Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Planning for better times

On Tuesday, the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It is meant to provide a framework within which local people and their councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans, reflecting local needs and priorities. Well, that’s the theory.

Planning is all about balances – economic, social and environmental. One person’s green space is another person’s housing plot. One company’s transport access is another person’s noise from morn ‘til night. One street’s useful, local bus-shelter is, for the home it’s outside, a place for litter and disturbance.

I chaired the all-party Select Committee which, having received vast amounts of evidence and heard many conflicting representations, produced an extremely critical report about the government’s original proposals last December.

In particular, we unanimously said that:
  • sustainable development must take account of environmental and social issues as well as the economic ones that the government had prioritized;
  • the presumption that any planning application should be agreed unless it could be proved that ‘the adverse effects significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’ was just unacceptable;
  • the priority for development must be brownfield first, not greenfield;
  • shop and office developments need to be concentrated on existing town and district centres, not on out-of-centre sites; and
  • existing sportsfields needed protection.

On a first reading of the final proposals, I’m pleasantly surprised that the government appears to have taken on board a lot of what we said.

The government also appears to have made one very important concession. It has agreed that councils can now make assumptions and take account of expected ‘windfall sites’ becoming available, when it is ensuring that enough development land is available to meet future requirements. This may have the effect of reducing the number of greenfield sites councils are required to identify for future development.