Sunday, 23 October 2011

NPPF - a balanced view

On Thursday 13 October the House of Lords took a short break from the Report Stage of the Localism Bill to have a free-standing debate on planning generally. This debate was specifically concerned with the draft NPPF, and in initiating the debate, the Labour peer Lord (Jeff) Rooker said that in principle, and in general, he is actually with the Government on the issue of proposed changes to the planning system.

Ministers, he said, had had a torrid time from their friends at the Daily Telegraph, the owners of which are not really entitled to a view on this issue from their offshore island. There has been much misleading hype from the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He did not think they believed everything they put out. As Planning Minister, he had had disagreements with them, but they did not feel they had to resort to hype on the current scale.

Lord Rooker pointed out that the draft NPPF deals solely with England. Over 90 per cent of the land of England is not built on. National parks account for 9 per cent; designated areas of outstanding natural beauty account for 15 per cent; the green belt accounts for 13 per cent; urban developments (including the roads and other infrastructure) are 9 per cent. That is a total of 46 per cent. From memory, he said, when he was at the relevant department, the land that was thought to be needed for development, i.e. for housing and other infrastructure, was about 1 per cent. So, what on earth is the problem? That is all we are talking about in terms of the scope of the land of England for proper development. The last Government managed to leave behind more green belt than they inherited, two new national parks and sustainable development.

The draft planning policy nowhere near seeks to destroy our countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the green belt or our vast open countryside. The NPPF simply does not do that given the very limited amount of land that is required. In Lord Rooker’s view, we need to get real on this matter.

However, he suggested that the final policy has to include encouraging the use of brownfield. It will remove a major plank from the sometimes misleading opposition to the draft policy. The NPPF is a draft and any draft can be improved. But the central thrust should remain a presumption in favour of sustainable development. It is not a plan to concrete over our manmade countryside or destroy the quality designated areas. Those who claim this were plain wrong, in his view.


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