The release of the National Planning Policy Framework is apparently imminent, and the rumour mill is churning! But what exactly ought we to believe?
Newsnight stuck its neck out to say no major changes on Tuesday 6th, but today (Thursday 8th) in The Telegraph we heard that brownfield first has been reinstated, the +20% provision for housing has been dropped, we will have increased protection for heritage, and a more balanced definition of sustainable development.
Sceptical as ever, I am unsure exactly what to believe, but if the Telegraph has it correct, then I think it will not look nearly as disappointing as it could have been. Here is a breakdown of what we have been told and what else we need to look out for:
The presumption in favour of sustainable development: This has become the headline fight, but if it is deployed correctly it could be completely workable in a system that fully recognises green belt protections and maintains the ethos of heritage protection that we had in PPS5 – i.e. one that is explicit about the value of cultural and natural heritage assets such as local green spaces.
Brownfield first: This would also be counted as a victory for countryside campaigners. Preventing unnecessary countryside development that would only serve to lower developer costs is a sensible move. However, schemes with truly beneficial potential to stimulate economic grow, such as the example of expanding development at Pinewood studios (as referenced in the Telegraph piece) could still be granted special permission as ‘clearly and demonstrably’ providing good value for the economy and outweighing green belt concerns as an exception, rather than a rule.
Transition period: This is vital for local authorities to be given time to put local plans in place. But 2 years seems like an optimistic target given how much influence the Treasury is being said to be exerting influence over the final form of the document and the vehemence with which it is pushing a quick implementation. However, without enough time, results could be disastrous. Good luck to Eric Pickles in arguing for this down the final stretch.
Ensure heritage protections remain from PPS5: An explicit clause stating the value of heritage assets, both natural and cultural, designated and non-designated, should be included. Consideration of the concept of ‘landscape’ and reference to the commitments to the European Landscape Convention would be an excellent way to do this (as I argue here) This will also help to inform how one should understand the definition of;
Sustainable Development: Which will require a clearer setting out of how sustainability balances the environmental and the social with the economic.
Practical, pragmatic, yet protective policy – this is the potential for the NPPF at its release in the next couple of weeks. It is thinking under these banners that will reduce bureaucracy and stimulate economic growth, not thoughtless deregulation.
However, I predict many more rumours to circulate before the final release!