Monday, 24 March 2014

Community Control, Countryside Chaos & Comfortable Nostalgia

It is apposite that on the day the BBC is covering a poll from Populus that reveals the segments of the British electorate, the CPRE has published a report on the impact, two years on, of the NPPF entitled 'Community Control or Countryside Chaos'.

It is apposite because one of Populus' six segments of the electorate is 'comfortable nostalgia' who 'tend to be older, more traditional voters who dislike the social and cultural changes they see as altering Britain for the worse'. Apparently 20% of Conservative voters in 2010 fell in to this category and one could legitimately speculate that many also subscribe to the CPRE, National Trust and Daily Telegraph.

To illustrate the point the Telegraph's coverage of the CPRE report alerts readers to 'traditional English village life' being 'under threat because of plans for 700,000 new homes in the countryside'.

Let's put aside though the thought that if the countryside was not under threat our comfortable nostalgics would not need organisations to help them protect it and consider the planning merits of the seven CPRE recommendations.

Amend the NPPF to stress that previously-developed  land should be prioritised and that LPAs can enforce such a policy approach through a phasing policy.
There is no reason why a local plan could not include an ‘urban areas first’ strategy and the early release of greenfield land only if required to maintain a five year land supply.
Put a greater burden of proof on developers to show, when they apply for planning permission, that proposed developments are socially and environmentally, as well as economically, sustainable.
Notwithstanding the fact that most applicants would, I imagine, be keen to highlight the social and environmental benefits of development anyway, it is for LPAs to determine an application in accordance with the NPPF as a whole. The real burden here is the administrative burden of further validation requirements, perhaps designed to further slow the process and provide more opportunities for objections and challenge.
Remove the automatic presumption in favour of granting planning permission where a LPA is unable to demonstrate a five year land supply. It should be made clear in these cases that developers should still be expected to meet local policy objectives, for example where a local authority seeks to use brownfield sites before greenfield.
The NPPF does not include a presumption in favour of granting permission where a LPA is unable to demonstrate a five year land supply. It states that relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the LPA cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites. It also states that housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
Revise the NPPF so that land that already has planning permission is clearly considered as being part of the five year land supply, and that this should not normally be challenged.
It can only be right for land with planning permission to be included within a five year supply if it is capable of being delivered within a five year period. By the same token, land without planning permission can be included within a five year supply if it is capable of being delivered within a five year period.
Drop the requirement in the NPPF to allocate an additional 20% ‘buffer’ of ‘deliverable’ housing sites.
The NPPF makes clear that buffers are not additional homes, but homes moved forward from later in the plan period. The reference to ‘providing a realistic prospect of achieving the planned supply’ in paragraph 47 is perhaps a reference to LPAs who might in the past have included land within a supply that had no realistic prospect of being delivered within a  five year period.
Issue further guidance stating that development in and around villages should be properly considered through either the Local Plan or neighbourhood planning process. Building outside settlement boundaries should only happen in exceptional circumstances, and full consideration should be given to cumulative impacts of developments on the character of the countryside and rural settlements.
If development in and around villages is only considered through either the Local Plan or neighbourhood planning process, and not considered through the development control management process, then in many parts of the country there would be no development in and around villages. Hang on...
Give greater scope for planning applications to be refused on grounds of ‘prematurity’, in order to allow suitable time and space for local authorities and neighbourhoods to develop robust plans for the future of their area.
It has been two years since the NPPF was published and local plan coverage remains poor. Further time or 'transitional arrangements' would mean that in many parts of the country there would be no development in and around villages. Hang on...

Whilst in this writer's view then the report offers little of practical significance it will add to body of material to be read by the planning students who come to study the 2010-2015 period in the future.

If those planning students of the future come to discover this blog I'll highlight for them this from Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of CPRE, who said that today's report ‘provides firm evidence from across England that the Government’s planning reforms are not achieving their stated aims. Far from community control of local development, we are seeing councils under pressure to disregard local democracy to meet top-down targets'.

This is an extract from the Plain English Guide to the Localism Act: 

Instead of local people being told what to do, the Government thinks that local communities should have genuine opportunities to influence the future of the places where they live. The Act introduces a new right for communities to draw up a neighbourhood plan. 

So is this: 

Provided a neighbourhood development plan or order is in line with national planning policy, with the strategic vision for the wider area set by the local authority, and with other legal requirements, local people will be able to vote on it in a referendum. If the plan is approved by a majority of those who vote, then the local authority will bring it into force. 

When the planning policy of this Government is studied in the future the NPPF should be recorded as a bold consolidation of guidance and the Localism Act recorded as a tentative, half-hearted attempt at decentralisation. 

When the politics of this Government's planning policy is recorded in the future the reality, as illustrated in that summary of the Localism Act above, will be shown to have been hoisted on the petard of rhetoric. A localism genie was let out of the bottle in the optimistic early-parliament dawn and attempts to impose a will from the centre in the world-weary late-parliament dusk were used by the CPRE and others to portray a taking back of powers that were never really offered in the first place.  

In launching the report the CPRE welcomes 'recent signs that Ministers are willing to do more to promote brownfield development and protect the Green Belt', but then state, without a trace of irony, that 'much more needs to be done to protect the countryside, put communities back in the driving seat, and build the new homes the country needs.’ 

Irony is an oft mis-used term, but I have just reminded myself of its definition and it only partly applies to the CPRE's position. 

Irony. A state of affairs that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.

The outcome contrary to expectation applies (especially since the amount of Green Belt has increased since 1997), but it is not wryly amusing that development is being planned for by planning appeal rather than through a forward planning process. This is a state of affairs influenced by the warnings from the CPRE and others that the countryside and 'traditional English' village life is being destroyed and the direct impact that this has on Local Plan progress.

It is also not wryly amusing for communities to be more likely to use neighbourhood plans to stifle development.

And it certainly is not amusing for the country to be building no-more than half of the homes it needs. 

On the plus side though, the comfortable nostalgics will be pleased...

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