Adrian Jones and Bob Robinson give their opinions on the newly issued National Planning Policy Framework.
The newly-issued National Planning Policy Framework has had a mixed reception, with housebuilders and developers generally in favour, conservation groups against, and the relevant professional institutions hedging their bets. All parties seem to agree however that it’s a significant improvement on the draft issued last summer. The final framework document, like the draft, sees ‘sustainable development’ as something of a panacea for economic growth, and a significant addition is a reference to United Nations resolution 42/187, which sees sustainable development rather vaguely as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Significantly, this paragraph is separately boxed, and there’s no specific undertaking to adhere to it. As Adrian Jones suggests (right), this places the parameters of planning approval firmly in the hands of the courts, and raises the prospect of major projects spending longer in the legal system than in planning. Bob Robinson of planning consultant DPP is encouraged, however, that increased emphasis has now been placed on design quality, and that’s something that should encourage architects too.
Adrian Jones was director of planning, transport and highways at Nottingham from 1998-2008, where he helped develop many award-winning buildings and public spaces. He was sustainable development and infrastructure director for East Midlands Development Agency and a member of CABE’s design review panel. As Adrian Jones Consultancy he advises on development and the integration of planning, urban design and transport and has worked on innovative residential projects with Igloo’s Blueprint Regeneration arm and on the Leicestershire Ecotown. He blogs as jonestheplanner.
‘Well, one cheer for the revised NPPF. At least it has stepped back from the brink of cynicism and recklessness plotted by Osborne and development lobbyists; hardly surprising after the kicking it got from the Conservatives’ ‘Country Life’ supporters. There are some good things in the new version, especially about design, which architects and a confident and resourced planning system (if only) could use as a real game changer. And the section on sustainable transport could mean goodbye subtopia, especially if you read the reinstated town centres part, which includes offices. My God, what a revolution for business park land that would be! But sadly it is all just blather cloaking much more sinister real-politic. There are a lot of weasel words. Brownfield is now ‘encouraged’, and not prioritised as in the old policy. The meaning of ‘sustainable development’ will have to be sorted out in court. The guidance does not curb the overweening power of developers in the planning process; it was never intended to. The NPPF passes the buck for the atavistic abolition of regional plans to councils saying this can all be decided by local people with co-operation between authorities. Oh really? And this will make planning quicker? As a stick to beat recalcitrant councils, the NPPF is a hollow threat because the problem is getting Tory suburban authorities to accept development, and localism will trump Treasury bullying. Sadly most Labour urban councils are already desperate to promote development at any cost. Even if we accept the NPPF is well intentioned (which I don’t) no-one can seriously believe that less prescription and more localism will deliver more housing quicker. Blam-ing planning for the lack of housing, especially affordable housing, is just a BIG LIE. The problem lies with the dogma that stopped council house building. Despite the fuss, the NPPF doesn’t make much difference. It should be providing a clear vision about building for our futures but like so much in politics today it is all gesture and little content.’
Bob Robinson is chairman of DPP. His experience encompasses planning and development in both the public and private sectors, and his particular expertise is in managing large-scale mixed-use regeneration projects, as well as retail and commercial schemes in the north and north-east of England. He also specialises in advising industrial clients on expansion programmes and disposal of surplus land. He has considerable experience with public inquiries and in planning policy formulation, development briefs and carrying out retail and economic assessments.
‘The National Planning Policy Framework is a useful, self-contained document to guide both developers and local authorities in the future. The final NPPF document confirms what the majority of us have long understood, that this is not merely a ‘developers charter’ as some elements of the media and conservation lobby have previously sought to portray. The UK government should be applauded for having consolidated the key, salient points of previous documents into a new national framework which approaches development and design from a positive as opposed to restrictive mindset.
The NPPF document successfully raises the profile of good design within planning policy by combining design policies from other Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) and reissuing the key policies of PPS1 – most notably that planning decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles. There is a clear message that great weight should be given to ‘outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area’ whilst, ‘poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area’ should be refused.
But most importantly, by emphasising the role of design in planning policy through the localism agenda, the government has ensured that in the future it will be communities as well as local authorities that share the responsibility for the important decisions around our built environment. I am confident that this document, which has deregulated and re-prioritised planning policy, will boost investment and generate much needed growth across the UK.’
The new National Planning Policy Framework can be downloaded from here
First published in AT227, April 2012