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A Short Debate on Planning

With yesterday marking the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass, it seems appropriate that MPs spent the evening discussing the planning system that so greatly affects the relationship we all have with our own local places.

But though yesterday’s debate had a distinctly localist focus, it was somewhat of a whistle-stop – with just a half-hour time-slot remaining for discussion, there was little time for any detailed examination of the document.

That’s not to say that important points weren’t raised – they were, notably the issue of the relationship between the Planning Inspectorate and local communities. Responding to Chris Heaton-Harris’ question, Planning Minster Greg Clark argued that the removal of contradictory regulation and Regional Spatial Strategies would allow the tension and antagonism in the planning system to dissipate. Besides this, he stated he had made it clear to the Planning Inspectorate that planning reforms place authority securely in the hands of local people. He is expecting to see a sample of the decisions that are being taken, including after the examination of plans, to ensure that this is happening.

The notion that the NPPF will bring more power to communities was broadly welcomed by all MPs, and Conservatives in particular. Caroline Lucas, however, touched on an issue that may undermine the promise of localism: local authority resources. Although Ms Lucas asked her question in relation to carbon reductions, there is a clear need for the resources, guidance and assistance she referred to in the production of good local and neighbourhood plans.

The response from the Minister was not particularly encouraging on this front – while he admitted that the government will support local authorities in their production of local plans, he did little to explain by what means they will be supported.

Clive Betts, the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, was another voice of caution. He said that the real test of the NPPF is whether it is better than the former system, and success on this count would come from its delivery of more houses, more green energy projects and more development in general.

Mr. Betts’ view is one shared by many: the proof of planning reforms will be in the decisions made in coming months and years, and its delivery of development local people want, in a way that does not compromise our environment.

A continuation of this debate on another day has been promised by Mr. Clark – time allowing, this should enable MPs to ask important questions of the Minister on the detail and implementation of the NPPF.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant.

#planning4ppl


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Parliament to debate NPPF

It’s been nearly a month since the National Planning Policy Framework was published, and we, among others, were pleased that the final document was better than the draft – for more information on our position, visit our Planning for People website. There remain, however, some big questions about how the new system will work in practice.

While we welcome the primacy of the plan confirmed by the NPPF, this means that the pressure is on local authorities and communities to ensure their plans are up-to-scratch. We’ve been keeping our eyes firmly open, and are working to gather initial thoughts on early experiences at a local level – if you have any insights or local stories about how the NPPF is being put into practice, please add your comments below.

New questions on planning

So much of the NPPF’s success, or otherwise, will depend on its implementation at a local level: this is where focus must now be directed.

With local authorities facing financial challenges, the impact of local plans on capacity and resource in local planning departments may be heavy – it’s important that we know how well local authorities are able to respond to this demand on their limited resources.

We’re also keen to know when the Department of Communities and Local Government will begin to provide support for planning practitioners around implementing the NPPF.

There will be a debate on the NPPF in the House of Commons tomorrow (24th April) during the 2.30pm session – this is a great opportunity for MPs to probe for answers to questions like these, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s said, and following it up with a quick analysis here at the planning blog. You can watch the debate live here – why not tweet us your views using the #planning4ppl hashtag?

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant.

#planning4ppl


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Thank you

The dust has settled since the final National Planning Policy Framework was published on 27 March, to a broadly positive reception.

We continue to scrutinise the small print, on the look out for technicalities and details which could cause problems, both for the places we are directly responsible for, but with a keen eye on what it means for everybody as they continue to champion the places they care about.

Planning decisions are already being affected by the NPPF which is now in force. Check out Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ latest call. As we anticipated, with the roll-out of any new planning policy, there follows a period of uncertainty and testing.

Thank you
Meanwhile, we would like to say a big THANK YOU (pdf / 135kb) to our campaigners and supporters. By signing our Planning for People petition, you let Government know you expected big changes to the draft planning document. You reinforced our mandate to campaign to get planning policy right. Your letters to MPs and Ministers underlined just how passionately people care about places.

The final planning policy now in place could have been much, much worse without your help.

Now, only time and effort on everybody’s part will ensure that planning really is for people, as well as the environment and the economy.

Blog post by Claire Graves, National Trust Senior Press Officer


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Everyone a winner…?

It must be what every Minister dreams of – the publication of a document which secures contented noises from both supporters and dissenters. But this is the happy world that Greg Clark inhabits following the publication of the NPPF yesterday.

The Government has been congratulated by business and development groups for having “stuck to its guns”, “held its nerve” and “pushed through with reforms” – yet others have lauded the “important changes” to the NPPF that have come from the Government’s “listening to the concerns of the environment sector”.

