The first #NPPF Select Committee Hearing – Notes

The first session included:

  • Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy and External Affairs, British Chambers of Commerce
  • Jessica Bauly, Head of Infrastructure, Confederation of British Industry
  • John Rhodes, Director, Quod Planning

Sadly the CBI rep contributed very little and did not even seem aware of her own organisations policies on matters such as aggregates
The opening saw a lot of jumping around between process and policy issues which seemed to annoy the members of the committee as well as the audience.
John Rhodes argued for more housebuilding in the south east to counter systematic underprovision here.  Clives Betts asked him why he didnt support going back to regional spatial strategies.  John argued that you needed to take a long term view rather than on one or two years mortgage availability.
Dr Adam Marshall conceded that the NPPF would only lead to a ‘marginal improvement’ to process, which was ‘60% of their concerns with the planning system.
Clive Betts had a killer line of questioning about whether the ‘significant harm’ test meant you had to approve things that were harmful.  John Rhodes had the rather limp defence that it simply meant you shouldn’t refuse things were the harm wasnt insignificant.  As of everything in planning was that black and white and wouldn’t be subject to days of argument at public inquiries.  He also rather inriguingly claimed that the wording was not that preferred by the practitioners group and was added later.  A line that High Ellis later picked up on.  It seems that a lot of odur will be laid at the treasury for the hash they made of the drafting.
Heidi Alexander asked iIs the presumption a blank cheque for planning lawyers because of threat of appeals?   John Rhodes again limply argued that as the NPPF was shorter there would be less for planning lawyers to argue about.  Hmm Lawyers can argue for months about a single sentence if it is badly drafted.
John Rhodes also said the draft was altered to weaken the strength of the local plan to less than what section 38(6) of the act implied.  He also said not to be worried if you had no local plan as the NPPF would act as your local plan.  Be very worried, so opponents of the NPPF are accused of being alarmists.  With defenders like John Rhodes it is surprising their isnt a march on parliament with flymos and pinking shears.<

There was a question about the ‘amorphous’ definition of sustainable development.  John Rhodes somewhat sneeringly suggested it was a holy grail’ noone can agree on.  You got the feeling that he rather despises the thought of sustainable development as a fuzzy green idea that gets in the way of his clients ambitions.  He said nothing to dispel that very obvious impression.  He even claimed that the NPPF did not have to define sustainability.  Rather odd as the NPPF defines sustainability as everything the NPPF says.
John Rhodes said he was not a fan of RSS but was a fan of the informal cooperation at subregional level, claiming this works rather well.  Go tell that to So many places like Stevenage and Luton where existing joint planning arrangements are falling apart without a clear mechanism to require larger than local needs to be met.
Dr Adam Marshall agreed that  planning above a local level but below a national can get lost.
The next set of witness where:

  • Paul Cheshire, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Alex Morton, Senior Research Fellow, Policy Exchange
  • Dr Hugh Ellis, Chief Planner, Town and Country Planning Association

Dr High Elliss argues that England is not a nation that could be run without strategic planning and that the evidence base r wholesale deregulation was not there.  He used the case of the land use futures report and the threat to our agricultural land from sea level rise as an example of a future threat that required a planned response.

 Alex Morton of the Policy Exchange has a wacky argument that post war planning was partly about a socialist command economy that greatly annoyed High Ellis who at times could barely contain his anger and frustration atr the bilge coming from Alex Morton.
Clive Betts picked up that much of the NPPF came straight from Policy Exchange ideas and Alex Morton gave an extended plug for their forthcoming even more extreme pamphlet.  Alex made classic american pro sprawl anti sustainable development comments that planning should have nothing to do with density or controlling car use.  He even made the suggestion that only those people about a street away should decide on planning applications – after being heavily compensated by the developers to vote the right way.  You can certainly see those same people being sued to high heaven by those affected by the downstream flooding and traffic congestion caused by the development.
Hugh Ellis argued there was no spatial awareness in NPPF -it was  largely written for the SE of England while areas such as Liverpool 1 would be left to rot.  ON the ‘presumption’ he argues that its toughening up in circular Circular 14/85 led to 33,000 appeals a the system grounds to a halt  and instead the conservatives introduced the plan-led system.  He said the section on the presumption was ‘pooly drafted’ and that he was amazed how the drafting of the NPPF had bypassed civil servants.Lets jope there are some questions on this when ministers are called.  He saw the NPPF as introducing 5 new reasons to judicially review decisions.  [these are easy to see, significance, definition of sustainability, whether formulation of presumption is contrary to section 38(6), whether formulation of presumption is contrary to case-law on balance and material considerations, & whether a development meets ‘objectively assessed need’ given the weak definition of this.]  He also argued that key users of plans are not just lay people as plans are quasi-legal documents and so planning policy has to be clear and unambiguous.
Paul Cheshire made some economic arguments that sadly saw some of the committees eye glaze over but interested me.  He argued that prices should inform planning matters but should not be the overriding consideration.  He also argued that allowing small houses was counterproductive as it simply meant the stock of larger houses was small and people paid to much for them – here here.
Alex Morton argued that planning should not be about ‘vision’ unless you are planning garden cities !

One thought on “The first #NPPF Select Committee Hearing – Notes

  1. alex morton came across as the irritating little tory boy oik he is. i note he has no qualifications at all to talk about housing and planning policy, having no degree or post grad qualification in anything planning related, nor any actual work experience of much outside the tory offices of the policy exchange or peter lilley’s office.

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