Fiona Reynolds, our Director-General, began the day speaking at the British Property Foundation event on the NPPF. With a panel consisting of Greg Clark, Adam Marshall (of the British Chamber of Commerce), and Fiona, discussions began in earnest regarding the regulation that has caused so much controversy over the past few weeks. At the event Greg Clark admitted that the planning reforms ‘could of been clearer’.
The Prime Minister’s letter to the National Trust yesterday confirms that the purpose of the planning system has not changed. Of course planning policy must contribute to economic development. But it is about people and places, too. By stating unequivocally that “sustainable development” has “environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension” and that “the purpose of the planning system is to achieve balance” he has confirmed the fundamental principle that planning exists to serve the public’s present and future interests, and should not be used solely as a tool to promote the economy.
For more than two decades, under a succession of Tory and then Labour chancellors, it has been Treasury orthodoxy that laws to protect people, nature and places are bad for the economy. New Labour’s Better Regulation Task Force was set up to hammer this message home across Whitehall (for better regulation, read less regulation). Its natural successor, the coalition’s Red Tape Challenge – which offers crowd-sourced deregulation – has slotted into this well-worn groove, albeit with a modern twist.
Planning reform won’t solve house builder’s problems, says minister
The case for planning reform has been further undermined by a senior Conservative minister’s admission that the law is not the main obstacle to building more houses. Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister, said the main issues were a lack of demand for homes and problems for developers in raising finance. Because of those difficulties, developers are sitting on more than 200,000 plots with permission to build, he said.
Under the guise of reducing complexity in the planning system, the government’s draft of the National Planning Policy Framework creates instead a system that devolves crucial planning decisions to under-funded councils, victims of Eric Pickles’s swingeing cuts, in a misguided attempt to encourage growth and housing, and does so in a way that will leave the UK a development free-for-all during the chaos immediately following its introduction.