Even on the finer detail, most groups were able to cite the retention or inclusion of some policy or other that pleases them. The most significant change for many was the inclusion of a definition of sustainable development – this was welcomed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, CPRE and Local Government Association. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the RSPB also highlighted the improvement in protection for SSSIs and the Wildlife Trusts noted that Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas get some recognition.

Both the British Retail Consortium and the Campaign for Better Transport were pleased at the inclusion of office developments in the Town Centre First principle. The National Farmers Union and Country Land and Business Association saw aspects of the NPPF that will boost the rural economy.

Development and business groups have been more general in their support of a Framework they say will boost growth, refraining from commenting on detail – see Institute of Directors, CBI, Federation of Master Builders, London First.

This isn’t to say that all concerns have been allayed: the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust say it gives low value to locally designated sites. CPRE still have concerns that the overall balance of the document remains in favour of economic concerns and that the brownfield preference is not as strong as in previous guidance. However, the headline reactions remain generally positive.

Perhaps, in the early hours of the new planning system, interest groups were keen to establish their preferred interpretation – there remains some loose language in the final document, and much will depend on how local authorities use the NPPF as a basis for their local plans.

A lot rests on how the NPPF is read as a document in its entirety, and implemented at a local level. This is one aspect of the NPPF that all are agreed upon – these changes place huge responsibility on local authorities and communities, and this is where the hard work must now begin, to ensure that planning works for people and places.

NPPF – who said what

CPRE
Welcome reference to intrinsic value of countryside, inclusion of definition of sustainable development and improvement on brownfield. Warn that balance still lies in favour of economic growth, and that the brownfield policy is not as strong as previous guidance.

Friends of the Earth
Welcome inclusion of sustainable development definition, but warn this will not prevent bad planning on its own.

RSPB
Definition of sustainable development very welcome and concerns about weakening of SSSI protection appear to have been allayed.

Woodland Trust
Transfer of phrasing protecting ancient woods and trees welcome. However, that applications leading to the loss of these habitats should not be approved unless the needs for and benefits of outweigh the loss, leaves a dangerous loophole.

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
NPPF used right definition of sustainable development and NPPF now good on protection for SSSIs and ‘priority habitat’. Values locally designated sites quite low.

Wildlife Trusts
Welcome inclusion of Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas in NPPF.

British Chambers of Comerce
Reforms will help speed up the system and allow planning to be a positive tool, rather than a weapon to fight battles against change and growth.

British Property Federation
Welcome “sensible” change to the planning framework, including brownfield and town centre first policies and the revised definition of sustainable development.

British Retail Consortium
Welcome inclusion of office developments in Town Centre First principle and say the simplification of the planning system will help boost local economies.

Confederation of British Industry
New framework “gets the balance right” between growth, society and the environment. The planning system has been a drag on growth, but this framework allows people to make decisions for themselves.

Country Land and Business Association
Very happy with section on the rural economy.

Campaign for Better Transport
Pleased at inclusion of offices in Town Centre First principle but worried about “dash for growth” allowing developments which generate local traffic jams.

Institute of Directors
Cutting of unnecessary regulation will “get Britain building again”.

Local Government Association
Clarification of SD is positive and the reasonable timeframe of a year to develop local plans is welcome.

London First
Getting rid of bureaucracy will help growth.

National Farmers Union
Welcomes boost to rural economy, but caveats on the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ mean it is not the simplification of planning law originally expected.

Town and Country Planning Association
NPPF allows the planning of new settlements, or extensions to existing settlements following the principles of Garden Cities. Definition of sustainable development welcome. Will look at functionality of transition arrangements.

Blog post by Ellen Reaich, National Trust Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant

 


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Planning for People tweetchat

We’re holding a ‘tweetchat’ with Ben Cowell, our Deputy Director of External Affairs, to discuss the Government’s new planning reforms (NPPF) today.
He’ll be taking over our @nationaltrust Twitter feed for an hour to host the discussion.
When? Noon-1pm today (Wednesday 28 March)
How? Please tweet us @nationaltrust using the #planning4ppl hashtag
Ben plans to talk through the following changes to the document and take your questions on why they’re significant:
  1. the primacy of the plan is confirmed, ensuring that development must be consistent with the plan
  2. a better definition of sustainable development, based on the 2005 sustainable development strategy
  3. the insertion of references to the use of brownfield land and the need to promote town centres
  4. removal of the incendiary default ‘yes’ to development where there is no plan
  5. reference to the ‘intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside’, recognising the importance of countryside outside
    designated areas 
  6. confirmation that existing plans will remain in force while the new NPPF is introduced, and that there will be a one-year transition for the preparation of new plans
Feel free to tweet us your questions about other concerns around the NPPF and we’ll try our best to help.
Wondering what’s a tweetchat? 

