements in a sustainable manner’

In terms of timescale we need to work backwards from various stages which complete by 1st May 2012.

It would be wise to assume and plan for a commons vote – the opposition will force one anyway through an opposition day.  Announcing this in advance and planning for it will bring on board backbenchers, such votes are common in other jurisdictions, it was promised in open source planning and it is likely that front bench consensus can be achieved on key issues isolating the BANANA backbenchers.

Back from there it is also wise to assume a swift (two month) reconsultation, as revised NPPF likely to include new sections not consulted on before and very different in some sections.  Also proper need to give people opportunity to make line by track changes comments on line – like they can do with local plans.

In reality then a process needs to commence right after 17th November and complete by Christmas.  Needs to be very focused, well planned and very Intense.

A Neutral Space

There needs to be a proper space outside government and any NGO inside which to host discussions.  Endless one off bilateral meetings is a really poor use of people’s time given time constraints.  It is much better than a small core groups of civil servants (crucially led by the Chief Planner as chief technical officer) and others are seconded for a period with proper back up and support to such a space, which could be hosted by a third party such as the IOG or one of several others.  This would need funding and proper IT and admin/research support and given the economic priority that the Treasury gives to the NPPF finalisation there should be no problem in providing the short term funding needed, especially when compared to the confusion and regulatory delay costs of a long drawn out battle.  It is also important that a senior Treasury or BIS rep is seconded.  The team will also need a professional project manager/Gantt Monkey to keep the show on the road.  Finally there need to be a cabinet office appointee to maintain links to all depts. And number 10.  Indeed the whole process would be under the wing of the cabinet office.

With staff so seconded it is important, if it hasn’t already been done, that the data entry and gross analysis of the consultation results be externalised to give civil servants space to concentrate on this matter externally.

This would comprise a ‘hub’ in a hub-spokes engagement model – see following.

It has become apparent that much of the debate about housing issues has been because different groups are on different pages in terms of data.  Access to geographical data by many groups is poor.  It is important that the hub have full access to a comprehensive GIS system using DCLG national licences.  Experience from development corporations shows that this can be done very quickly.  Any system developed could then be rolled out as a portal to inform communities on data and maps to aid their neighbourhood planning.

The hub will also need access to a full document management system for scanned copies of consultation responses and a system for redrafting the document using a 3 bins system (the main way of collaborative working on long documents these days i.e. copywriter, subeditor, editor with separate design and layout control – an indesign/incopy workflow with a DMS backend could be set up in a day and is highly recommended.  A secure extranet would need to be set up.

Hub and Spokes

As well as the hub – which would do the work on the actual drafting, with the chief planner having final editorial control, it is important that there are spokes to go out and engage stakeholders and specialist communities of interest.

The following diagram illustrates how this could work.

The spokes are not topic specific but deal with cross cutting issues – e.g. legal issues.  It is recommended that PAG organise these using existing arrangements where possible.

All hub and spoke discussions under Chatham House rules

Topic specific meetings are workshop based, bringing in maximum 4 people per workshop plus one or more hub members.  From experience this is to avoid an unmanageable big tent approach, the expert topic specific groups would advise on the wording suggested by the hub on an area or provide wording where they hit an expertise barrier.  The size of the groups would be small enough to gather around a pc of sheet of paper.  They might only meet once or not at all if not needed.


Outline Work Programme

Week 1  17 Oct  The Definition of Sustainable Development

Week 2  24 Oct  Core Principles/Sustainable Communities/Transport

Week 3 31 Oct  Decision Rules/The Presumption

Week 4  7 Nov   Plan Making/Transitional Arrangements

Week 5  14 Nov  Duty to Cooperate/larger than local

Week 6 21 Nov  Housing Supply/Brownfield first

Week 7 28 Nov Countryside/Coastal Issues/Biodiversity/Environmental Protection

Week 8 5 Dec Business/Town Centre First

Week 9 12th Dec Remaining issues –float

Of course tasks could be started earlier if finished.

Each Thursday the group would meet the minister to report on progress.

With the ministers diary cleared of NPPF meetings there would also be much more opportunity for the minister to pop in and out.

After several weeks it is recommended that the minister commence a privy council process to brief their shadow.

Mutual Gains Approach

It is strongly recommended that the whole approach is undertaken using the mutual gains approach to dispute resolution, that some one with skills in this section is part of the hub and if necessary to resolve logjams an expert such as Professor Susskind, who has previously advised Number 10 on Angry Public issues, be brought in.

How to meet the concern that Affordable Housing Obligations take too long #NPPF

Bob Neil MPs fringe comments that

‘I do think that section 106 took longer to negotiate than the actual consent [for the overall scheme], so this was ridiculous. I think perhaps the community infrastructure levy [council charge on developments and used to fund infrastructure] has more to offer here.

