All posts tagged: brownfield-first
So after eight months of intense and often heated debate between pro-growth and anti-growth factions the revised National Planning Policy Framework was finally published this afternoon. We now have a working document that will set the tone and shape of planning policy for the foreseeable future.
It’s 47 pages plus appendices, 5 fewer than the draft, and replaces over 1,000 pages of previous planning policy including Planning Policy Guidance documents 1 – 20. As predicted, the document places a very heavy emphasis upon economic growth (a victory for George Osborne and the Treasury), balanced against social and environmental issues.
The key requirements on housing are retained. Local plans should “deliver a wide choice of high quality homes, widen opportunities for home ownership and create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.” Councils will have to carry out an objective strategic housing needs assessment, in partnership with other local authorities where housing markets cross boundaries, and provide the housing that is required. This includes providing for the size, type range and tenure of new homes, and proposals must take account of migration and other demographic change. Local plans will have to allocate, and update annually, a list of deliverable sites for new housing for the first five years of the plan, plus a 5 percent buffer (down from 20 percent in the draft). Authorities who have consistently failed to deliver new homes in the past will be put on the naughty step and forced to stick with the 20 percent buffer. Additional sites for years 6-10 and “where possible” for years 11-15 will also have to be identfied.
The key issues that upset some of the countryside lobby, like the National Trust and the CPRE (it must be remembered that the NFU and the Countryside Alliance supported the proposals) have been only slightly watered down, even though they are trying to spin the NPPF as a victory for their cause. The presumption in favour of sustainable development where plans are absent, silent or out of date is retained. In other words development will be presumed to be approved unless the “adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole”.
The NPPF also effectively ends the previous national brownfield-first policy, and local authorities will now be free to set their own targets, so there will longer be a national target for new homes being provided on brownfield land, something which pleases me greatly. This means that cities like Cambridge, which have been subject to unacceptable cramming on garden and brownfield land, can take a more balanced view about the future of previously developed land in the future.It is disappointing that the NPPF does not review the purpose and shape of the green belts, which do so much to cram us into the existing urban footprint at ever greater densities. But although green belts will retain their protection no new ones should be created unless there are “exceptional circumstances”. The NPPF also opens up the possibility of a new generation of Garden Cities to be built on greenfield land, including urban extensions that meet Garden City principles. This is one of Grant Shapps’s pet projects, via the Policy Exchange, and has to be welcomed by the housing sector.
Local authorities will be required to “take account” of the intrinsic value of the countryside, but I’m not sure how meaningful this is, when so many other clauses within the NPPF allow for greennfireld development. The feeling I’m getting from the Twittersphere this afternoon is that the countryside lobby is disappointed with the final document.
However, the NPPF places a huge emphasis upon localism and the local plan. In the absence of national and regional targets I’m still worried that the local planning process could end up being a NIMBY charter. If it is only the well-heeled and the well-housed who engage with their local planning authorities we could end up with plans that do not meet the needs of all the people, the housed and unhoused, the poor and the rich. That is why it is important for our local councils to engage effectively and constructively with their communities and for housing providers to get stuck into their local planning process. The ball is in our court now.
Like kids waiting for Christmas, the main protagonists in the NPPF debate are displaying a mix of anxiety, excitement and apprehension as they await the publication of the final version of the document, due to be published on Budget day. The twittersphere is erupting in spasmodic bursts of bad temper between the pro and anti factions. After a long and sustained campaign for and against, the final NPPF is bound to cause upset on one side and exhiliration on the other, unless it turns out to be a classic English fudge that pleases no one.
Meanwhile, the rumours are flying. This began with Newsnight’s report on the 6th March claiming that the NPPF would be published unchanged and that Pickles had received a grilling from the pro-growth Chancellor. Osborne’s sense of urgency reminds me of Labour’s slogan from the 1945 election: “Let’s Build the Houses, Quick”. The story of an unchanged NPPF was confirmed by Inside Housing on the 8th March. But then up pops The Telegraph with a worrying story that the NPPF would be significantly modified including a re-affirmation of the brownfield-first policy and the scrapping of the requirement to identify 20 percent additional land for housebuilding in years one to five.
If so, that is a worrying development. Brownfield first has distorted land prices and caused city cramming on a dangerous scale. We need to take a more objective look at brownfield land rather than building on every scrap of it. Yesterday I took the train from Brighton to St Pancras and London is looking increasingly dense. Historic monuments like St Pauls and the Tower of London are being swallowed up in a sea of huge new buildings. The same thing is in happening in Liverpool where the UNESCO world heritage status of the Three Graces is threatened. Do we really want to destroy the heritage of our cities so that Lord Rogers and his urban task force friends can have the satisfaction of surveying the “dense polycentric city” from their country retreats?
Either way, when the final NPPF is issued you can expect an almighty row. If it really is published unchanged, the National Trust and the CPRE will no doubt be mobilising their members across the shires in ways that are as yet unthought of and the Trust’s Director General will retreat with her tail between her legs to the Master’s Lodge at Emmanuel College (worryingly close to where I live). But if the document is altered in the way that The Telegraph suggests you can expect the opponents of the NPPF to be jubilant. Toad Hall and its precious countryside will have been protected once more from the nasty urban stoats and weasels who seek to destroy its sanctity. Watch this space.