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National Planning Policy Framework (#NPPF) published today

Category: News March 27th, 2012 by mbc

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 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.

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

Category: News December 21st, 2011 by mbc

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.

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The National Planning Policy Framework – consultation period now closed

Category: News October 25th, 2011 by mbc

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.

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The national planning policy framework

Category: News October 11th, 2011 by mbc

I’ve spoken about the National Planning Policy Framework in a couple of posts of late. I’ve given my opinion and provided links to others who support my view – but that’s not very even-handed of me, so I thought I should present some information about the Framework, what it means, says and its current status.

To begin at the end – with the current status of the framework, it is currently a draft proposal for consultation, consultation will close on 17 October 2011.

So what’s the Framework all about? You can find full details of the Framework on the website. Follow that link to the landing page from where you can access lots more detail. Scroll down to the downloads section for the framework document itself. I can’t say I’ve studied the report in great detail, nor do I have a strong grounding in planning or local plans, but nevertheless I thought I’d share my observations and thoughts on the framework…

The authors of the report, the Department for Communities and Local Government lead with:

We have published the draft National Planning Policy Framework for consultation. This is a key part of our reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable growth. We are keen to hear views from all interested parties on the draft and how it might be improved.

…and some of the opening rhetoric sounds good…

Our natural environment is essential to our wellbeing, and it can be better looked after than it has been. Habitats that have been degraded can be restored. Species that have been isolated can be reconnected. Green belt land that has been depleted of diversity can be refilled by nature – and opened to people to experience it, to the benefit of body and soul.

This statement seems to describe the heart of the framework:

Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay – a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision. This framework sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan or development unsustainable.

Ok, so we rely on the framework to define the rules that we’ll use to decide which developments are sustainable and those which are not sustainable will not be allowed to proceed.

I find that the meaning of the word sustainable when used in the framework is somewhat at odds with my own understanding…

A positive planning system is essential because, without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved.

…I’m not sure I follow or agree with that statement – why state that growth is a prerequisite for a sustainable future? Many would argue that sustainability and growth are mutually exclusive. (As just one example, See The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality).

In general the approach to planning championed by the document isn’t a great deviation from what would currently be considered best practice – early engagement of developers with the community, pre-application discussion, an expectation of high quality and inclusive design, protection of valuable assets such as the greenbelt, heritage sites and so on.

Neighbourhood plans that ‘give communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live’ feature heavily in the framework and I must admit make me nervous. Too small, too local and (most importantly) too easy to manipulate to make me comfortable without an greater understanding of the governance around the community groups who will wield this power.

Another rather bold statement amused me:

Everyone should have the opportunity to live in high quality, well designed homes, which they can afford, in a community where they want to live.

…To which I flipantly reply…”I’d like my house in Knightsbridge now please!”

There is a thread that runs through the framework that generates some unease in me. That thread suggests a buccaneerering approach to planning. Statements such as these are bound to cause concern and generate opposition:

Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible.

…grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.

[On Communications Infrastructure]: Local planning authorities should not question whether the service to be provided is needed…

Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
• an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
• the need for and benefits of the development clearly outweigh the loss.
[I think most of us would prefer a simple blanket ban on developing playing fields – enough have already been lost. Cost-benefit analyses can easily be ‘massaged’ by powerful developers with pots of cash. The same sort of language is used in relation to heritage assets.]

…not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low-carbon energy and also recognise that even small-scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions…

To end on a postive note, there is a further underlying positive thread encouraging appropriate design for communities – a hint of the just out of reach utopia that you pick up from books such as A Pattern Language and The Barefoot Architect [my review coming soon!].

Anyway, I encourage you to read and ruminate for yourself…

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Further reflections on the national planning policy framework

Category: Barn Conversion Journal September 30th, 2011 by mbc

I’ve been giving some thought to the mooted change in planning policy that threatens a relaxation of planning laws in relation to building on green field sites.

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the National Trust petition opposing the new planning policy framework and looking for more information came across the Daily Telegraph’s Hands Off Our Land campaign which provides a useful summary & a news feed for anyone with an interest.

Planning is never an easy or comfortable subject to discuss. I have interests on both sides of this debate but I have to support the ‘hands-off‘ side on this one. The countryside is an increasingly difficult and increasingly expensive place to live. I have nothing to back this up, but it seems to me that the rate of change in the countryside in recent years has been greater than before (at least within my memory) and a period of stability is much needed. Current rural planning control is far from ideal – village sprawl (where villages have expanded outwards along their roads one house at a time, always built right next to the road), leads to ugly, impractical, poorly designed growth. I fear the change currently on the table will just see us fill in behind these road-side huggers with private, locked away estates of yet more cut-price Palladian mansions. What we need is a proper review and a framework of protection, with managed growth (where necessary, there seem to be an awful lot of unused houses around the country) and a return to the mixed-use, close proximity, compact village of our grandparents – I don’t see that in the seeming slash-and-burn ethos of the national planning policy framework.

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