Has raised concerns that planning policy requiring on site planning obligation housing will be weakened.  CIL cannot currently be used for off site housing, though the government in the past has said it will consult on it.  This has greatly worried bodies such as the National Housing Federation.

The on-site delivery of affordable homes in recent years has been a great success, boosting supply and reducing barriers of wealth and class in many areas.

Policy has shifted around.  Open source planning suggested off site payments through CIL should be the norm, the practitioners draft said this was an options and the current draft is a watered down version.  Current policy by contrast has a presumption in favour of on site provision.  The sound reasoning being that land for housing is hard to come by so funding was little use unless developers also provided some land.

Discussions will be difficult on this issue as next month the government will be launching its housing policy (green paper?).  Which will make it difficult to integrate planning and housing policy is until a clearer steer is given on housing policy.

Bob Neills concerns are real over delays, as are the NHF and others about weakening a successful policy and seeing less mixed communities and less affordable housing, so how do we resolve them?

Well in best practice what you don’t do is submit a scheme without an affordable housing offer, then have it approved subject to an affordable housing scheme to be negotiated and then spend six months or a year arguing about it.  Best practice is that you include affordable housing issues in the pre-app negotiations, include a firm offer in the planning application and where possible submit an agreed deal as part of the planning applications(such as through a standard unilateral undertaking) so that when a scheme is agreed the decision could even be issued on the next day without months of delay.

I helped introduced such best practice mechanisms in London and where they work well it massively saves time.  Of course in harsh times viability issues are to the fore and flexibility on all sides will be needed.

In the latest (and near final) version of our alternative NPPF draft we have been seeking ever more to embed process improvements into the draft so it does what business and the social housing sector wants, speed decisions, but which it palpably fails to deliver on at the moment.  In the proposed single planning statement we suggest an affordable housing offer is included and we say:

It is important that agreement of the affordable housing offer does not slow granting of consents through prolonged negotiations over planning obligations. For that reason the full affordable housing offer should be agreed where possible as part of pre-application negotiations, a standard unilateral undertaking presented as part of the application; with the offer described and justified as part of the single statement with an accompanying viability assessment if there is any dispute.

Mr Neill if the process problem can be solved without abandoning the principle of mixed and balanced communities and on site-provision is that not worth considering?

Gove – Jobs more important than Lawns Jibe #NPPF


Gove’s ‘nimby’ jibe at planning law opponents

A senior Cabinet minister yesterday accused campaigners opposed to the Government’s planning reforms of being more concerned about their “precious” lawns than jobs.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said that the Coalition was “on the side of jobs, not the nimbys” after David Cameron claimed that planning laws were frustrating growth.

Referring to those who oppose developments near their homes, Mr Gove said: “When it comes to reforming planning laws in order to allow companies to expand, he [Mr Cameron] made it clear that he’s on the side of jobs, not the nimbys.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Tory conference in Manchester, Mr Gove added: “In so doing, he was saying to some of the people in the hall, ‘I know you think your lawns are precious, but actually people’s jobs at the moment are what’s important’.”

Ministers are pushing through plans to replace 1,300 pages of planning regulations in England with just 52.

The new rules include a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, without defining clearly what it means, leading campaigners to fear that parts of rural England will be concreted over. It is opposed by a number of groups, including the National Trust, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. This newspaper’s Hands Off Our Land campaign is also urging ministers to reconsider the plans.

Last night the National Trust, which has entered talks with the Government about changes to the framework after receiving assurances from the Prime Minister that he had the interests of the countryside at heart, criticised Mr Gove’s “rudeness”.

A trust spokesman said: “This is so far from what these reforms are supposed to be about. We have got used to rudeness but we are not going to let it have any effect.”

The remarks could overshadow talks which continue today in London between senior officials at the National Trust and Greg Clark, the planning minister.

Mr Cameron had earlier told his party’s annual conference that companies could not expand because they were “stuck in the mud of our planning system”. He said: “Our businesses need the space to grow — literally. That’s one of the reasons we’re reforming our planning system.

“To those who just oppose everything we’re doing, my message is this: Take your arguments down to the job centre. We’ve got to get Britain back to work.”

Of course if Gove was so concerned about jobs why is he backing a framework which allows active workshops and factories to be knocked down even if they are employing dozens of people to be used for housing whose employment making potential wont last beyond construction.  Why is he backing a framework which actively discourages local authorities zoning for new employment because it prevents them providing a balance between jobs and houses because sites would simply go for housing.   Why is he backing a framework so poorly drafted that it will more major schemes in litigation and appeals rather than ensuring we have the right development planned in the right places.  Why is he backing a framework that protects lawns because it resists development on gardens but doesn’t protect fields, meadows, woods, trees for their own sake.  What fantastic hypocracy.

