This week’s autumn statement from the Chancellor highlighted the desperate state of the economy and the need for growth and new development. We need jobs to get the economy moving again and affordable homes that meet the demand of our expanding population on this small, somewhat crowded island.
Housing – and much more
We support the aims of the Government’s housing strategy and its efforts to address market failures and rekindle housebuilding. But we are critical of its sustained assault on the planning system, which sees planning as a barrier to purely economic growth rather than the tool that will direct good growth.
In fact, we support a lot of the Government’s own rhetoric around planning. There’s not much in Greg Clark’s foreword to the draft National Planning Policy Framework that we’d disagree with. We welcomed the Prime Minister’s letter to us in the Telegraph.
NPPF needs reform
But the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) simply won’t deliver the ambition. Instead, the NPPF attempts to use planning to drive short-term economic growth in ways that will undermine the longer-term development we need.
Time and time again the draft NPPF emphasises economic factors over social and environmental considerations, missing in the process the opportunity to confirm the importance of a brownfield first approach.
Planning for people
As individuals and communities, our quality of life depends on the quality of the places we live in. This is a debate about the kinds of places we want to create for ourselves and our children. So what would good growth look like and what would we want to see from a reformed planning system?
The places we build now should be vibrant communities that people can be proud of. Well designed houses, including affordable homes, would be near shops and amenities so the things people need are within easy reach. They would be well served by public transport. There’d be plenty of open space for people to enjoy and for nature to thrive in.
And serious thought would be given to sustainability in its widest sense – ensuring that that our food, water and energy are all sourced and distributed locally as far as they can be. In short, we should take this opportunity to reinvigorate our towns and cities through planning that provides for people and not just profit.
Smart inspiration from Canada
On my recent visit to Canada, I asked a professor of law – an expert on smart growth – what the secret of making that happen was. She told me it depended on two factors. First, there are some issues – biodiversity, water management, energy, food, housing density, affordability – that neither the market nor communities alone can solve. National direction or pan-local co-ordination are needed. Second, a strong local plans that genuinely reflect the will of the community and involve them in a debate about the kind of places they want to live in.
The draft NPPF must adopt principles like these if it is to achieve the sustainable development that Ministers claim to be supportive of. But it must go further and create a positive vision for planning that creates places we can be proud of and want to feel part of. The market alone will not do this – the job of government and of the NPPF is to channel and drive the right kind of growth.
Fiona Reynolds – National Trust Director General