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be able to resolve the more technical issues such as the operation of the presumption or what happens when plans are out of date – especially if neither side in the face off is a planner;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