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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.


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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


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



Chancellor sets date to publish planning reforms

So there you have it. Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed that the Government’s new planning policy (NPPF) will come “into effect when the National Planning Policy Framework is published next Tuesday” 27 March.

As widely anticipated, he’s wrapped up these apparently sweeping reforms – described by Mr Osborne as “the biggest reduction in business red tape ever undertaken”, in his 2012 budget statement.

What’s in the final NPPF?

We’re not much the wiser on the content, apart from the fact that the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” is here to stay. And because the Chancellor has stated that the NPPF will come into effect on Tuesday 27 March, rumours have started to fly around the fate of transition arrangements.

However, there may be tentatively good news on this area in the full budget document (PDF) provided that’s what’s meant by the presence of “appropriate implementation arrangements for local authorities in local plans”. We’ve argued in favour of transition arrangements for NPPF to get local plans in place and to ensure those in place are valid.

What does the ‘presumption in favour’ mean’?

Without seeing the final document, we can’t be sure of the full implications. We responded to the draft by highlighting the need for a clear definition of what is meant by sustainable development, and by the phrase ‘significantly and demonstrably’ (referring to the level of harm that will need to be shown in order for a development proposal to be deemed unsustainable). The Communities and Local Government Select Committee voiced similar reservations in their report last year. We’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to find out if any of those concerns have been addressed.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment below and join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

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

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Getting global inspiration on planning

When Fiona Reynolds, our director-general, visited Canada last year she came back inspired by their holistic approach to planning and ‘smart growth’. So when we at Planning for People HQ happened upon Sarah Longlands’s recent article on The transformative power of planning we felt the same way about her global mission for “fresh thinking on the subject” of planning from beyond our borders.

In her article, this academic from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies argues that we – in England – have “forgotten the purpose” of our planning system and its “transformative power” to act as a “vital and energising force for places, people and their local economies.”

We couldn’t agree more. We believe good planning provides a golden opportunity for an urban renaissance while presiding over a sensitive and locally driven evolution of our countryside. We are still hopeful that the final NPPF planning reforms – expected on Budget Day (21 March) – will provide a framework for both.

In the meantime, we’ve found it enlightening to dip into international experiences from Curitiba in Brazil – with its forward-thinking approach to public transport and the designation of parks and green spaces – to the musings of ecologist and blogger Richard Wilson on NPPF from the ancient forests of Tenerife.

Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager

You can read Sarah Longlands’ article in full, the result of an international research project, in NewStart magazine where it was first published. 


Planning to be proud of

A letter is published in today’s Times:


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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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


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


Housing, Octavia Hill and the NPPF

One of the National Trust’s fiercest critics in the debate over the NPPF has been Colin Wiles, a housing consultant based in Cambridge. His latest blog, ‘Crying Wolf in the Countryside’ is the latest in a series of attacks on our work on the planning reforms.

Since the blog seeks to undermine the National Trust’s entire Planning For People campaign, it merits a reply. We are happy to provide one.

Economic contradiction?

Colin was reacting to the new report, ‘Inexpensive Progress?’, commissioned from Vivid Economics by the National Trust, CPRE and RSPB. He thinks the report is contradictory, since it maintains that planning reform will not lead to growth in the short term, whereas the Trust has been arguing all along that the NPPF will lead to ‘sprawl’ and overdevelopment.

It’s worth pointing out that the report is entirely independently produced, has been peer reviewed by an academic of considerable standing, and raises questions about green belt and other aspects that do not necessarily chime perfectly with everything the Trust thinks.

That aside, we feel strongly that the Trust’s position need not in fact be a contradiction. We maintain that the NPPF as drafted is more likely than the present system to lead to bad developments in the wrong places. Our argument has therefore been one about the distribution of new development, rather than one about the overall amount of development. Growth is good – but not at the expense of the environments we value the most.

Anyway I won’t cover every aspect of Colin’s argument against us. But one aspect stood out particularly for me. He declares that the National Trust is ‘clueless’ when it comes to housing pressures.

Octavia Hill’s legacy

This surprised me. As Colin well knows, we were founded by Octavia Hill, one of the earliest champions of social housing. (We were delighted indeed to note that Colin’s own website features a photograph of a plaque commemorating Octavia’s birth and her role as ‘one of the founders of the National Trust’).

Like Colin, we celebrate Octavia’s life and achievements – particularly in this, the centenary year of her death in 1912. Octavia was a passionate campaigner for decent homes, and much else besides. She was also a champion of open spaces, at a time when rampant urbanisation in the absence of any planning restrictions whatsoever was threatening green lungs such as Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common and Epping Forest.

We’ll be doing plenty of things in 2012 to celebrate Octavia’s life and work, not least our Octavia Hill awards for environmental and community campaigners, and a partnership with Demos to explore the public policy issues that Octavia was most concerned about from a 21st century perspective.

