Politics of planning

At the National Trust’s AGM on Saturday, our outgoing Chairman Sir Simon Jenkins – as he bids farewell to members – will give his views on the current state of the planning system. His thoughts have also been reported this week in the Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Express.

Sir Simon comments on the positions of different political parties, and it is worth us emphasising here that the National Trust is a charity which is independent of political parties and does not endorse the policies of one party over another.

However, it is clear that there is continuing concern in some rural communities about the effect that the 2012 planning reforms are having on the ground.

These areas were promised localism and a planning system led by local plans, yet, more than two years on, research shows that developers have almost a three quarters success rate in appealing against locally-made decisions where a council can’t demonstrate it has a five year land supply (land identified by the council to deliver enough houses to meet assessed need for the next five years). The National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development is allowing developers to successfully overturn local decisions in our most sensitive landscapes. In the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty all appeals for residential development have been granted, except one, since the NPPF came into force.

Part of the Government’s argument for a having a sustainable development presumption was that it would encourage councils to get a plan in place. Two years on though, progress is slow. 57% of Local Councils now have an adopted plan in place – around 50% had a plan when the NPPF came into force. You can watch our Director-General, Dame Helen Ghosh, making this point in her evidence to a recent Select Committee enquiry here

The cause for concern doesn’t stop here. Even where councils do have a plan, new research we will publish shortly shows that more than half of them are coming under pressure to release additional land for housing over and beyond that identified in the plan.

There is some good news. On Green Belt land, and promoting brownfield re-use, the Government has taken some welcome steps. New Planning Practice Guidance reaffirms the strong protections for Green Belt in the NPPF, and a new package of measures has been unveiled to get brownfield sites moving through funding and other planning measures. They are right to do this. As Sir Simon says, there is enough brownfield land to build 1.4m new houses, as the Government’s own figures show. These same figures show that more brownfield land becomes available year on year, as industry or businesses move to different locations. Brownfield land will not always be available in areas where new houses are needed, but it should be used first where possible.

Credit: @EricPickles

Credit: @EricPickles

The National Trust is engaging with other parties as they form their positions ahead of the election. We have for instance been involved in Labour’s Lyons Review of housing and planning policy. You can read our views on this here.

We want to see local plan-led development to deliver the new homes we need in the best locations. Government claims this is also what it wants. In 2012 the Prime Minister said he wanted to “give local communities more say, more power”. Sir Simon predicts that there will continue to be pressure from developers to liberalise the planning system, and hopes that the Trust will continue to argue for a planning system that takes a long term, sustainable view, and is in everyone’s interests.

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