Two years after the National Planning Policy Framework was implemented the Communities and Local Government Committee in Parliament is having a look at it to see how it’s working on the ground. The National Trust fed their views into the creation of the NPPF and we’ve been giving feedback to the committee as part of this process.
Earlier this year the Director General Dame Helen Ghosh gave evidence to the committee about what the National Trust sees the successes of the NPPF and the areas it needs to develop further. The main argument Helen Ghosh made was that after 2 years of the NPPF, the National Trust is concerned that we still don’t have plan-led development. We are also concerned that the NPPF is not succeeding in making sure that housing is being built in the most suitable locations, despite the fact that the Prime Minister making assurances to the National Trust in 2011.
There are a number of areas in which we think a change in approach is needed. One of the key points we raised was the need to increase the number of Local Plans that are in place. We also want to see better monitoring of whether the NPPF is delivering sustainable development, looking particularly at whether housing is getting the go-ahead against the views of local communities, and where brownfield sites are available. We said there should be more funding available to help make brownfield sites more financially viable as well as promoting the use of these sites. Finally we highlighted the importance of reinforcing the protection of valued areas of countryside like National Parks and AONBs, and the importance of continuing protections for Green Belt areas.
Greg Clark MP, (the architect of the NPPF as Planning Minister in 2011 and now Universities and Cities Minister) and Brandon Lewis MP, the current Planning Minister gave evidence to the committee last week. The Ministers were questioned on a number of areas that we highlighted to the Committee. In discussions about Local Plans Lewis was clear that he felt if a statutory duty was put on the creation of Local Plans it would turn their creation into a box ticking exercise rather than the authorities going through the holistic approach required to produce an effective plan. The two Ministers went on to explain the importance that has been placed on co-operation in the creation of plans and how this, combined with the accountability of local elected representatives to their areas was helping communities to feel increasingly involved in the planning process.
Lewis and Clark were asked about brownfield sites, one of the National Trust’s key points, and Lewis explained that the amount of usable brownfield sites which have been built on has increased and he hopes this will reach 90% by 2020. He also drew attention to recent Government initiatives to get development moving on brownfield sites. The Ministers stressed the importance of building new houses to replenish the depleted stocks and highlighted how brownfield land is a key resource for this as construction on brownfield sites is often more acceptable to communities. However, the committee raised an important point in response: to the Government has stopped collecting data on the proportion of housing built on brown, rather than green, field sites.
The subject of Green Belts provided some controversy as the committee and ministers debated their purpose, as well as the levels of protection afforded to them. The recently published guidance reminding councils that constraints such as Green Belt may legitimately limit the ability of a council to meet its housing need was discussed.
Another point raised by the ministers was the importance of planning for housing not just for the next five years but for the longer term as well. This was one of the key points raised by the National Trust. We felt that whilst it is important to meet the housing need, it is essential to do this is the context of future desires and demands as well as the present day. The question should not simply be how do we build more houses in the next 15 years, but how do we do this in harmony with our limited environmental resources in a sustainable way.
Clark went on to talk about neighbourhood plans and how these are helping to demonstrate that people do care about where they live. Neighbourhood plans are something the National Trust has also been looking at and you can read our blog post on Neighbourhood Plans here. He went on to suggest that the NPPF has made the planning system so much easier for people to understand and become involved in. Lewis added that the NPPF has been a vital way to allow local communities to be a part of shaping the future of their local area.
The National Trust is continuing to watch what happens with the NPPF. We want to see the government taking action on the points we have raised which are concerning us but we are pleased to be involved in this process of monitoring the NPPF’s performance and look forward to seeing the Committee’s report which should be published before Christmas.