I’m currently attending the “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London but thought it important to take some planned time out to review the newly released National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as it is being heavily reported today and our clients will quite rightly want to know what the immediate implications are. Given the conference’s focus on global environmental change and challenges coupled with all the fuss about the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” when the draft NPPF was published, I had prepared myself for something of a culture shock – but that’s not what I got. I’m sure there will be a lot of quibbling over the meaning of particular phrases in the days, weeks – probably years – to come but my first impression was that a pretty good job has been done.
To start with, being able to read through a reasonably succinct yet thorough statement of national planning policy in around an hour must be a good thing!
It’s also good -to my mind – that the government has resisted the pressure to define “sustainable development” too tightly and has stuck to its guns in insisting that the “Bruntland” definition is the starting point and, after that, the whole NPPF is the definition. Some will no doubt criticise this as too open. My own opinion, though, is that it would have been niaive and ineffective to opt for a single phrase definition of such a complex yet vitally important concept.
The essence of our planning system is balance: balancing often competing needs, expectations and aspirations. This comes through very clearly if you take the trouble to read the NPPF in its entirety rather than taking phrases out of their total context. Of course, appeals often focus on selective interpretations and I’m sure there will be plenty of scope for argument and counter argument based on bits of the NPPF.The inspector’s job may not be made any easier by the need to see things more holistically – but time will tell and the system should become more reliable and transparent as a result.
For local planning authorities, the pressure is on to bring local plans up to date within a year from now or see their weight in decision-making greatly reduced. For some that’s not going to be an easy task, but understanding that the new-look plans must be succinct and capable of regular review and updating should help to make the task a little less daunting. This may also mean that they can give a bit more much-needed help to local communities wanting to press ahead with Neighbourhood Plans.
For many developers and property owners, now is the time to be reviewing assets and existing permissions and thinking about effective engagement with local communities to see what working in partnership can achieve. It will be a new world, requiring fresh attitudes and strategies.
For everyone involved in planning and development – and from whatever viewpoint – the first task should really be to take an hour out and read the NPPF for yourselves. Then you’ll at least be in a position to ask the right questions even if the answers are still not as clear as some might like them to be.