Heritage Bodies Consultation Concerns – Amended #NPPF Alternative Draft 1

As we stated in our previous post we are going through the consultation suggestions for changes systematically both to see how our own alternative draft can be approved as well as helping to contribute towards consensus on what should replace the official consultation draft.

The first part of the project was to look at concerns of English Heritage, The Heritage Alliance, The Historic Towns Forum and other heritage groups, focussing mainly but not entoirely on their concrns on the heritage chapter.  We have not completed this annd next will turn to biodiversity issues.

This is not the be all and end all of work on this section.  It is an iterative process and we are still trying to track down the reponses of some groups such as the 20th Century Society and the Victorian Society. The section includes a paragraph on World Heritage Site issues in order to replace the now stranded and half out of date circular on this issue and a number of new glossary definitions.

The revised alternative draft as well as changes resulting from responding to the consultation also makes a large number of small changes to the whole document as they have come up and been resolved.  For example there are changes to the water section resulting from further work here on river basin management plans.  There is also quite a few changes to the design section in order to better deal with issues when there are strong local vernacures or string historic character – a response which has come up in quite a few responses.  The changes are so many we have completed a rolling log which we will keep up to date.

We will now get on with the rest of the chapters section by section so that when we meet with the DCLG in a few weeks time we will be able to contribute to their work in dealing with the key consultation concerns.

With Regard to the Heritage chapter and the English Heritage Concerns


Adds reference to heritage as a non-renewable resource as suggested by English Heritage (response to NPPF paragraph 176)


Adds text suggested by English Heritage (response to NPPF paragraph 177), but avoids the unfortunate ‘build upon’ wording and the suggested introduction to the paragraph, which we feel is confusing and of a different narrative tone to the rest of the document.


Adds the ‘positive and proactive’ wording from English Heritage.  English Heritage suggest the wording that conservations strategies are part of local plans.  We prefer the more flexible wording that they informs plan making (as evidence base) and (new text) ‘(including the delivery strategy of plans)’.  This is because conservation strategies can be very detailed documents not all of which are suitable for inclusion within local plans. This may be particularly the case with strategies relating to world heritage sites.

English Heritage also suggest a footnote reference to Circular 07/09 on World Heritage Sites.  This is out of date as it replaced paras 2.22-2.23 and 6.35-6.37 of PPS15 which was in turn replaced by PPS5.  The status of what paras of the circular are still relevant or note will be a source of confusion.  A number of amenity groups (such as the Bath Preservation Trust) have also raised important issues regarding the interaction of local plans, neighbourhood plans and World Heritage sites.  It is therefore suggested that short but important sections of the circular are included and that circular 07/09 is withdrawn as part of the package of circulars withdrawn when the NPPF is adopted.  We suggest two changes.

-An additional glossary entry for World Heritage Sites

-New Paragraph


Together these contain the policy from the circular necessary to comply with the World Heritage Convention and Unesco operational guidelines (hyperlink added).

Two additional subheadings added to this chapter to aid readability.

18-4 Note

English Heritage suggest removing this.  Strictly speaking it is not necessary and areas not meeting the legal test may not be designated.  Our draft makes the paragraph less negative and objectives by simply stating those that meet the test should be designated and those that don’t should not, still retaining the intent of the NPPF draft to avoid devaluing designations.


We had already included the text from PPS5 which English Heritage recommended be retained (Para 180 of NPPF)



‘done in the hope of obtaining a consent’ English Heritage suggestion regarding NPPF para 182.

18-9  Note (para 183 of NPPF)

Added rewording as suggested by English Heritage.  This is important for the legal reason suggested by a number of consultees that the phrase ‘great weight’ puts heritage on the same level of current policy on Green Belts and AONBs etc., and as part of the aim of ensuring that there is consistent and logical language throughout on the issue of ‘weight’.  It also with the addition of the word ‘and setting’ provides and better introduction to the following paragraphs.


Adds reference to marketing and the word ‘demonstrably’ as suggested by English Heritage (comment on NPPF para 184).  The note can be deleted as no longer necessary.

Minor text change.  We retain the presumption in favour of conservation of designated heritage assets from PPS5. This features in responses from a number of heritage bodies, but not English Heritage.   The reference heritage as  non-renewable resources is moved to the opening paragraph, as recommended by English Heritage,


Adds ‘Securing the optimum viable use of a heritage asset is a public benefit’ as suggested by English Heritage (para 184A of their suggested draft).  However our version contains slightly more of PPS5 which it is important to retain, which doesn’t not add unacceptably overall to length, including clauses ii. And iii.


Adopts the less syntactically challenged wording suggested by English Heritage (para. 188 of NPPF)


Also protects ‘Non-designated heritage assets of archaeological interest that are demonstrably of equivalent significance to scheduled monuments, (whether capable of designation as such, or not)’ suggestion deals with the legal issue raised by English Heritage (para. 189 of  NPPF.

More logical paragraph ordering.


Deletes last sentence that duplicates 18-16.


Adds ‘The lists should be annexed to the local plan when they are reviewed.’  The consultation draft was too strict on local lists as many were SPG and would be made out of date.  But it is important that I due course there is an opportunity to challenge local listing through the plan process.  The wording requires this but does not make it a matter of immediate conformity.

