The publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for consultation has been enthusiastically welcomed by the property and development industry. And quite right too. The thousands of pages of turgid, bureaucratic and inconsistent policy guidance of the former regime have been cast aside and replaced with a concise 50 page framework with one overriding objective – growth.
While the Localism Bill gave Britain’s Nimby brigade the tools to frustrate and oppose development, the NPPF will be the developers trump card. Page after page reinforces the case for growth and development. Councils will now need to demonstrate that their local plans are in line with the NPPF. Those that don’t have a sound plan in place (and four fifths don’t at present) will be subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
It was always the Government’s intention to bring in a national planning framework that was supportive of growth to balance the anti-development tendencies of the localism bill. But the depth of the economic downturn and the Government’s priority to get the economy back on track has meant that the framework has a much stronger focus on economic development than would have been the case even twelve months ago.
The Ministers at CLG have played a blinder. By establishing the practitioner’s advisory group to publish an initial draft, they paved the way for a pro-growth agenda. And by waiting to publish the framework until the Localism Bill has passed through the scrutiny of the Lords should ensure that Ministers get their localism bill and NPPF in place for the target start date of April 2012. With the incentive provisions of the New Homes Bonus already established, the Government will feel that the core foundations of its planning reform agenda will have been delivered in less than two years of taking office – a pretty significant achievement.
Yet, there are a number of words of caution.
1. This is still a draft NPPF. The final version needs ratification and ministers will face months of lobbying from interest groups wanting to water it down.
2. Even if the NPPF is implemented as drafted, much will depend on how the Secretary of State administers the new system and interprets the provisions within the new framework. The term “sustainable development” in itself could be interpreted in many ways.
3. Much of the enthusiasm for the new policy is the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Yet if this becomes seen as a loophole for developers to exploit the system, the Secretary of State will come under enormous pressure to use it sparingly.
Westminster now packs away for the summer break. CLG Ministers need to re-charge their batteries. When they come back, they will face pressure from councils, lobby groups, backbench MPs and the media to tone down the draft of this NPPF.
Wyn Evans is Founding Director of Forty Shillings.