A Twitter is a pre-arranged chat on Twitter that use an agreed hashtag (in this case, #planning4ppl) to link tweets together in a virtual debate.
They often include a suggested agenda with a specific leader or “speaker” (that’s our Ben Cowell as @nationaltrust) while welcoming a free-flowing discussion between all participants.

Looking forward to your tweets!

Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager for the National Trust


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Government has listened to public concerns on planning

Well, the day has finally come. The Government has published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and we welcome improvements which have been made to the draft.

Here’s our Director-General Dame Fiona Reynolds’ take on it in her own words:

“There are a number of important changes that have been made to the draft, responding to concerns that we and others raised.

These include:

  • the primacy of the plan is confirmed, ensuring that development must be consistent with the plan
  • a better definition of sustainable development, based on the 2005 sustainable development strategy
  • the insertion of references to the use of brownfield land and the need to promote town centres
  • removal of the incendiary default ‘yes’ to development where there is no plan
  • reference to the ‘intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside’, recognising the importance of countryside outside designated areas
  • confirmation that existing plans will remain in force while the new NPPF is introduced, and that there will be a one-year transition for the preparation of new plans

“All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance.

“Now the serious business of planning begins. The country needs huge effort at a local level to get plans in place that properly reflect the integration of social, economic and environmental goals, and protect places people value.

“The National Trust, along with many other organisations and people, will play our part and watch to see how it works in practice.

Over 230,000 people signed our petition against the draft NPPF – a sign of the huge public concern it generated. Now we owe it to them and future generations to get good plans in place to deliver the improved ambitions set out in the new document.”

Download the final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF – PDF; 1.29 MB) to read in more detail for yourself.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager

#planning4ppl


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Planning to be proud of

A letter is published in today’s Times:

Sir

The Government’s proposals to reform the planning system will shortly be finalised. The Cabinet is reported to have debated the plans, and speculation as to the outcome is growing.

It is dispiriting that, after so much discussion, the issue still seems to be defined largely by a sterile ‘environment vs growth’ debate. As our organisations have argued throughout the process, the two are not in conflict. Good planning is essential for ensuring sustainable economic prosperity, at the same time as it encourages urban renewal and protects the countryside.

The current planning system on the whole does not stand in the way of development. 80-90 per cent of planning applications are granted permission. But reform is certainly needed to minimise the costs of planning and also to enhance the longer-term benefits it provides.

Ministers have a chance now to ensure that the final policy is one that the nation can be proud of, rather than the starting gun for years of dispute and legal wrangling that will ultimately impose even more burdens on businesses. The yardsticks of success will be: a strong definition of sustainable development that gives equal weight to economic, environmental and social objectives; a presumption in favour of sustainable development that does not make it more difficult to refuse environmentally damaging developments; continued protection for designated areas, landscapes and heritage assets alongside explicit recognition of the value of the countryside as a whole; and a clear priority given to new development on previously developed (brownfield) sites where these are not otherwise of value to wildlife.

Peter Waine, Chair, Campaign to Protect Rural England

Paula Ridley, Chair, Civic Voice

Loyd Grossman, Chair, The Heritage Alliance

Sir Simon Jenkins, Chair, National Trust

Ian Darling FRICS, Chair, RSPB

Paul Wickham, Chair, The Wildlife Trusts


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Director-General to depart

But not until she has seen our Planning for People campaign through!

A surprise to many people today, our Director-General, Dame Fiona Reynolds, has announced that she will be leaving the National Trust.

Amid the various reactions to this news, we are pleased to point out that Fiona is likely to be around for the rest of the year, and is determined to see through our Planning for People campaign. She is passionate about England having a planning system which is fit for purpose, so is eagerly awaiting sight of the final National Planning Policy Framework.


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Much-needed nuance in the NPPF debate

We’ve starting the week with a helping of healthy debate on the government’s draft planning reforms (NPPF). This time, it comes in the form of a Redbrick blog post by Steve Hilditch, the self-proclaimed “place for progressive housing policy debate”.

In ‘Octavia Hill cries wolf? Steve gives his take on Ben Cowell‘s blog (our Assistant Director of External Affairs) in response to a searing critique of our Planning for People campaign by Inside Housing blogger Colin Wiles.

