Lack of truth, or just a lack of understanding?

There’s an interesting convergence emerging in the amongst all the claims and counter-claims surrounding the NPPF consultation. The coming together is in respect of the comments made by John Howell, self-confessed author of the Tories Open Source Planning document and those made by the likes of Pickles and Clark, about what the term sustainable development actually means and how it came into being.

John Howell claims that the presumption in favour term was never meant to refer to individual planning applications, but only to development plans. The problem is, the NPPF refers to plans and decision making in the same sentence over and over again, lending a lie to John Howell’s claims.

Where the convergence comes, is in the claims being made, the latest in a speech today by Eric Pickles, that the presumption in favour of development has always been in the planning regulations in some form. However, dig down and you find that the presumption that has existed in the regulations, actually referred to land that had already been zoned, or identified as suitable for development. Put another way, it is land that is allocated, as in a local plan site allocations map.

So John Howell is right in that respect, the presumption was supposed to be all about plan making, not about individual applications. The problem seems to be, that those responsible for the NPPF, the so called wide ranging expert group, appear to have bastardised the presumption term into the catchall statement that is now causing us all so much angst.

John Howell MP proves the deceit that is the NPPF

I was going to have a rant about this myself, but Andrew Lainton says it all in his blog so much than I could:

It beggars belief that the individual who so proudly admits to being the author of the document that spawned the national planning policy framework, would go on record saying the complete opposite of what is in black and white for all to read. 

Can it be that he has not actually read the NPPF and is basing his deluded comments on his precious Open Source Planning document?  I hope the answer is yes, because otherwise one can only draw the conclusion that he is little better than his fellow MPs, who set out to deceive and defraud the public by submitting false claims for their expenses.

Just so there is no doubt about why I am challenging the veracity of this MP’s statement, here are a couple of extracts from the NPPF.

Greg Clark’s Foreword: ….a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision.

Para 14.  At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking.

Para 55. The relationship between development management and plan-making should be seamless and both should recognise the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the positive approach to planning set out in this Framework.

Para 63. In assessing and determining development proposals, local planning authorities should apply the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Another statement in the NPPF that should be of major concern to everybody outside of the development industry because the bit in bold applies to some 95% of councils in England is (again at para 14):

….grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.

Paras 116 and 118 also so give me cause for concern becuase of their apparent contradictory nature.   Para 116 says, ‘…respond to local character and reflect the identity of local surroundings,‘ whilst para 118 says, ‘Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes’.

What is local character and identity, if not an architectural style or particular taste?

John Howell, villain of the piece!

The letters page of today’s Telegraph carrys a letter from John Howell MP, who is actually claiming responsibility for the Tory Party Open Source Planning document. It’s therefore not surprising that he is criticising the recent Telegraph article by Clive Aslet, that itself criticised the National Planning Policy Framework. Given John Howell’s reference to ‘his’ Open Source Planning document, the NPPF might be better named Open Door Planning Framework.

Incidentally, having had a swift look at John Howell’s CV, apart from a degree that refers to something to do with geography, I can see nothing to confirm that his views on planning are any better informed than my own.

John Howell’s letter makes an extraordinary statement that to me, displays a fundamental lack of understanding of how the planning system actually works or what the repercussions of the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ being enshirined in the NPPF will be. He claims that, far from being an open goal for the developers, it’s only there as ‘tool for putting plans together’. I assume he means neighbourhood plans as opposed to local plans, but even then, his ignorance is breathtaking. You only have to read the extremely enthusiastic comments of the development industry, to get their take on how wide a door they previously had to knock on, will now be thrown open by the NPPF. His claim that it will not be used as weapon by many developers, to force through approval of their individual applications, bears no relationship to what the reality will be.

Mr Howell’s claims that a town in his own constituency supports what the NPPF is trying to achieve, because they have been successful in their ambition to become a Neighbourhood Plan front-runner. What he doesn’t say and I suspect never thought to ask, is what do those promoting that neighbourhood plan want to achieve? Given that Thame is in the well heeled county of Oxfordshire and given how unpopular proposals for major development have been in the south of England to date, I would put some money on this particular neighbourhood plan being the opposite of what Mr Howell’s hopes it wil be.

Local politicians to be stitched up

The government looks set fair to ensure that local politicians of all persuasions carry the can for the housing shortage in this country.  Having removed the regionally imposed housing number requires, to a great hurrah from the Party faithful in the more affluent areas of the country, ministers are now saying that it is up to councils to convince the locals that development is good for them.  See the quote from one of Greg Clark’s bag carriers below. 

Developers will be allowed to build “what they like, where they like” if councils fail to give permission for sufficient new housing schemes, a Conservative MP has said.  John Howell, parliamentary private secretary to minister for decentralisation Greg Clark, warned that if councils failed to plan for new development, it would be assumed that they had a “completely permissive planning system”.  As a result, he said a developer could build “what they like, where they like and when they like”, as long as they meet new national planning standards that are being worked on alongside the Localism Bill.

He stressed that the government’s new planning system aimed to lead to more development, not less development.

The new government obviously learnt at least one lesson during their time in opposition.  Simply setting housing numbers doesn’t mean houses get built.  Also, because these housing numbers were set regionally, it made it appear to be the government’s fault.  they weren’t going to have that.  Afterall, there were plenty of other things they were in line to be blamed for that they wouldn’t be able to pass the buck for, without taking the blame for this as well!

Enter Baldrick (or should we call him Pickles in order to bring it up to date) with a cunning plan.  Why not scrap the government imposed figures, whilst at the same time cutting the local government grant, top slicing what’s left and then only giving them that bit back if they build more houses – Brilliant!   Not only does this get the housing deficit off of our backs, it also well and truly sticks it to local government, that I never liked anyway – Double brilliant!!