Some changes made reflecting concerns of Bath Preservation Trust and other groups.


On recording adds ‘through conditions and planning obligations’ (English Heritage suggestion to amend NPPF para 191).

Other issues Raised by English Heritage not Accepted, or dealt with in other ways

On NPPF para. 167 the bullet relating to National Parks and AONBs the replacement of ‘environment’ with ‘natural and historic environment’ this would be narrower ‘and’ in any event should be ‘or’.

The suggestions to the text earlier cut across the statutory purposes in the CROW act and in any event this paragraph confusingly sets these out.  The alternative draft contains more of the correct exposition of these duties and objectives from PPS7.

Rather than the additional bullet point on the countryside we suggest a new chapter.

The term ‘urban greenspace’ is vague – the defined terms (in the alternative draft) open space and green infrastructure are preferred.

Suggested change to para 150 not adopted as science on this matter is not clear cut.

English Heritage suggest adding materials to the list of matters for plan wide local plan policy (NPPF para 117).  This is considered a matter of excessive detail, however it is appropriate in design guidance and neighbourhood plans, such as where there is a strong local vernacular.  We suggest a wording in para. 4-6.

A number of changes suggested by English Heritage would not be necessary in our alternative draft because of its more balanced approach to the presumption in favour of development.  This includes the suggested changes to para 110, (which is any event is unclear),

Conservation areas not added to the areas which should be excluded from minerals extraction (11-4, 102 in consultation draft NPPF) – this would be too broad and could lead to areas being designation solely to frustrate extraction.

NPPF para 41 – conversion dealt with elsewhere and more generally.

NPPF para 76 – best added at end of that clause.

NPPF para 75 – this para is problematic in the first instance and a revised version is proposed in the alternative draft.

NPPF para 74. Similarly.

NPPF Para 73 Unnecessary

NPPF para 65.  Issues dealt with but more appropriate in 18-14 to avoid duplication.

NPPF Para 28. Unnecessary, breaks text flow.

NPPF Para 21.  We hope our language deals with the same issue more clearly.  (3-14 alternative draft.

NPPF Para 20.  This addition would not be necessary due to the more nuanced approach to the presumption in the alternative draft.

NPPF Para 17  This duplicates later sections.  We propose one integrated section on Neighbourhood Planning.

Chartered Institute of Highways and Transport coordinates Transport Groups #NPPF Response


CIHT is contributing to the development of the nation’s future planning policy and provide comment on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) document, which the Institution believes will have major implications for the delivery of transport infrastructure.

Rather than responding as an individual professional institution CIHT have taken this opportunity to co-ordinate a response to the proposed Framework on behalf of the transport community as a whole.

Sue Percy, CIHT Chief Executive said:“Whilst we support the need to simplify planning policy and process we are concerned that the document, as currently drafted, would not deliver sustainable development and growth desired by the government, accessed by sustainable transport.”  “To assist the Department for Communities and Local Government further, we have taken the opportunity to identify specific detailed changes that could be incorporated into the draft NPPF to address our concerns.”  “We hope that our summary and suggested amendments are of assistance and would urge the Government to consider our suggestions carefully, incorporating them where possible, before the final NPPF is published.”CIHT have coordinated the joint submission of a summary of key responses to the NPPF, which was circulated to a wide range of parties engaged in transport and planning.

Support for this approach was provided by all the signatories listed below.CIHT will be following up this response by extending the dialogue with key stakeholders including Government to ensure that the highways and transportation industry’s views are communicated fully.

Supporting organisations comprised of:

The Local Government Technical Advisers Group (TAG)

Addison & Associates

Campaign for Better Transport

CIHTConfederation of Passenger Transport UK


Living Street

sLondon Forum of Amenity & Civic Societies

MouchelPhil Jones Associates


SKM Colin Buchanan

Town & Country Planning Association

Transport for Quality of Life

Full copies of the submissions can be found below

NPPF CIHT Cover Letter 

NPPF CIHT Response – a summary 

NPPF CIHT Proposed Revisions 

Government Tries to Speed up Local Plan Examination to smooth #NPPF Transition

Planning Resource

The government is in talks with the Planning Inspectorate over ways to speed up the process of examining local plans to ensure that they comply with the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), it has emerged.

Under the coalition’s controversial planning reforms, local authorities will need to have an up-to-date local plan in place by the time the changes come into effect in 2012. Otherwise, the presumption in favour of sustainable development enshrined in the draft NPPF, which stipulates that the default response to new development should be “yes” where a local plan is “absent, silent or indeterminate”, will take effect.

Councils that already have a local plan in place are also under pressure to ensure that their plans comply with the principles set out in the draft NPPF.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said last month that it is looking at a fast-track way of adjusting existing plans to comply with the framework.

But communities minister Baroness Hanham told peers in the House of Lords this week that discussions are also going on with the Planning Inspectorate “to see what is required to make the examination process quicker”.

She said: “It is well understood that the Planning Inspectorate will be put under pressure and we hope and expect that that will be able to be worked around.”

A 12-week consultation on the draft NPPF closed this week following widespread public debate over the proposals, with the National Trust – one of the most vocal critics of the reforms – handing over a petition with more than 200,000 signatures calling for changes to the document.

