Some Early Thoughts on the ‘Alpha’ Planning Guidance

Well after two days its finally working for me though not everybody yet.  Will the consultation period be extended by a couple of days to compensate?

Clearly the site is ‘alpha’ not yet ‘beta’.  This jargon- which will completely bypass anyone not computer literate.  The site is not yet comprehensive, listing some national policy for example but not all (Gypsy’s and Travellers and Waste for example arn’t listed).   It does not yet include planning practice guidance for renewable and low carbon energy and onshore oil and gas.

The jargon too obscures whether this is a genuine consultation.  It seems that the site is subject to ‘feedback’ but not necessarily its content.  The website says the content will be finalized later this year but not necessarily after consideration of comments received,  There is a big difference to consultation and feedback, you profide feedback on points of view to a past episode of Eastenders but it doesn’t mean you can influence past or future content.  Why not simply state this is a consultation period and do as normal and produce a proper consultation document rather than this silly survey monkey type second best alternative.  Are the  planning practice guidance for renewable and low carbon energy and onshore oil and gas subject to consultation and if not why not?  The Government could be vulnerable here to an Aarhus convention complaint.  Please use plaine English describe it as a consultation period and make it easy to comment para by para (the paras arnt even numbered).

The style and design of it seem to reflect the use of a cheapjack awful content management system.  You cant comment para by para and they arnt numbered.  You cant produce printer freindly PDFs for any individual section.  Citing it in appeals and JRs will be hell.  There is not even a single photo or drawing, not even in the design section.

In terms of content a lot of it is not bad at all.  For example the local plans section contains lots iof stuff which should have been in the NPPF but was left out because of its artificial page limit.  The procedural sections are good but could be more user friendly set out, for example why an AZ layout and why not in terms of fuction, pre-apps, validation, consultation, decision, conditions, enforcement, then plan making, then topic specific stuff.

It would be helpful if the government listed all of the documents which the guidance would supercede as it did with the NPPF consultation document.  So far it seems comprehensive to replace circulars on planning obligations, conditions, costs etc. but not CIL.  It is not clear if quasi governmental guidance, such as the BRE sunglight and Dyalight guide or manual for streets would be superseded.

In terms of content a few areas seem to introduce wholly new policy not guidance.  Such as for example on the water environment and rural housing, both black holes in the NPPF.  The section on rural housing is particularly bad being doctrinaire, neoloberal rubbish trying to define scattered dispersed housing as ‘sustainable’ it would as drafted allow fairly unrestricted growth of almost any village. It is also illogical and contained no-sequiteurs and poor syllogisms, all finger;prints of a policy badly drafted by John Rhodes.  Where guidance is really needed and is lacking, such as that promised by Steve Quartermain on Agricultural Occupancy, it has been left out.

The sections on the Duty to Cooperate and Assessing Local Housing Need are curates egg with significant gaps and errors which ill blog on separately, for example their is no guidance on teh key methodological issue of how or if you should assess ‘backlog’, and it fails to make the distinction that forward looking memorandums of overstanding on the DTC cannot demonstrate compliance as the test is backward looking (as a number of inspectors have pointed out).  The guidance on application of the sequential and impact tests has been reduced to an unwoprkable rump.   Will the guidance on Gyspy and Traveller Accommodation Assessments be dropped?  They consulted on dropping it in 2012 but did not when the G&T policy annex was published.  Now the guidance says for overall housing need that you should unless their are strong justifications apply the national methodology, so will there be a national G&T methodology?  The overall guidance contains a number of assumptions (such as no need for primary research) that simply don’t apply to G&Ts.  Clearly there has been no assessment under the Equalities Act on the impact of this new guidance on different groups, ironic because of course all inequalities guidance has been dropped.  This could open up the guidance to legal challenge.  Of course Pickles like all others saying ‘just use common sense’ is really saying let me continue with my prejudices.

Finally standards.  No noise standards nut says you can introduce noise standards?  Why not just a single national standard which many plans are fitting in anyway based on the PSS?  Similarly guidance is needed on the relationship between planning building control and the new housing standards, especially with regards to information requirements on carbon standards at planning application stage.  Room and dwelling size standards should either be in the building regs or this guidance rather than any silly idea of an industry led voluntary ‘hutchmark’ scheme.

I can find no reference to bungalows, simply to the housing needs of elderly people.   The one reference to town centre parking asks town centre strategies to ask how town centre parking can be increased, this should really refer to town centre access as a whole as you clearly dont want to increase parking in a town centre like Kingston upon Thames which suffers considerable congestion on Saturday’s peaks.  Many historic towns like Chester and Salisbury are quite rightly trying to reduce town centre parking in favour of park and ride and increased bus use, and those town centres that have done this such as Cambridge have seen retail growth not decline.  Pickles Dogma on this is not evidence based.  The press release a couple of weeks ago quoted a BCC survey which found a correlation between footfall and parking levels but did not assume causation, indeed statistically it is probably a good example of spatial autocorrelation as the larger centres will likely have more footfall and automatically such centres will have more parking.  A student would receive a fail mark for making such a botched statistical assumption.



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