England needs a coherent planning framework if it is to develop homes and communities which pass the test of time
Plan of action
The current planning system can be unresponsive and remote from communities. But its critics have wrongly identified it as a barrier to growth. A coherent framework is crucial if England is to work to its full potential by providing certainty and making markets work better.
Much of the controversy about the proposed national planning policy framework is around the definition of sustainable development, its focus on economic growth and therefore the implementation of the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
The economy, however, should be only one of the pillars of the three-legged stool called sustainable development. Indeed, the Conservative green paper on planning, the basis of the government’s reforms, identified that ‘the purpose of the planning system is to reconcile, in the most equitable and efficient way possible, competing economic, social and environmental priorities’.
The government could do much to resolve the current debate over the NPPF by adopting the 2005 sustainable development strategy definition, which remains broadly accepted across business, environmental and social groups. This stresses that economic growth is sustainable through living within environmental limits and creating a strong, healthy and just society.
A truly fit-for-purpose planning system must be explicitly democratic, reconciling tensions between national need for housing on the one hand and local aspirations on the other. A strong plan-led system should be the cornerstone of local decision-making.
We believe the NPPF can be made into a positive and concise document which can help shape the sustainable development of England.
However, to achieve a workable framework and avoid the NPPF being tested through the courts, resulting in planning by appeal and delays, we need clear definitions of sustainable development and a more precise version of the aforementioned ‘presumption’.
We would also like the NPPF to identify clearly new communities such as garden cities as a valuable option. The current draft is silent on the possibilities, benefits and challenges of comprehensively planned, large-scale developments. While we do not expect detailed guidance on such development, the lack of advocacy for new settlements in the draft NPPF fails to recognise the multiple benefits of comprehensively planned new communities and, by omission, may provide support to those opposed to large-scale, high-quality, new housing.
Get on our Land, Inside Housing’s campaign which we support, raises the important point of releasing more land for development. The government has already announced it will release surplus public land for up to 100,000 homes by 2015. But it’s not just about land, we also need the right finance models to get development going and to ensure the result is high-quality, inclusive communities that stand the test of time.
Kate Henderson is chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association