Who should decide under the new planning rules?

Sarah Sackman reports on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published yesterday.

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Sarah Sackman is a public law barrister and a guest lecturer at LSE Cities

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published yesterday, has proven to be a political ‘hot potato’ for the Tories, sparking vociferous opposition campaigns by The National Trust and The Daily Telegraph.

English-greenbeltThe final version (pdf), widely viewed as an improvement on last summer’s draft, replaces more than 1,000 pages of planning rules with a single 50-page document.

So, what should Labour’s line be on the planning reforms?

Labour must be seen as leading the national conversation on house building, job creation and revamping infrastructure. Labour should push for development to be directed to de-industrialised areas which most need investment.

In government, Labour introduced sensible reforms requiring developers to build on brownfield sites before considering greenfield sites (a requirement watered down to an encouragement by the NPPF) and streamlined the consent process for major infrastructure projects through the Planning Act 2008.

Labour needs to remind the public that planning laws do not build anything – they simply guide the form and the place in which developments take place.

George Osborne’s claim that the planning system has stymied growth and “cost the British economy £3bn a year” ignores the fact that planning permission has been granted for hundreds of thousands of new homes which have not been built.

The problem has not been the planning system nor a shortage of land but the unwillingness or lack of confidence among developers to profitably develop their land.


See also:

Tories, Tesco, vino and the presumption in favour of development 3 Oct 2011

Pickles and co are barking up the road to nowhere 1 Oct 2011

Pickles’s failed attempt to reduce complexity risks a planning free-for-all 22 Sep 2011

Latest high street gloom shows urgent need for new planning system 20 Sep 2011

Pickles’s new national planning policy threatens motorway chaos 30 Aug 2011


Planning reforms are no substitute for the government’s inability to stimulate demand, job creation and business confidence.

Hilary Benn was right to point out yesterday that the NPPF fails to address what is ailing the UK economy – the government’s economic programme.

In the rows over the NPPF’s content, the question of who gets to decide how land is used has been brushed over. In its ideal form the planning system operates as a restraint on untamed market forces and affords some protection to the views of local people in determining their built environment.

Planning is a quintessentially local function and the planning system, if properly designed, can offer one of the clearest opportunities for active citizen participation.

The planning minister, Greg Clark declared the NPPF would put “power in the hands of communities” to support growth. Yet at the same time the Tories dropped their manifesto pledge to allow local people to appeal against unwanted developments in their area.

Simon Jenkins, writing in today’s Guardian, described the role of Tory donors and property developers in bringing about this policy reversal as “the most glaring case of ‘bought legislation’ to date”.

The Tories have captured the rhetoric, but are failing to deliver localism in practice. In opposition Labour should seize the opportunity to debate how it would decentralise power and revitalise local democracy.

Labour should continue to argue that decisions on strategic infrastructure and house building targets need to be directed by centralised bodies which are best placed to identify regional or national priorities (the Tories, for example, have scrapped regional housing targets).

At the same time, the power to determine the precise location and type of development should be channelled to the local decision-makers, including the new city mayors and those people directly affected by particular developments.

A decentralised planning system is not only fair but by drawing on knowledge of local people has the potential to create better development which we all wish to see.


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