#NPPF response from the Campaign to Protect Rural England @CPRE

Whilst the Government appears to have listened to the many concerned voices raised in response to the draft document, the continued insistence on easing planning controls to promote growth remains a troubling key theme of reform and increasingly a political plaything.

Of the summaries of the recently published National Planning Policy Framework that I’ve read, I like and broadly agree with the findings of this one published by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Whilst the Government appears to have listened to the many concerned voices raised in response to the draft document, the continued insistence on easing planning controls to promote growth remains a troubling key theme of reform and increasingly a political plaything.

The CPRE’s official response from Chief Executive Shaun Spiers is this:

‘We were very reassured that the Minister, Greg Clark recognised the intrinsic value of the ordinary countryside “whether specifically designated or not” and stated that the five principles of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy are included in the document. These were critical issues for CPRE. We are pleased the Minister appears to have listened to the strong public views, which mirrored our concerns.’

The CPRE article has a very useful Green, Amber, Red classification of the main areas of the NPPF. The traffic light designation is used to denote the CPRE’s level of concern. In summary, this shows approval in the areas of intrinsic value (of the countryside), local plans, light pollution and tranquillity, some concerns over the definition of sustainable development and any weakening of the levels of compulsion for developers to build on brownfield sites and then real concern over the Green vs growth debate and the housing pressure being placed on the planning system to provide a five year supply of housing land, plus an additional ‘buffer’ requirement of 5-20% on top of this.

Interesting stuff and certainly worth a read.

National Planning Policy Framework (#NPPF) published today

The National Planning Policy Framework (#NPPF) published today – Mar 27, 2012.

I last commented on the national planning policy framework back in December and it’s being published today.

The presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ remains and therefore so does the need I’d commented on earlier to properly define what we mean by ‘sustainable development’. I like this quote from Craig Bennett Friends of the Earth’s campaigns director:

[the new regulations] must spell out what is meant by ‘sustainable development’ – to ensure the right buildings are built in the right place and in the best interests of local people and our environment.

…and the Campaign To Protect Rural England, The National Trust and most concerned bodies agree…

Anyway, the document is now available from the communities.gov.uk website and there’s plenty being said at the BBC and the Guardian, I’ll post again once I have a chance to ruminate further.

The trouble with barn conversions

I suppose that I’ve been avoiding writing this post for quite some time, probably since not long after we started work on the barn and this blog. So, cards on the table, time to explore the dark-side(or at least some of the challenges) of barn conversions…

There are a whole bunch of troubles that come with barn conversions, some that I’ve experienced first hand, others at a distance…

PLANNING PERMISSION
NB: This section is only applicable in certain parts of the country, my experience is in Carmarthenshire, other parts of the country do not have such restrictions.

Some time ago planners and planning departments thought that barn conversions were a good idea. But that was back in the 90’s and things have changed since then. The consequences of barn conversions – splintered, untenable farms and rural gentrification (too much gravel and too many bay trees), became too high a price to pay. Local plans were changed to reflect this about face and new restrictions were introduced to encourage non-residential repurposing of barns.

We bought the barn at the cusp of this change, before residential planning had a prerequisite of two years on the market for holiday let or commercial use only, so things were easier for us then than they would be now. We were able to simply buy a barn with permission in place and convert it – that’s not likely to be the case today.

PAPER
In common with most building projects, chasing paper and knowing which pieces of paper to chase can become a real head-ache. Plans, schedules, planning permission & building control letters and a myriad of certificates – from the Environment Agency, Hetas, your electrician, energy assessor – the boxes to tick and bits of paper to collect are numerous.

Make sure that you know what documentation is required when you start your project, BUT also keep track of changes that occur as your project progresses. For example, when we started converting the barn an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) was a part the ill-fated, ‘later-to-have-its-wings-clipped’ HIPS home information pack scheme something for prospective house buyers – a few years later I needed one as part of the building control sign-off (Admittedly, I may well have missed the requirement for one at the start of the project – but I don’t think so!).