Civic Voice and RTPI welcome end to ‘business bias’ in neighbourhood plans amendment #NPPF

Civic Voice and RTPI welcome Government amendment on neighbourhood plans

Civic Voice and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) today (4 October) welcomed a Government amendment to the Localism Bill which clarifies the purpose and role of business-led neighbourhood forums, echoing as it does an amendment at Committee Stage promoted by Civic Voice and the RTPI and tabled by Baroness Whitaker.

The Government amendment tidies up a clause in the Localism Bill which would have left business-led neighbourhood forums free to engage in positive planning without the express purpose of promoting or improving the social, economic and environmental well-being of an area. If successful, the amendment means that neighbourhood forums, whether resident or business-led, will have the same powers and the same overall purposes.

Welcoming the amendment Tony Burton, Director of Civic Voice, said: “The Government has listened and taken steps to avoid a business bias in neighbourhood plans. This will give confidence to communities that they can now come together to plan the future of their area for the benefit of everyone who lives and works there.”

Trudi Elliott CBE, Chief Executive of the RTPI said: “We applaud the Government for listening on this issue, and thank Baroness Whitaker for raising the issue with the Government at Committee Stage. The Government amendment addresses the concerns that many in the voluntary and planning sectors held, and we urge Peers to support the amendment.”

Bob Neill SMF Fringe #NPPF ‘We are not for turning – we are for listening’ (with the hearing aid turned off?)

Inside Housing

Housebuilders are ‘crap’ at communicating their development plans to local communities and must show greater ‘maturity and restraint’ in where they build, according to a government minister.

Planning minister Bob Neill launched his broadside on developers at a Social Market Foundation fringe session at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester and added that he was ‘not for turning’ on proposed planning reforms.

When asked about the implementation of a controversial measure contained in the draft national planning policy framework which would see a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, Mr Neill said: ‘The industry needs to help itself here – it is crap at communications if I may say.

‘You are seen as predators for greenfield land…the industry needs to show maturity and restraint in terms of where it goes for development. What is best for the balance sheet might not always be best for local communities,’ he added.

The government’s proposed planning reforms, contained in the Localism Bill and the draft NPPF, have led to accusations from the National Trust, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and others that the plans will lead to valuable green spaces being lost to development.

Mr Neill said: ‘We are not for turning – we are for listening. We are determined to get a more effective system. Yes, we are willing to talk about how we phrase things, but the idea that we must simplify the system is the key thing.’

Commenting on a warning from the National Housing Federation that proposals in the NPPF around will result in a dramatic fall in homes provided through the ‘planning gain’ or section 106 system, Mr Neill said: ‘I do think that section 106 took longer to negotiate than the actual consent [for the overall scheme], so this was ridiculous. I think perhaps the community infrastructure levy [council charge on developments and used to fund infrastructure] has more to offer here.

‘We want to get a sensible means of more affordable housing delivery,’ he added.

Speaking at the same session, Chris Tinker, regeneration chairman at Crest Nicholson, said: ‘Developers should be responsive to well-developed local plans. But I am finding that we are having to do this work as local authorities simply haven’t done the work to assess demand, so we have to step in.’

On affordable housing this is dangerous as it presumes that most housing will be come from payments-in-lieu which will mean a massive shortfall in affordable housing as the real problem is shortage of land for affordable housing as much as finance.  This is the fear of the National Housing Federation.

The Containment of Post War Sprawl – Policy Success or Policy Failure? #NPPF

Going through the data used in the NPPF impact statement is a pretty disheartening process because often the original data used for policy analysis on land use in the UK is so poor and it is hard to analyse the success or failure of land use policy.  A few years ago BIS commenced the land use futures foresight programme to produce ‘an evidence base which will help government and other policy makers understand whether existing land use patterns and practice are fit for the future.’  It was led by the governments chief scientific advisor and reported in Feburary 2010.

One might have imagined that with the many millions of research pounds spent it might produce some better data on land use in England by completing that much neglected and half done project the National Land use Database.  Sadly no it relies on the same data as the rest of us and the monies instead were spend on a series of analysis of the land cover, not land use, and the Dept for Communities data on sources of land use change from development.  Oddly we have not had an even roughly accurate measure of the urbanised land use in England since 1990 and the land use futures study did not advance knowledge in that area.

(Note: Land cover is a measure of vegative cover, it is not meant as a measure of land use, you can subtract agricultural, forestry etc. land cover and get left with a residual ‘urban’ but that will always be inaccurate, especially as land cover is based on analysis of grid squares, in England the latest (2007) dataset is 250m grid squares, so may miss several houses within that grid if the predominant cover is for example agriculture, or have false positives for housing in treed landscapes for example).

