Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Words that count

From: Inside out

Last week’s publication of the National Planning Policy Framework left both sides in the debate claiming victory, which means either that the document was brilliantly drafted, or one side was either putting on an act or had misread the document - or both. I certainly think the final NPPF is a triumph of drafting – it seems to have pleased both sides and may end up pleasing neither - yet it seems to me that the bodies who opposed the draft NPPF, including the National Trust, the CPRE and the Daily Telegraph could hardly afford to lose face in public, given the amount of time and effort they had spent in attacking the government.

On the day that the NPPF was published I could not see a great deal of difference between the draft and the final versions. Of course there were changes of emphasis and the default yes to development had been removed but it seems to me that the final NPPF is overwhelmingly about growth, albeit sustainable growth, and that the repeated references to economic growth trump almost every other element of the policy framework, as Andy Boddington from the CPRE has manfully pointed out. I also predicted that the countryside lobby would seek to save face by claiming victory and I was right. Articles like this and this appeared over the next few days. The Daily Telegraph, (whose laughable “Hands off our Land” campaign failed to garner the support of their sceptical readers) even had the chutzpah to claim that six changes to the final NPPF had been their doing, (it was their “It’s The Sun Wot Won It” moment). It was therefore rather strange to see Simon Heffer in The Mail simultaneously taking the polar opposite view. Is the countryisde about to be concreted over or have the evil developers been sent packing? You can buy your paper and take your choice it seems.

This deliberate or unintended misreading of the new framework may come back to haunt some of these commentators. I hope it does. The NPPF’s emphasis upon economic growth is borne out by a brilliant word count of the 50-page document carried out by Mike Galloway, a Lib Dem councillor for Wolverton in Milton Keynes, who has looked at both the draft and the final document. His analysis reveals that the most frequently used words in the final NPPF are as follows:

  • Plan/Plans/Planned/Planning - 689
  • Development - 385
  • Local - 349
  • Site/sites - 146
  • Home/Homes/House/Housing - 110
  • Sustainable/ sustainability - 113
  • Environment/environmental - 96

The word ‘countryside’ appears only seven times. Overwhelmingly, these most frequently used words relate  to growth, development, planning and localism. Encouragingly, the word “housing” appears almost three times more in the final document over the draft. These words speak for themselves and I truly hope that they will count for something in the future.  

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