Planning minister Bob Neill said at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month that the need to redefine “sustainable development”, clarify the government’s stance on the “brownfield first” policy and put in place transitional arrangements for councils to adapt to the reforms were the three main areas of concern over the draft NPPF that the industry has raised with him and other ministers.

Last week, decentralisation minister Greg Clark reaffirmed a ministerial pledge to put in place transitional arrangements to help councils – particularly those without an up-to-date local plan in place – to adapt to the government’s reforms.

He told a meeting of the environmental audit committee: “It’s always been our intention that we will make an announcement about transitional arrangements. Our target for the publication of the final version of the NPPF is April 2012. Well before then … we will set out our transitional arrangements.”

Sector bodies including the Planning Officers Society (POS) have recommended that such arrangements could include a two-year transition period. POS member Stuart Hylton told the communities and local government select committee this week that two years would allow councils to fill in any gaps in their local plans by the time the new system comes into effect.

However, Baroness Hanham told peers this week that the government is unlikely to put in place a specified transition period. She said: “Forty-six per cent of local authorities do not have development plans in place and they have had eight years to produce them. The worry is that if you time limit a transitional period in some way you are back exactly where we started, where people do not pay any attention.

“It is absolutely essential that we put pressure on local authorities to get their plans completed. We would need to consider very carefully whether there is any value in having (a laid-down transitional period), but are committed to guidance of some sort.”

Of course the exmination process can be very quick, two or three weeks, when local planning authories dont withdraw the plan on the opening day, are forced to do several months more re-consultation when the plan isnt supported by the evidence or shows a 10/15 years shortfall or they keep dragging the process out in the hope that policies will change preventing them having to allocate any land.  Some recent examinations have incredibly lasted over a year, only a few days sitting, with more than two rounds of re-consultation.

Person months? – Entering the #NPPF responses onto a database

The government has made a rod for its own back by not setting up a proper on-line consultation database for the NPPF.

It will need a database of comments to properly analyse them, otherwise they will get completely lost going through the 3,700 ‘substantive individual responses’. (as opposed to the other 10,000 circular responses).

Assuming each is on average 15 pages long, from experience with outsourcing database entry you can expect 15 pages of data entry per person day, trying to push it much further than that results in big quality issues.  Those responses that can be cut and pasted or scanned you can do two -three times that rate.

This is 49-148 person months!  The tight timetable means they cant wait 3, 4, 5 or 6 months to finish, so it seems they are going to need to hire a whole office of workers in Bangalore to bash it in in a reasonable 4-6 week period, as well as probably a team in the UK checking each days entrys.

Of course if they had a proper online system they could have cut this back by at least 70% – business case anyone?

RSPB final #NPPF Response


Our response was formed of three parts.  The first was our consultation response in which we answered relevant consultation questions.  The second was our proposed track changes to the draft text of the NPPF (not our usual approach, but apparently that preferred by officials at CLG).  The third was our legal advice on SSSIs from Nathalie Lieven QC.

In a nutshell, we declared the NPPF unfit for purpose and set out the major concerns we have with the document:

  1. As it stands, the presumption in favour of sustainable development is little more than a presumption in favour of development. Significant amendment is required in order to ensure it encourages sustainable development, and to avoid undermining important protective policies, such as those for SSSIs.
  2. The presumption should link back to a robust definition of sustainable development based on the principles of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy (Securing the Future, 2005), including the need to live within environmental limits.
  3. The NPPF as currently drafted would make it significantly harder to refuse environmentally-damaging development, including those that threaten nationally-important wildlife sites. The RSPB has obtained legal advice that the draft NPPF would undoubtedly lessen protection for SSSIs not protected by European law. Nor does the NPPF adequately reflect evidence about the economic value of the natural environment and the need to value it accordingly in decision-making.

The real battle, of course, lies ahead.  We have many months of discussions with officials and ministers ahead of us.  Our team here worked extremely hard at our response, and we consider it to be well-thought out and balanced. We believe our proposed amendments would put provide the appropriate protection and enhancement of our natural environment, whilst allowing the homes and businesses we so urgently need.

Let’s hope government agrees!

If you’re really keen, you’ll soon be able to download our full response to the consultation from this page.

Final RICS #NPPF Response


RICS has responded to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework consultation providing expert, objective advice from a professional standards perspective and in the public interest.

RICS welcomes the NPPF as a significant step forward in enabling the growth the UK requires. Businesses and other employers need the clarity and certainty RICS believes the NPPF seeks to provide.

Guidance protecting Specific Sites of Scientific Interest, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and the Broads remains unchanged. The Natural Environment White Paper will be key in helping to deliver wider protection for the environment. However, the new Local Green Space designation proposed in the NPPF should be applied only in exceptional cases and not be used as a mechanism to prevent growth.

RICS recognises the need to reduce the amount of national guidance provided but recommends that certain aspects of existing guidance should be retained to help achieve early agreement on potentially difficult issues. Targeted and prioritized guidance will be key to ensuring consistency across local authority boundaries. New guidance which is complementary to the NPPF will also be needed and RICS is working on the following guidance to ensure the NPPF provides a workable system:

  • Financial Viability in Planning (Paragraphs 39-43)
  • Place Making and Value (Paragraphs 114-123)

RICS considers that the planning system is not the sole reason that housing isn’t being delivered in the volume required and that businesses are not expanding. The lack of availability of mortgage finance and development finance are currently the major barriers to delivering increased housing supply rather than the planning system.

