Since this will be my last blog before the National planning policy framework is set to be released, I thought I’d reflect on just how little we know going into the publication of the final document that is expected (although by no means guaranteed) on the 21st March.
So, who knows what is going to be in the NPPF when it is released on Wednesday? Well, it’s a short list, that’s for sure. It certainly doesn’t include anyone who the BBC’s Sunday Politics has the power to book. Viewers yesterday were instead treated to the bizarre spectacle of the DCLG spokesperson Stephen Hammond giving assurances on a document he hadn’t even been allowed to read himself (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17421600).
Conservative MPs don’t make the list either (here). It doesn’t include anyone in the government’s advisory bodies like English Heritage or Natural England, and doesn’t include any other environmental or historic environment NGOs either (here). And it doesn’t include the media, who are revelling in rumours derived from various officials who themselves probably haven’t read the final document either.
The government’s strategy in coping with this abhorrent lack of any tangible information seems to be to assure everyone of everything. The exception is George Osborne, whose strategy seems to be to unilaterally declare anything he wants, in the hope that he’s too important not to have the final say on absolutely everything that government does (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/hands-off-our-land/9151464/Hands-Off-Our-Land-Frustrated-Osborne-vows-to-make-building-on-countryside-easier-as-cracks-show-in-Government.html).
How can it be that we are all so on the outside of these reforms? How can it be that the vast majority of expertise relating to heritage, the environment, wildlife, planning and development have been shut out so categorically? How can it be that the government can provide assurances on everything, yet prove nothing, in answer to public scrutiny and media pressure? How can it be that rumour has been the primary source of information in this entire debate?
Conclusions? Whatever happens on Wednesday (and I expect a perfect storm) there have been some serious questions raised about the government’s leadership and handling of the policy drafting process that should not be allowed to be forgotten when we finally see what the new planning system looks like.