An American abroad

Notwithstanding his role as the president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), Bill Bryson speaks with great wisdom on the potential damage the NPPF could do to the English landscape.

If government ministers won’t listen to its own people – Francis Maude, a supposedly clever man at the heart of government, describing their concerns as ‘bollocks’ – perhaps they will listen to an American, who has personal knowledge of the damage done to his country through uncontrolled development.

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….grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.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

Planning Inspectorate will be busy

All the concern being expressed by organisations such as the National Trust and CPRE, about the presumption in favour of sustainable development, as enshrined in the NPPF, is in danger of over-shadowing one of the NPPF’s potential negative outcomes – planning by appeal.

One of the strengths and, it has to be said, occasional weaknesses of having elected members involved in making planning decisions, is that we can occasional be a cumudgeony bunch. The officers do their professional best to come up with a balanced decision, based on the council’s policies and then make their recommendation – members then go and take the opposite view! Where this view is in favour of an application, then the appeal process doesn’t really apply, unless somebody has enough cash to go to the high court. However, where an application is refused, either by officers without going to committee, or by a decision of the members at committee, the applicant has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State through the Planning Inspectorate.
With the implementation of the NPPF, developers will be waving the presumption in favour of sustainable development under the noses of every local planning authority in the country, demanding the right to build on just about any spare bit of land they can lay their hands on. Meanwhile, the public will be realising the floodgates have been unlocked and will soon be swinging wide open, with elected members telephones’ ringing off of their hooks. Public concern and in some cases outrage, will ultimately lead elected members to become more and more concerned about the political fallout from runaway development.
Given the vague and abstract nature of the term, ‘sustainable development’, the requirement to give a presumption in its favour and the potential for a lack of up to date planning policies in many councils, members are going to feel that they have every right to give significant weight to the public’s and in particular any neighbour’s concerns. Once the NPPF becomes law, PINS, as the Planning Inspectorate is known, is going to become very, very busy.
Worse still, a planning inquiry can be a very expensive business, especially when it goes to a full- blown public hearing. Even if the appellant is not awarded costs against the planning authority, the cost of an inquiry can easily reach 4, or even 5 figures. Whilst planning officers will always advise members against making a decision that isn’t based on sound planning reasons, they would be extremely reluctant to use the cost of fighting an appeal as the main reason for not refusing a planning application.

Care to eat your words Mr Clark?

An excellent article in today’s Daily Telegraph from Clive Aslet, described as Editor at Large of ‘Country Life’. Editor at Large? Does that mean he works from home and drives around a lot?

None of the venom and spite we’ve seen from our illustrious leaders, Clark and Neill (Shapps seems to sensible enough to keep his head down for now). It’s a reasoned argument in favour of listening to the genuine concerns of those who care about our countryside. He also calls for the public consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework, to be treated as a genuine exercise and not the current sham suggested by the hysterical utterances Clark and Neill have spouted upon hearing that the National Trust and CPRE have concerns about the potential negative impact of the NPPF.
The best bit of the article for me, is a quote from a then Tory MP in opposition, Greg Clark. Upon hearing that the Labour Government wanted to see 6,000 houses built in Tunbridge Wells, Clark’s constituency, he said: “One of the delights of our area is that there is scarcely a neighbourhood that is not within a short walk of the green fields that surround us”. This is the self same minister now laying in to those who dare to challenge his new passion for covering those green fields in houses and factories.
No wonder politicians are often seen as cynical opportunists, ready to jump on the nearest passing bandwagon. I sincerely hope the members of the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Party are seeking answers from their local MP.