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What our planning system needs to do

What our planning system needs to do

Matt Thomson shares his ‘to do’ list for the revised national planning rules.

The Government keeps reminding us it has a ‘to do list’ for housing - we must:

  • deliver the homes the nation needs
  • protect the countryside
  • and leave the environment in better condition than we found it in.

But sadly, like many of our own ‘to do lists’, it’s not managing to tick off any of those crucial elements. Next week, however, they might finally get to put a tick against an item on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's (MHCLG) list if, as widely predicted, they publish the long-awaited redraft of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – the single document that sets out the government’s policies for how planning should work.

In the most basic sense, the NPPF’s job should be to encourage and enable ‘good development’ and restrict ‘bad development’. The underlying rhetoric from the Government must shift away from pushing homes to be built at whatever cost and towards an approach which balances the need for new developments with other needs and interests.

There is a housing crisis that must be addressed, but the solutions do not need to be at the expense of the countryside and its communities.

However, while the wording of the current NPPF can reasonably be interpreted as having that intention at heart, some of its wording is loose and is so open to interpretation - or conflicts with other government policy and statements - that these principles don’t fully coincide with reality as most people recognise it.

Are developments genuinely the ‘right homes’- that is, what communities need - rather than what sells fastest on the property market? In other words, are they in the right places, making good use of land? And in whose benefit are decisions made and who is in control of making them: communities, government or developers?

CPRE will be judging the new draft NPPF on how well it delivers on key countryside issues. We’ve helpfully created our own ‘to do’ list for the NPPF itself:

  • Deliver the homes the nation needs rather than just follow market demand - focusing on increasing affordable housing provision and reforming the viability system stacked in developers’ favour.
  • Maintain Green Belt policy and the protection of our National Parks and AONBs – respecting needed constraints on development.
  • Embed a brownfield-first policy - prioritising the construction of over a million homes on sites already identified as suitable for housing development.
  • Empower communities to manage the type and scale of development in their areas.
  • Embed an understanding of what genuine sustainable development means and make sure that developments are permitted, and restricted, on this basis.

The NPPF is a critically important document that has a huge bearing on our countryside. It governs how communities are able to engage with proposals for development in their areas – to demand the development that they need, and to protect the open spaces, landscapes and places of cultural and environmental interest that they cherish and add such richness to their lives.

We must make sure the government gets it right. We’re really looking forward to ticking some items off our NPPF list and we’ll be poring over the draft over the coming months and letting you know how you can help hold government to account on its own promises.

CPRE will be judging the new draft NPPF on how well it delivers on key countryside issues

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