Planning reforms boost local power and growth?

Many of you may have read about or heard in the national media of the locking of horns this week of Eric Pickles/George Osbourne with the National Trust and others on the subject of planning reforms and putting the countryside in peril.

In his true bullish style Eric Pickles (with The Chancellor of Exchequer in tow one suspects) kicks out a broadside ( to the criticisms being levelled at the content of the draft  National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The need to reform the current Planning system has widespread support. It is unwieldy, slow and burdensome. The current significant process of change to the planning system will inevitably draw out the strong voices of vested interests; these voices, including the landscape protection lobby, now have the opportunity to seek to influence the content of the draft NPPF.

The draft, and very brief, NPPF raises a whole raft of issues for discussion; we shall only comment on two issues in this blog now  – sustainable development and the burdens on planning applicants.

The brevity of the NPPF is supported yet it does bring the side effects of absence of policy and vagueness of policy. The NPPF qualifies a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This is a very bold statement. But what does it mean? How shall it be applied in the decision making process? Those practising Planners will know how you can argue sustainable so many different ways and that many material issues that are linked to the subject of sustainability can be conflicting. It is therefore inevitable that clarity will not immediately transpire and we shall see a long bedding in process for this policy and we practitioners (in public and private sectors) shall be on the look out for the latest and relevant precedent and case law. Will this be simplification or added complexity?  Only time will tell.

One fundamental issue that sticks in our claw with respect to the current planning system (from the private sector perspective, that is) is the burden being passed to the applicant in just seeking to get an application validated, never mind determined. More and more application submission requirements have arisen over the years and to date we see no practical address of this matter by the Coalition Government; and the action has to come from this source first. Greg Clark, Minister of State for the Communities and Local Government, stated back in March 2011 that local authorities need to ensure they do not impose unnecessary burdens on development. We know that the current approach is inhibiting development schemes coming forward. The nature of submission requirements for planning applications must be addressed by both national and
local government now.

Duncan Hartley, Director of Planning, Rural Solutions Ltd – September 2011

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