Although the Land Use futures project was not set up to produce policy suggestions it naturally did grapple with the issues of whether post-war land use policy has been successful and whether it is fit for purpose.  Consider one of the key papers undertaken for the study by  Peter Bibby Land Use Change in Britain Land Use Policy 26s (2009)

The changes that have been taking place in recent years are much more complex than a simple shift from greenfield land to developed uses as towns and cities expand. The real residential growth in recent years has been in city living developments in urban cores and in a variety of scales of developments in different rural locales. Government policy has been successful in focusing new developments on brownfield land and in cities and in achieving an increase in residential density

Indeed one of the key findings of the report was that policies of urban containment had been a success in slowing sprawl dramatically. Bibby again

The conversion of greenfield land to developed uses accounts for about 5000 ha per year, which is about a third of the post-war rates up to 1975

Indeed only 1 in 7 new houses 200-2006 was built on a fringe or peri-urban greenfield site

Of the greenfield land that has been developed, only 30 per cent was in these areas, while 20 per cent was in urban areas and consisted mainly of loss
of land from recreation.

With an even more surprising 50% of greenfield loss to housing coming from rural areas (as opposed to sites in or on the edge of urban areas)

Looking at the main research report summary – all 325 pages of it – you find the conclusions are a mess, parts go off in a direction suggesting that urban containment policy has been a major constraint on growth, others that it has been a major success and other suggesting that you can build 3 million homes on brownfield sites (this seems to the source of this often quoted figure have the report author did not check the NLUD data to see what proportion of previously developed land was suitable for residential!). The report also confuses consumer preferences for space within houses for preferences of density of housing.

The report concluded:

Land use governance in its broad sense …has, to an extent, enabled land to deliver substantial benefits – for example, the containment of urban sprawl – there is now a strong case for reappraisal …The UK has been generally successful in containing urban sprawl, but market pressures and changing socio-economic conditions strongly suggest the need to review the principles and practices built on historical perspectives of managing development(executive Summary)

There is evidence that, at present, the net social welfare cost of restricting land supply is particularly high at the “urban fringe”, compared to existing evidence of the net environmental benefits. Given the scale of pent-up demand for development land there is a strong case for some relaxation of restraint policies based on careful strategic and site analysis.
Making development land prices more reflective of the value in alternative uses and the cost imposed by development would reduce the intense and unsustainable upward pressure on land and property prices, leading to a situation more like that in Germany, where house prices have been flat in real terms. This would lower the cost of employment, increase worker and social mobility, and make housing much more affordable for a wider range of people.
Measures such as restoring the Business Rate to local control, reforming local taxation so that towns and cities benefit rather than being disadvantaged by the influx of new residents, and facilitating green swaps to enhance access to green space as land is released for building would encourage development where needed.(part 7)

Does this not sound familiar, the policy analysis and prognostication of the NPPF, but published at the tail end of the Brown Government. Indeed there was a considerable headwind from the Treasury and BIS to change policy encouraged by think tanks such as Centre for Cities and the Policy Exchange.

It is easy to be cynical about this. A policy of urban containment having been so successful it has built up a considerable land value gradient at the peri-urban fringe and so a greater incentive to lobby to change policy to realise those profits. But it is also important to acknowledge that urban containment policy may have been successful for the wrong reason as well as the right reasons. Let me explain.

Scenario A) Policy Success/Household Success – a household forms not constrained by land shortage they move to a high density urban house which meets their preference allocated in an up to date plan

Scenario B) Policy Success/Household Failure – a household wants to form but is suppressed because not enough land of the type demanded has been allocated in a plan which is now well out of date.  Urban sprawl is prevented by policy inertia.

Now the problem is that it is clear that over the last 10 years scenario B has been a problem with out of date plans.  Urban containment policy has succeeded but in some part for the wrong reasons – lack of planning.  There was a slow down in plans coming forward because of the uncertainties of the 2004 reforms, things picked up 2006-2008, we had a recession but plans continued to roll forward, the upcoming election and the Spelman letter slowed things down again as did the proposed revocation of regional plans in June 2010.  Interesting no research seems ever to have been done to examine the relationship between the numbers of suppressed households and how up to date plans are in any locality.

So we need a mature debate.  Urban containment policy has been highly successful, but for good as well as bad reasons.  The bad reasons are plans being not up to date – and that should be fixed rather than abandoning the policy of urban containment per-se.  However in many parts of the country having up to date plans will mean inevitably increased greenfield losses because it is the only realistic policy alternative.