Our own houses

The National Trust, it is true, was established more as an open spaces organisation than as defender of buildings. Yet our 1907 Act makes explicit reference to our role in protecting ‘tenements (including buildings)’. We are not a social housing charity – but housing is nevertheless a hugely important part of what we do.

We own property throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland including 57 villages. We are also a major landlord with over 2000 tenants. We sometimes act as a housing developer too. Over the last ten years we have built or obtained consent for over 900 homes to be sold on a commercial basis on our land. These contribute to the provision of housing and the delivery of high quality sustainable homes and the profit from these sales help support our broader conservation work. Stamford Brook is the most well-known example, and featured in a publication we co-produced called Volume – delivering sustainable housing (PDF/2MB).

Housing AND open spaces

Octavia Hill did not see a contradiction in championing decent housing as well as in protecting vital open spaces – and nor do we. Indeed, for Octavia open spaces were an essential complement to houses, providing ‘open air living rooms’ for ordinary working people. It is to Octavia indeed that we owe the term ‘Green Belt’ – it was used in her (thwarted) campaign to save Swiss Cottage Fields from development in 1875.

To dismiss the National Trust as ‘clueless’ on housing is therefore simply wrong. We are not a housing charity, it is true, but issues about the future of the landscape go to the heart of our cause. We fully accept that more homes are needed, and the job of local authorities is to plan for these. Good planning in a strategic sense takes time and energy. Given the scale of housing need that faces us, provision of new homes will involve new building on green field sites – we have never denied this. Local plans need to promote new housing schemes, but in ways that ensure the delivery of sustainable development and protect the ‘spirit of place’ that resides in our towns and villages. What is so unreasonable about that?

Urban footprint

One final point. Colin claims at the end of his article that building the three million homes that will be needed over and above the existing urban footprint is likely to consume ‘only’ 1.3 per cent of the unprotected countryside. We’d hardly notice, in other words. Funnily enough, the road network in this country takes up a similarly small proportion, 2.2 per cent of our land mass. So adding half as many roads again overnight would go largely unnoticed? If such a degree of development is now needed to prevent the crisis that Colin predicts, I hope we have a planning system that is strong enough to mitigate its worst excesses.

Ben Cowell, National Trust Assistant Director of External Affairs

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Inexpensive progress?

New research, Inexpensive Progress (PDF / 5MB), published today explores the complicated question of the economic impact of planning.

The question is an important one, as the Government’s entire programme of planning reform is based on the idea that planning is holding back the economy. This was the clear message of the Chancellor’s Plan for Growth, which first trumpeted the idea that a massive shake-up of the planning system was needed in order to get the economy moving again.

In fact, the new report makes it clear that things aren’t quite as simple as that. The report, which has been produced by independent economic consultants Vivid Economics on behalf of the National Trust, CPRE and RSPB, highlights the fact that we know remarkably little about what the impact of deregulating the planning system will be.

However, as the researchers show, deregulation is unlikely to guarantee the sort of growth that the Government is hoping for. To quote from the report:

“it is unlikely that the draft NPPF will have much effect on growth or employment in the short run.”

Of course, the report does not deny that planning imposes costs. It stands to reason that this is so – planning is an expensive business, and developers expect to have to shoulder some of the burdens. But while a number of studies have looked at the cost side of the equation, fewer have considered the benefits that planning brings. These include the improvements to quality of life that a well-planned environment can bring, the economic advantages of strategic planning for businesses, and the benefits that everyone reaps from wildlife and open spaces.

A true analysis of the economic impact of planning would address both the benefits and the costs – and this is what is lacking from the current National Planning Policy Framework impact assessment. The National Trust does not deny that reform is needed to speed up the process of planning decision making for individuals and businesses. But more assessment is needed of the likely effects of the draft NPPF, and more research is needed into the likely long-term implications. The  biggest mistake would be to rush to a fundamental change to the planning system– such as by imposing a ‘default yes’ in the absence of a local plan – without doing more to consider what the net effects will be.

It is also a mistake in our view to pin planning reform so closely to the Plan for Growth. Planning requires more than just an economic consideration – it serves to balance the economy, the environment, and our social needs. We would be far more comfortable with the debate if planning reform had not been made so central to the Chancellor’s plan for growth.

With the deadline for the NPPF approaching at the end of March, and the Budget falling on 21 March, we fear that Government will try once again to connect the two things. Could they even be tempted to publish the revised NPPF on Budget day itself, in order to defuse the inevitable headlines by burying it as a detail of the Budget announcement? Let’s hope not – planning deserves more than that.

Ben Cowell, Assistant Director of External Affairs, National Trust

Inexpensive Progress? is named after a John Betjeman poem – well worth a read.


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