RICS is concerned that the NPPF does not yet provide sufficient certainty to create investor confidence to deliver the infrastructure communities and UK Plc needs. RICS is currently examining how it can develop principles of ‘Integrated Infrastructure Investment’ to clarify the terms of planning and delivery on which significant amounts of private investment could be attracted into investment in strategic national and local infrastructure.

View the RICS briefing.

View the full RICS response.

Yesterdays Commons #NPPF debate and the opening speeches


Ill do the speeches without the interjections for clarity. Ill cover the 20% rule questions and responses in a separate post.

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the National Planning Policy Framework.

It is a pleasure to be able to discuss our draft national planning policy framework and to hear the contributions of Members from all parties.

I welcome the new shadow Secretary of State to our exchanges for the first time. He is the third shadow Communities Secretary in a year, and we hope he will be around for a little longer than his predecessors. He is a regular fixture on Thursdays, and I know he will be much missed in business questions, but we are looking forward to his contributions over the months ahead. May I also recognise the contribution of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)? As we all know, she is a doughty political fighter and quite a political pugilist, but she has approached planning issues with a desire to find common ground and a pragmatism appropriate to the issue.

Planning transcends the life of any one Government and builds the foundation on which future generations will live their lives. That is why it is so important, and why we should take the opportunity to put in place a planning system that ensures that the countryside is available in the future for our children and their children as it is for us, that they have decent homes to grow up in and that they live in places that are safe and encouraging rather than threatening and miserable. Those are the purposes of the planning system, and it is important that we have a shared perspective on them.

Today’s debate comes from a commitment that I made to this House and the other place when we published the draft national planning policy framework in July. I think it is right to have Parliament debate the proposals, and we have all afternoon for the debate so that the many Members present can put their views and their constituents’ views on the record. The same debate will be held in the House of Lords in the week ahead, and of course the debates follow a 12-week consultation period that closed this week. There have been vigorous contributions from all sides—never has planning policy been so popular an issue for debate. Despite what people might think, I welcome that, because it is of prime importance and should be discussed in the open rather than the preserve of specialists. The idea that planning policy statements should simply appear having been discussed behind closed doors, rather than engaging people, is the wrong one. Scrutiny of them is a good thing.

Let me say something about the consultation in which we are engaged. The consultation closed on Monday, as Members will know. It would be neither fair nor legal for me to pre-empt the decisions that we will make in responding to the more than 10,000 responses that we received, as I am sure hon. Members will appreciate. Members might come up with brilliant suggestions and ideas in this afternoon’s debate, either by themselves or on behalf of their constituents, but I will be constrained from saying, “I agree with you; we’ll put it in,” or, “We’re minded to do that,” because that would prejudice our consideration of all the responses. Given that the consultation closed on Monday, Members will not be surprised to hear that I have not yet had time to review all the responses.

Let me set out the reasons for our reforms in context, The first and overriding objective is to put power in the hands of local people. Over the years, we developed arrangements in this country—most recently through the regional strategies—that sought to resolve issues outside what people thought of as their communities. I understand the reasons for that and I do not think that those efforts were ill-intentioned by any means. However, the consequence has been that many people in this country feel that planning is something that is done to them, rather than something that involves them. I am not alone in saying that: the problem was also recognised in our discussions in Committee on the Localism Bill. The last planning Minister in the previous Government, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said:

“I inherited the regional spatial strategies and quickly found that they had…few friends…what was clear to me…was that our regional spatial strategies and our approach to planning…was too top-down”.—[Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 272WH.]

Let me continue the point about the importance of putting local people in charge. The British people are a pretty bolshie lot, and when we feel that we are being dictated to from above, the natural response is to seek to frustrate, thwart, resist and impede whatever is being imposed without enjoying the consent of the community. We know from this country and around the world that it is good practice to involve people in plan-making early and to allow them a genuine say in producing plans for their area, because then they will participate with enthusiasm. People are right to resist when bad  planning is done to them, but when good planning is done with them, they will prefer to get involved and create positive places. That is why we are scrapping the regional strategies and the right of the Planning Inspectorate to rewrite local plans and why we are introducing compulsory pre-application scrutiny for major developments and neighbourhood plans to ensure a local voice.

The first objective is to make the local plan central to what happens and to transfer power to local communities. That has to be crucial. However, if we are to put local councils and people in neighbourhoods in charge, it is essential that the policy context in which they operate must be accessible. They have to be able to understand it. When I first started to review the planning policy statements and planning policy guidance notes over a year ago, I asked for them to be brought into my office. They had to be carried in—in boxes. It is not possible to put local councils and members in charge if they have to wade through more than 1,000 pages of national policy. The policy has accreted over time. It was not the intention of the previous Government or Governments before them to accumulate such a mountain of policy; it has grown up piecemeal over time. That is why—to respond to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who has now left the Chamber—it was important to take the issue seriously and review the policy from first principles. That is what we have done to make it accessible. The proposals that we have received to boil it down and distil it reflect a consensus in the House and beyond. In the submissions that have come in from the groups outside the House, I have seen many detailed “track changes” comments, and none of the proposals departs significantly from the type and length of document that we are aiming for.