So here’s Ben’s thinking on Steve Hilditch’s blog:

“This is a really important debate, and we welcome it. There is a great deal in what you say that we in fact agree with. In particular, we agree with the broad argument that the #NPPF and Localism Act contains contradictory impulses that could cancel each other out.

As you put it:

“At its heart there is a core contradiction, trying to combine a national policy – generally in favour of development – with a localist approach – which at best will be highly variable as local councils and communities respond to developers’ proposals.” 

“It ought to be possible to combine promotion of growth with promotion of localism, but so far the new planning policy reads too much like a licence to reintroduce the sort of ‘planning by appeal’ that characterised earlier eras. So we agree that more should be done to strengthen the ‘duty to cooperate’ and to promote wider-than-local planning.

“We also agree with you on the need for a brownfield first approach. Where I take issue is where you claim that the National Trust claims ‘to speak on behalf of its millions of members’. Could you point me to an example of where we have done that? We have been very careful not to claim to speak on behalf of our 4 million members. We in fact set up a separate petition for people to sign if they agreed with our campaign (over 220,000 did so).

We are a completely apolitical charity (the Charity Commission would have something to say if we were not so), and our membership reflects a broad span of views and opinions that we would never try to second guess. We share many of the same concerns as the CPRE, but the main difference between the two organisations is that we own a significant amount of land, and therefore have a huge role to play in local economies (particularly in rural areas).

We are directly engaged in rural economic issues (see our blog about rural growth), and do so in ways that demonstrate how we can combine economic prosperity at the same time as enhancing and protecting special places for ever and for everyone. We look forward to the debate continuing and – more importantly – to a new planning system that is fit for purpose, that helps deliver the jobs and houses that are now needed, but does so in the right way and in the right places.

Ben Cowell, Assistant Director, External Affairs, National Trust

Want to add your voice to the debate? Tweet us @nationaltrust with the #planning4ppl hashtag or find us on Facebook.

Blog by Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager


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When is a frontrunner not a frontrunner?

(A. When it’s in my back yard)

Newport, Essex, where I live, was one of the neighbourhood planning pilots launched by Government last year to road-test the new powers in the Localism Act. The village was announced as a frontrunner in Wave 2 of the CLG scheme, alongside Stansted (or ‘Stanstead’ as the official CLG note has it).

Naturally I took an interest, not least given my role at the National Trust in working on the Planning for People campaign. If there were attempts to create a new neighbourhood plan for my own village, then I was keen to get involved.

What happened to the plan?

The more I have looked into it, however, the more it would seem that the frontrunner is simply not happening. CLG referred me to the local authority to whom the grant had been given (Uttlesford District Council). So I asked Uttlesford DC, and was referred to the Parish Council. (‘Neighbourhood plans are developed at Parish level, rather than District’, the UDC twitter feed helpfully informed me). However, when I asked the Parish Council, I was told that the Chair had met with a UDC planner, who had told them that a neighbourhood plan was no longer needed for Newport.

It would seem that UDC has decided that neither Newport nor Stansted in fact need a neighbourhood plan. I have heard that rather than return the grant, they are seeking to apply it to Saffron Walden instead. But how about asking the people of Newport? I don’t recall being consulted.

Local pressures

The context for all this is intense pressure to increase the number of new homes across Uttlesford. Newport currently faces a consultation on development in the local area. Further to this, a private developer has apparently proposed a significant new housing scheme for the village, possibly on the site of the historic grammar school (which would be rebuilt in a new location as a consequence). Such is the confusion and concern in the village that a Stop Newport Expansion group has been set up on Facebook, and now has over 80 members within the space of a few weeks.

I am not opposed to new development in Newport – far from it. But I have joined the Stop Newport Expansion group because I want to increase my understanding of the pressures that the village faces. I am opposed to a significant new housing development if this does not include adequate provision of affordable homes and if proper consideration has not been taken of the impact on roads, businesses and community facilities. I am watching with great interest, therefore.

Who decides?

Surely with such a strong level of interest in the future of Newport, the village is a prime candidate for a neighbourhood plan? It would seem, however, that the decision has already been taken by the District Council not to participate, despite being one of CLG’s frontrunners. It’s all the stranger given the criteria that the CLG set out for the frontrunners pilots. These include ensuring that ‘the local planning authority has reached agreement with an established local community group, parish council or local business organisation to undertake the project’.

Perhaps neighbourhood plans are a red herring after all, if plans for their production at the pilot stage can be submitted, approved and then apparently retracted so easily, without anyone seeming to notice.

Ben Cowell, National Trust Assistant Director of External Affairs

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