Earlier this month I interviewed Karin Taylor, Head of Land Use Planning for the National Trust. We began the discussion by looking back at 2012 and what the key moments were for the Trust.
The main success for the National Trust last year was the changes the Government made to the final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). After being disappointed with the first draft we decided to launch an intense public campaign, lobbying government to readdress key areas (please read an earlier blog for more details about the Planning 4 People campaign). Effective advocacy work led to a revised version that we and other organisations were much happier with and has subsequently led to the Government and civil servants being much more willing to consult with National Trust on important planning policies . I will add however that I am still concerned over the reduction and consequent simplification of all Planning Policy Statements (PPS) and Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPG) from over 20 separate documents to just 59 pages in the final document.
The second key moment in 2012 was the announcement of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, providing a good indication of how juxtaposed the opinions of planners and politicians are. Whilst planners in the National Trust and similar organisations see planning as a tool to help economic growth, the publication of the bill clearly insinuates that it is planning policies which are holding back economic growth in the UK. This bill is worrying as Government seem to think that by increasing permitted development rights the economy will flourish; meanwhile the impacts on the environment and the encroachment from development on people’s special places are being overlooked. The development of the Bill is something that we will keep a close eye on over the year.
And now, for 2013 what do you see will be the big issues for planning?
I am going to be keeping a close watch on the role of nature conservation during the planning process. Local councils are currently under resourced and there is talk of watering down planning requirements in terms of protected species in an attempt to streamline and reduce the costs of the planning process. Currently homeowners wanting to build must undertake surveys if there is the likelihood that any protected or rare species (for instance bats) that would be threatened if building works were to go ahead. These surveys can be costly and admittedly the process could be made more efficient, but although a review of the current planning processes is needed, we must make sure the baby is not thrown out with the bath water and that nature conservation is not sacrificed in return for a swifter and cheaper planning process.
This need to streamline processes against the backdrop of lack of resources is another thing I think will become more of an issue this year. Government cuts have had a devastating impact at a local level and specialists such as conservation officers, landscape planners; architects (the list goes on!) have all been squeezed out of their local authorities. Unfortunately, this lack of experience and resource within the planning sector will result in a quality problem and I fear poor decision making on important issues may ensue.
This April sees the deadline by which all local plans should have been adopted, but with the length of time the plan preparation takes and the confusion caused by the removal of regional plans I think many neighbourhoods will not be able to meet these deadlines and there will be quite a bit of hype around it. Regional plans were eradicated as part of the Governments ‘Red Tape Challenge’, but it was not thought through. Local plans are unable to proceed in some areas due to disagreements over housing between or within local authorities. Councils and local groups need to work together in order to create an effective local plan.
It does all seem like doom and gloom but we must remind ourselves that despite ongoing issues we still have one of the best planning systems in the world and that is something to be very proud of. We must always remember that there are two sides to every planning story and ‘The Planners’ on BBC2 offers an honest and balanced view of the impacts of planning on all parties.
You can find out more about the BBC2 series ‘The Planners’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00tw844#