We need to make planning policy accessible if we are to achieve our aim of putting local communities in charge. That is the purpose of our reforms. It is also important to consider the effects of the policy regime that we have established. I do not pretend that the planning system is the only factor behind the low levels of house building and the difficulties in commercial development that we have at the moment. That would clearly be wrong. There are also difficulties in accessing finance, for example; there is a shared recognition that that is an important factor at this time. It is important to recognise, however, that the planning system makes an important contribution.

I have been looking at the joint submission from Shelter, Crisis, Homeless Link, the National Housing Federation—representing social housing providers—and the Chartered Institute of Housing. It says that

“reducing the quantity of policy will help simplify the planning system, make it more accessible to all users and will remove a significant barrier to much needed development”

—in this case, in social housing. Recent statistics show that in the five years to 2010, real spending on planning, through planning applications, increased by 13%, while the number of applications fell by 32%. By my reckoning, that means that the average cost has risen by something like 66%. That is a factor.

The British Chambers of Commerce has said that the system is

“too complicated, too costly and too uncertain. It creates mistrust…and holds back our recovery.”

With that breadth of analysis, it is important to recognise that the planning system is one of the factors that is leading to the silting up of the system.

Let me outline the consequences of the problem for families. If we persist, over the long term, in building a far lower number of homes than the number of households that are being formed, the inevitable consequence will be poverty. People will have to spend more in rent and have less to spend on their children. It will also be more difficult for people to get on to the housing ladder for the first time. We know that the average age for first-time buyers who do not have assistance from their parents is now getting close to middle age, at nearly 40. We want people to be able to get on; we do not want them to have to make choices.

I received an e-mail from a member of the public, which stated:

“Being part of a couple with a 2-year-old son, living in a flat…we are desperate to buy a family home with a garden, but have little chance.

The social consequences of house prices being so high seem catastrophic to me—both parents being fixated on earning enough to pay for a mortgage, both too”—

“for much of a social life, every…penny going on the mortgage with nothing left over for holidays that I took for granted as a child. We are currently having to decide whether to abandon our families and friends and go and live…where neither of us has lived before…or to stay in our flat, with our son unable to run around without the people underneath us banging on the ceiling!”

There is a problem for families that we need to address by changing the system and dealing with some of the long-term flaws. That is the purpose of this policy.

Let me turn to some of the concerns that have been raised, of which that is one. I shall preface that by saying that it is not our intention to change the purpose of the planning system. There has been some suggestion that the proposals represent a fundamental change in what the system is about, but they do not. They will, quite rightly, balance the environmental, the social and the economic, and there is no change in that regard, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has declared.

Let me turn to some of the concerns that have been expressed, including the definition of brownfield sites that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. It is true that the draft national planning policy framework does not use the words “brownfield sites”. However, that is not for the reasons that have been imputed to us. The reasons are rather more prosaic. Many Members will have participated in debates during the previous Parliament in which we discussed the fact that it was being presumed that gardens that had ended up being included in the brownfield definition were available to be developed. One of the first things that we did was to take them out of the definition.

In the draft framework, we decided not to use what had been quite a crude definition. Another example—something that I did not know before—is that a china clay quarry in Cornwall apparently falls outside the definition of a brownfield site. Paragraph 165 of the national planning policy framework therefore contains a requirement on councils to allocate land of the lowest environmental value. That was suggested by the environmental charities. There have been representations to say that some strictly brownfield land that has been developed has, over the years, been put back into use to support nature, especially in our cities. That was the reason behind having a more environmentally based definition.

Without pre-empting the consultation, which would clearly be wrong, let me say that there have been suggestions that, because some people have got used to the word “brownfield”, they might appreciate some reference—some explanation—that links the policy to that. That is a representation that has been made, and given that it is our intention, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton suggests, to ensure that we bring back into use first land that has been derelict or previously developed and that makes a lesser contribution than green fields, that will be made absolutely clear when we respond.

Let me say something about the definition of sustainability, which I know has attracted some interest. The definition that we have used is the one used by previous Governments. It is the Brundtland commission’s definition, which has stood the test of time. It has been suggested that it is a high-level definition, so there should be a further elaboration of it. Hon. Members will know that planning policy statement 1, for example, contains the Brundtland definition in one paragraph and includes an extra 10 lines referring to the sustainable development strategy. That has been part of the previous document and some organisations and perhaps some Members have suggested that we should make reference to the current version of the sustainable development strategy, the 2005 document.

The Government have not revoked the sustainable development strategy of 2005. Members of the Environmental Audit Committee who interviewed me last week asked some questions about it and it is the subject of one of the suggestions that have been made in the consultation. Let me explain why it was not included in the draft as it stands. As I say, it has not been revoked or repealed in any way. It is simply a matter of whether a document produced in 2005 has the timelessness of the Brundtland definition.