BARNS
They are awkward things barns. Big, empty, hard to divide spaces, with messy rubble built walls and often cut-price roofing, the floor, doors and windows will all need replacing and utilities will need to be added – and that’s if you’re lucky. Where you need to make changes (new openings, an extension, a new roof etc.) these will need to be in keeping with the local vernacular and more importantly your local planning departments vision of how the local vernacular should now manifest itself.

ARCHITECTS, PLANNERS, BUSYBODIES and other know-it-alls…
There’s a strange thing about barns. Before you start to convert them they just sit there, often neglected, dilapidated and generally unloved. Relics of a bygone age of back breaking, manually punishing agriculture. By and large, dusty, dirty unloved places, usually unseen and largely uncared for.

Then some mad romantic fool comes along, buys the barn and changes the game… Now it’s a much loved throwback to a halcyon age of honest endeavour an icon & a relic and you as the owner have become its custodian. Those-who-know-best now descend and urge you to retain its essential nature, keep it locked up tight, dark, untouched and ‘barnlike’.

Having said all that I wouldn’t have missed a minute of my conversion…

Local Government Committee brands the National Planning Policy Framework as “unhelpfully vague” and a “lawyer’s charter”

According to an article in today’s Telegraph a cross party group of MP’s has been pretty critical of the National Planning Policy Framework, commenting amongst other things that it is “unhelpfully vague” and a “lawyer’s charter”.

The Local Government Committee go on to make the following recommendations:

* Scrapping a clause where developers are given a default “yes” to building in areas where councils have failed to draw up local plans to protect the environment.
* Reinstating a commitment to develop brownfield sites before greenfield ones to help encourage urban regeneration.
* Dropping a clause which allows development to go ahead if it is too expensive to make it sustainable.
* Replacing every sports field built on by developers.

These are all important points – how a default “yes” to building anything anywhere can ever be correct on a small and history packed island like ours escapes me and the “councils have failed to draw up local plans” part is just to open to abuse.

Nice to see this appeal to common-sense – I just hope the Government respond in an equally enlightened, level-headed manner.

The National Planning Policy Framework – consultation period now closed

With the consultation period for the draft proposal now closed, I had the following email from The National Trust a day or two ago.

On Monday, the last day of the Government’s consultation on proposed reforms to our planning system, we went to Downing Street to give the Government our recommendations, backed by an astonishing 210,000 signatures on our petition.

Thanks to people like you, we’ve drawn attention to an important issue that threatens our countryside. When the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was launched in July, there was a big chance that it would go unnoticed. Between us, we’ve made sure it didn’t.

What needs to change?
The draft NPPF sets out to simplify our current planning system and to give local people a greater say in planning in their area. These are good aims. In the process, though, it puts economic goals first in any consideration of planning. It suggests using our planning system as an engine for growth. We want to see a much more balanced document that gives equal weight to social, environmental, and economic needs.

What have we achieved?
So as well as raising awareness of the issue, we’ve begun a national debate over the purpose of the planning system. The Prime Minister has confirmed to us that it should be balanced between those social, environmental and economic needs. This is just the start – we need the next draft of the NPPF to reflect that. It should be published in the New Year.

What’s next?
We’ll continue to keep the pressure on those now reviewing the NPPF, and you can help too. Please do write to your MP to share your concerns. The consultation may be closed, but Ministers are now considering the thousands of responses they have received, so you can let them know you care about the outcome.

I’ve highlighted what I see as the key statement in the third paragraph. I too was troubled by the coupling of the planning system with growth and further with sustainable development when I wrote my summary of the National Planning Policy Framework earlier in the month. With a revised draft document due out in the new year, I’d hope to see further clarity in reference to the relationship between planning, growth and sustainability as promoted by the authors of the Framework. The nature of this relationship as currently described (albeit not always explicitly) seems at odds with much current thought in regard to economic reality, how the public view the planning system and true sustainability.