Thursday, 05 March 2015

Another fine mess

From: Inside edge

Should we now write off any prospect of a solution to the new homes crisis for the rest of this parliament?

Despite a ‘warm welcome’ from planning minister Greg Clark, today’s report on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) by an all-party committee of MPs calls for a rethink of several fundamental principles. 

In particular, the Communities and Local Government committee wants the government to remove the default ‘yes’ to development from the document  and to launch a second consultation on a rewritten version.

The default ‘yes’ would only have applied in cases where there was no local plan and it was therefore the key to tackling anti-development or feet-dragging local authorities. The second consultation is something that ministers have repeatedly denied was a possibility.

The committee does also say that  ‘it is it is reasonable and practical for the NPPF to have as an overarching principle a presumption in favour of sustainable development’ but only if it is clear that sustainability is to be judged on environmental and social grounds as well as economic ones.

Put that alongside calls for the reinstatement of ‘brownfield first’ and ‘town centres first’ policies, and little wonder that the National Trust and Daily Telegraph are hailing the report as a vindication of their campaign against the NPPF while Labour’s Hilary Benn seems unable to resist climbing on the bandwagon. 

Little wonder too that developers and housebuilders are calling on ministers to ‘stand firm’. They can probably live with ‘brownfield first’ but argue that the default ‘yes’ is essential when more than half of local authorities still have no local plan seven years after being legally obliged to produce one. And they will worry that a second consultation will open the door to a more fundamental rewrite and further delay.

Clark’s rose-tinted response to such a critical report makes no sense until you consider the possibility that this is him preparing the ground for u-turn or three. For example, he will ‘carefully consider’ the committee’s new definition of ‘sustainable development’. 

The prospect of watering down the NPPF and delaying its implementation will do little to tackle the continuing shortage of new homes. The Home Builders Federation published figures today showing another 10 per cent fall in approvals, meaning that the planning permissions coming through the system are half what is required to meet demand.

So all in all we are left with a mess. The planning system will only ever deliver enough homes through a combination of carrots and sticks. The main carrot (the new homes bonus) seems too small to be effective and the main stick (the default ‘yes’) is now being call into question. 

But could the committee be rescuing us from an even bigger mess?  The MPs consider that going ahead with the document as drafted would be fraught with problems. 

They argue: ‘The Government has set great store by the brevity and simplicity of the NPPF, but in its current form the draft NPPF does not necessarily achieve clarity by virtue of its brevity. There are many examples of inconsistent drafting which need addressing. The significant gaps in planning policy and guidance could lead to a huge expansion in the size of local plans as local authorities attempt to plug the gap. 

‘There is a danger that, far from speeding up the planning process, in the short term the NPPF will slow it down by introducing ambiguity where previously there was detailed guidance—”planning by appeal” could be the outcome.’ 

They also argue the NPPF should keep the current definition of affordable housing (a cost low enough for households to afford in the context of local incomes and local house prices) rather than define it as housing where eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and house prices. 

These are crucial points and would be welcome improvements to the final document. Getting the NPPF right does not amount to the vindication claimed by the Telegraph.

However, the problem is that the government’s approach to planning in general and its speedy scrapping of the old Labour system in particular only ever made sense it it could get a new system in place quickly. That now looks less likely - and so does the prospect of more new homes any time soon. 


Readers' comments (9)

  • F451

    The original depiction of Shapps and Pickles as Laurel and Hardy could not be made more apt than in the mess they have created of the planning system.

    By scrapping what existed without any idea or strategy for a replacement - and now, after 18 months of government, still unable to impliment a replacement, the true scale of their blundering incompetence is beginning to cost the taxpayer and the national interest dearly.

    In any other sector these bumbling fools would be sacked - yet we have a paralysed Prime Minister who's favoured negotiation technique is to run off with the ball and hide. If he will not face the responsibilities of leadership and replace his failed Ministers and their little pets then he must give the people the opportunity to do so for him.

    It is time for both Pickles and Shapps to stand aside and allow someone with the comptence to impliment policy for positive change rather than scrap, cut, and bluster instead.

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  • Rick Campbell

    Who'd we get in place of Stan and Ollie though?

    Surripsed to read that Mr Cameron has balls to hide after running orft!

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  • F451

    I think Merkyl gave them to him!

    Replacement for Stan and Ollie - even the Krankies couldn't do worse.

    How about anyone who actually has had social housing experience - real experience from living and/or working in social housing as opposed to some gobshute who can only see the commodity yet talks of the value.

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  • Rick Campbell

    Perhaps the Chuckle Brothers rather than the Kranhies?

    Or maybe distribute the 'jobs; to the Cabinet aka The Crazy Gang.

    ... can hear "Underneath the Arches" being adopted as a song for the homeless as part of a new initiave -- and it's not even Friday!

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  • Ernie Gray

    On a serious note - George Young would make a good CLG Cabinet Member and he does have a track record of a reasoned apporach unlike the acolytes of Conservative Home. A liberal as housing minister maybe so they can take the blame - god knows who though..........

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  • Come back David Lawes all is forgiven?

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  • I agree with F451 though, Shapps & Pickles are hopeless, why oh why has Cameron not sacked the pair of them?

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  • Rick Campbell

    They've not been sacked because they are small-minded heartless demonisers?

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  • The PM could be a sufferer (PreMenstrual) cannot sack Pickles , where would he find a jar big enough or enough formaldehyde, or Shaaps he is allergic to common sense and there is no known cure. A duo for Shove Offs.

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