It was necessary to update the 1999 strategy in 2005. Six years on, there are some respects in which thinking on sustainability has progressed. For example, there is the idea that the separate pillars of the economy, the environment and the social aspects of sustainability can be traded off, one against the other. Some people argue—and I think there is some merit in doing so—that that is a rather defensive position and that one should be looking for positive improvements to the environment, not simply to trade-off. That is very much the thinking in the Government’s natural environment White Paper, which talked of a net gain for nature. In response to the consultation we could listen to such representations, but let me say simply that our intention was to make sure that we are not stranded in our thinking when we might have a more progressive approach to sustainability.

Let me deal with another issue of concern—transitional arrangements.

It follows from everything I have said about the purpose of these reforms, which is to advantage local plan making by putting local communities in charge rather than have planning dealt with by appeal through the planning inspectorate, that in the transitional arrangements we will put in place—again, in response to the consultation; we have had many representations on what they should be—we will be clear that no local council or authority that has developed a plan that expresses the future of its community will be at all disadvantaged. We are not going to take decision making from them. Part of the transitional arrangements will ensure that the community is advantaged rather than disadvantaged from the outset. It would pre-empt the consultation if I were to say which suggested approaches we favour, but I make the commitment to the House that we will safeguard and strengthen the ability of local councils to be in charge of their own destiny rather than the reverse.

As was recognised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, this debate has provided an opportunity for every Member to participate in the reform of a planning system that, over time, had lost its capability of delivering its purpose of planning for communities in a way that we all want. The reforms are necessary to make sure that we have an environment that our future generations can cherish as we do. It is important to give voices to people in communities and, for all the reasons I mentioned about sustainability, it is important to improve and enhance our environment and to restore habitats where we can do so. We also want to improve the standards of design, which have turned many people against development. We also want, of course, to deliver the jobs and homes that the next generation needs, but not at the expense of these important aspects of the environment that we cherish.

I look forward to hearing the contributions of hon. Members this afternoon and to reading all the responses to the consultation that have been made. At the end of this process, I say to every hon. Member, we will have a planning system that reflects the best endeavours and the best intentions of everyone who wants to contribute positively to this process. It will be something of which we can be proud for future generations.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Like the Minister, I would like to express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). I thank her and my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for their work on the Opposition Front Bench in holding the Government to account. I also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington North (Helen Jones) and for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) to the shadow Department for Communities and Local Government team. Alongside them, and on either side of me today, we have continuity in the form of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Derby North (Chris Williamson).

I welcome today’s debate. I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not open it—although he has done us the courtesy of attending—because given that he is seeking, with the Minister, to make the most fundamental change to our planning system for more than two generations and given that this is the first opportunity for the House to debate the matter since the publication of the national planning policy framework, it would have been good to hear from him. I look forward to the next occasion. Nevertheless, this debate, which we welcome, is extremely timely. The Minister expressed it well: planning at times and to some people can seem rather technical, but in fact it is about how we shape the places in which we live and how we build our communities. That is what Civic Voice has described as “everyday England”.

We know that there is a finite quantity of land. As Mark Twain famously said,

“buy land because they’ve stopped making it”.

There are many competing demands on land. England is a very densely populated country, and the population is growing. The planning system’s job is to help us to meet our future needs for housing, jobs, economic development, transport, growing food, tackling climate change and generating energy in a way that balances all these things—the right sort of development in the right place, which, in the end, is what we all want—while protecting the natural environment, by which I mean the moors and the mountains, the rivers and the lakes, the green fields and the countryside that make up our islands’ unique and beautiful landscapes. They matter because we cherish their beauty and their capacity to lift our spirits and because, as human beings have belatedly learned, they sustain our very existence. We need planning to protect this environment because, in the absence of that balance and if we fail to reconcile

“competing economic, social and environmental priorities”—

in the words of the Conservative planning Green Paper—there would be a free-for-all.

I welcome the idea of simplification and the principle of greater clarity, and I support enabling planning decisions to be taken as near as possible to those whom

“competing economic, social and environmental priorities”—

they will affect. It was, after all, a Labour Government who introduced the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which helped local councils to designate green belt. However, the central problem raised by the draft NPPF and the reason the Government are in difficulty is that Ministers have failed so far to convince people that they have got this balance right. It seems that even Conservative-controlled Tunbridge Wells borough council, which is the Minister’s own local authority, is unhappy about his reforms. It is reported that the council “strongly disagreed” with the Government’s suggestion that the NPPF had the right approach towards sustainable development—I shall return to that point—and argued that it was

“vague and open to interpretation”.

The council also strongly disagreed that green belt would be protected under the NPPF. People are entitled to ask, if the Minister is having difficulty persuading his own Conservative-controlled council to support his plans, how anybody else can be expected to have confidence in them.

The planning policy that we all inherited had great strengths and evolved over time. My concern is that, as was argued by others during the consultations, in reducing the amount of guidance, we might end up not with greater clarity, but with greater uncertainty. In the end, all words will be argued over by developers, considered by local authorities and ultimately determined by the courts.

The ham-fisted way in which aspects of planning policy have been handled by the Government has been entirely of their own making: parts of the policy were drafted in a rush; they did not listen properly to advice; they have created uncertainty—hence the result of the consultation and the need for clarity—and, most disappointingly of all, they responded initially to criticism with retaliation. That is quite some achievement. In this respect, as in others, the Government cannot help going too far, too fast.

