Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Planning for the Nation - England's attempt at a National Planning Policy Framework

The saying goes that if you are receiving criticism from all sides, then you must be doing at least something right.  This phrase came to mind when I was reviewing the initial reactions to the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework (found here).  To summarise, some commentators believe the draft NPPF is a pro-development charter that will permit unfettered development across the countryside.  Yet others continue to complain that planning will remain a drag on development and the NPPF does little to overcome the cumbersome and restrictive nature of English planning policy.  The truth, unsurprisingly, lies somewhere in the middle.

I have long been a supporter of a national planning strategy for England (and the wider UK).  At university I studied the experience of a national spatial strategy in the Netherlands and found the approach to be a positive one (see here).  England is geographically small enough to warrant a national strategy that can articulate the key infrastructure requirements and distill the key guiding principles for new development.  From experience, the existing Planning Policy Statements have ballooned in number and breadth, resulting in guidance that is so generic it becomes obsolete. 

Some of the key reactions to the recent draft include:
  • Royal Town Planning Institute - concern that economic interests could override other (environmental, social etc) interests and unclear about the relationship between national policy and local policy.
  • National Trust - warns that the deletion of the 'brownfield target' will result in urban sprawl similar to Los Angeles!
  • British Chamber of Commerce - supportive of the approach as planning policy has historically been an obstacle to growth.
  • Home Builders Federation - strongly welcomes the pro-growth emphasis towards house building but still wary that Local Authorities could use the ambiguity to delay development.
  • Centre for Cities - dismayed at the lack of reference to cities and believes the NPPF lacks a 'big picture' approach to the economic role of cities.
The future of England if the National Trust are to be believed!
In my view, alot of the reaction to the draft NPPF has been alarmist (though this should not come as a surprise).  The framework is NOT a charter to concrete over the countryside as a number of safeguards are still in place to protect important habitats and avoid inappropriate development.  Groups such as the National Trust and CPRE state that previous planning policy has encouraged growth so why does it need to be drastically altered.  I would argue that previous planning policy may have encouraged economic growth but has not sufficiently supported housing growth. England still has an under-supply of housing stock which is not being sufficiently addressed. This should be the resounding focus of the framework.

Secondly, I agree with the Centre for Cities and RTPI that the draft NPPF lacks a true spatial approach to planning. Where is the recognition that England is a network of urban areas that support economic growth?  Many of the references in the framework are to rural areas and the countryside which shifts the emphasis away from development towards protectionism.  The final NPPF must articulate what kind of cities the country requires and whether growth will be focused in some areas and not others.  Currently the NPPF lacks a spatial dimension which would aid economic and housing growth and give weight to what truly is 'sustainable development'. 

No comments:

Post a Comment