The Government have got themselves into this position partly because of the difficulties with their economic policy, which is central to planning reform. Everyone can now see confidence plummeting, unemployment rising, growth grinding to a halt and nothing like enough private sector jobs being created to replace those being lost in the public sector, even though we were promised last year that that was what would happen. Worst of all, however, in the face of this failure, the Government have no plan to put it right. There are some in government, not so much in DCLG but elsewhere, who have blamed the planning system for a lack of growth, even though, over the past 60 years—to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma)—it has helped our country to build many new homes, to establish many new businesses and shops and to undertake a great deal of development.

No one is going to say that the planning system is perfect or that it cannot be improved upon—decisions could certainly be made quicker. However, given that the Government ‘s own impact assessment makes it clear that 85% of planning applications were approved in 2009-10, it is hard to see how it can be described as a system that stands in the way of economic growth. What worries people when they read the NPPF is the possibility that it will usher in a “big bang” development free-for-all, which no one in the House would want.

Under the current system—I want to recognise its strengths—councils have granted developers planning permission for 300,000 new homes that have not yet been built. Why have they not been built? It is clearly not the fault of the planning system, which has done its bit. What are the Government doing about the fact that the number of new homes built in England in the first year under the coalition was the lowest for at least 20 years, and about the fact that plans for 200,000 new homes have been abandoned since their election because of the chaos and uncertainty created by their planning proposals? That is but one example of the way in which the Government’s draft framework is leading to confusion.

The Government hope that planning reform will help growth to get going again, and we all want that. However, their actions in rushing reform in a way that has lost people’s confidence and hurrying to try to abolish the regional spatial strategies have led to uncertainty among planners, councils, developers and the courts. As a result, the system may slow down while everyone works out what the new words mean.

Public confidence is very important. We all accept that the planning system needs public support in order to work. Let me say, with all respect, that describing those who have expressed genuine concerns about the draft NPPF, including such well-known revolutionaries and radicals as the National Trust—I suppose that I should declare my membership of that radical and revolutionary organisation, as should other right hon. and hon. Members—as “semi-hysterical”, “left wing” and guilty of “nihilistic selfishness” was a profound mistake on the part of Ministers. Even worse was the accusation that the criticism was

“a carefully choreographed smear campaign”.

What were Ministers thinking of? Is it because they are so out of touch that, instead of listening and responding to what people were saying—as, in fairness, the Minister has today—they chose initially to attack while bulldozing onwards? That is the very opposite of what the public expect in the way of balanced discussion and proper consultation.

Nor, as the Minister knows, are the accusations true. For example, both the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have supported housing development, in some cases on greenfield land, because they thought that it was the right thing to do. This is not about people who want no development at all; it is about the Government’s recognition that the way in which they approached the matter at the outset was a mistake. We need only look at the size of the petitions that have been received to see the extent of the concern that is felt. It is fair to say that recently, including today, we have observed a more emollient tone, and I for one welcome that; but it is not before time.

It is clear that, having gone about this in the wrong way to start with, the Government will have to make some big changes in the right direction. Paragraph 14 of the NPPF contains the

presumption in favour of sustainable development”

that was originally announced in the Chancellor’s “The Plan for Growth” in March, which also used a phrase—

“the default answer to development is ‘yes’”

—that is repeated in paragraph 19 of the NPPF. That has created a lot of anxiety, because it suggests decision-making that is automatic rather than considered and because, in the words of the National Trust, it constructs “a fundamentally unbalanced system”.

Given the primacy of the sustainable development presumption in policy, given that so much flows from it, and given that no one in the House wants development at any price, the Government need to get the definition of sustainable development right. The Environmental Audit Committee has already made clear its view on which definition should be used. As the Minister will know, in a report published in March, it called for the inclusion of the five internationally recognised principles of sustainable development that were set out in the 2005 sustainable development strategy, which, as I recall, the then Opposition supported at the time, as I do now.

I listened carefully to the argument presented by the Minister today, and I hope that the Government will bear it in mind when they produce their revised draft, because there is a risk that in the absence of a complete definition, there will be more argument about what the term means. The last Government, with support from the then Opposition, replaced the original Brundtland definition with the 2005 definition, and I was not persuaded by what the Minister said about why that should not endure in time. If we stick with it, it will be well understood and enduring.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I am sure that the revised draft will be a slightly longer document, but the existence of a bit more material sometimes assists decisions in the planning process rather than making them more difficult.

I do not know whether the Minister has seen the CPRE legal opinion, issued by a respected planning QC, but it addresses this very point about the definition of sustainable development. The QC argues that

“there is an ambiguity which permeates the NPPF, and which is likely to lead to uncertainty in its application, with a consequent increase in the number of appeals.”

None of us wants that. This serves as a powerful argument that the Minister should reflect on possible changes, as he has undertaken to do.

The NPPF says that in the absence of such a plan there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but regardless of whether there is a local plan, someone must still decide about what constitutes sustainable development.

The second issue I want to address is the choice of land for development. There are many competing pressures, and we want to protect as much green space as possible. That point was made eloquently in this week’s Westminster Hall debate initiated by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).

Because of our heritage, we have a lot of previously developed brownfield land and, building on the foundations laid by a previous Conservative Government, Lord Prescott created the “brownfield first” policy. It was very successful. Last year, 76% of new dwellings were built on brownfield sites, up from 55% in 1989. We need only look at the centre of cities like Leeds and Manchester to see that it is working, or consider that in the last decade the proportion of new homes built on the green belt fell from 4% to 2%. It is estimated that there are almost 62,000 hectares of brownfield land in England that are ready for building on, which would be enough to build about 1.2 million homes.

The Minister appears to argue that a

“land with the least environmental or amenity value”

approach is the same as this “brownfield first” policy. If that is the case, why change it? If it is not the case, then we can understand why people are worried. Indeed, the Government’s own impact assessment refers to

“removing the target and the priority for brownfield development”.

I cannot understand why the Government wish to get rid of the “brownfield first” policy. It is simply wrong to let undeveloped land, including greenfield sites, be used while old buildings and previously developed land in our towns and cities are available. I hope the Government will reinstate that policy.

Another reason why the removal of this policy has caused so much concern is the worry that green belt and other green land will be put under greater pressure as a result. The Minister has denied that, but that confidence is not shared by others. Existing planning policy—planning policy statement 4—states that:

“Local planning authorities should ensure that the countryside is protected for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty”.

There is also a presumption against inappropriate development in the green belt. I hope that both those points will be fully reflected in the revised draft. That would, after all, be consistent with what the Minister said today about the Government’s natural environment White Paper and the value of nature.

I ask the Minister to address the following questions. Has he seen the CPRE’s legal opinion, which argues that the new formulation of words may weaken green belt protection? I accept that the legal argument is quite technical, but it makes the point about uncertainty and it deserves an answer.

Has the Minister seen the legal advice of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that the draft NPPF would weaken protection for sites of special scientific interest? Will he therefore consider including SSSIs in the protection provided by paragraph 16 of the framework? [That paragraph is very flaky for lots of legal reasons – issue needs to be addressed in another way].

In respect of development, where would the Government’s alternative to the “brownfield first” policy leave agricultural land where someone seeks to argue that it has low environmental value? We need an answer to that. I also hope the Government will reinstate the “town centre first” policy, as removing office development from the sequential test is the wrong approach.

The framework must support affordable housing. As currently drafted, it implies that affordable housing can be traded off to make a scheme more viable. What is an “acceptable return” for landowners and developers? That is not defined, so who will make that judgment?

Turning to the important question of how this will all be implemented, because of the speed with which the Government want to introduce their new policy, there is a risk that local councils’ own development frameworks will not be ready in time. They might therefore be considered out of date or unclear, and people worry that communities might be left with little protection from developers because of the proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development. That is because paragraph 14 instructs councils to:

“Grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.”

Only about half of councils have already drawn up local plans. What assessment has the Minister made of how long it will take all councils to get their plans in place, especially given the cuts in the number of council planning staff? In essence, the worry is that in the absence of proper transitional arrangements, a Bill that everyone has been told will put them in charge of decisions about development may leave them powerless in the face of developers because of the sustainable development presumption. I welcome what the Minister has said today, but he will have to do something about the implementation timetable.

Other issues will also have to be addressed. How will “silent”, “indeterminate” and “out of date” be determined? Will that ultimately be up to the courts? How will the duty to co-operate work in practice? One of the weaknesses in the NPPF is that no one knows what that means, apart from there being a duty to talk. This is important, of course, because planning issues to do with transport and other infrastructure extend beyond the boundaries of a single local authority. We also note that one part of England will retain a regional plan: London.

Why does the NPPF say that supplementary planning guidance cannot add to the cost of development? Where does that leave design standards, for instance? The Minister has spoken eloquently about the importance of good design, and I agree with him. Where does that leave policies for conservation areas, too, especially as they could not be said

“to bring forward sustainable development at an accelerated rate,”

which is the circumstance under which such costs are allowed? We need some clarity on this issue.

We do not want to end up with the planning system becoming increasingly combative, rather than consensual, and with applications being decided by the courts—although the courts can already take account of the draft NPPF because it can be seen as a material consideration. We are currently awaiting the Select Committee reports, but will the Minister say whether he intends there to be a further period of consultation after publishing a revised draft? That would be very welcome and would offer reassurance. Does he also intend to enable Parliament to vote on these proposals, as it should? We are changing 60 years of planning policy—we are changing the post-war planning settlement—in a way that many have concerns about, and the Government should not fear a vote in the House.

Ultimately, planning should be about helping us to find the right balance for the places in which we live and the landscapes upon which we walk. We support a streamlined and effective planning system, but it needs to make all of us feel that we can shape those places and care for that landscape. We need to feel it takes account of our need for homes, jobs and businesses to be backed, and for a countryside that we can all cherish.

Ultimately, when we leave to one side all of the words, paragraphs, material considerations and statutory obligations, the aim is to find that balance. I hope Ministers will listen to the debate that is raging on these proposals—we need only look at the number of Members wishing to speak today—because a profound change is only worth making if it makes for a better system and a better land.