Taken from the Jan 2012 edition of Housebuilder magazine.
Stephen Byfield, managing director of communications consultancy PPS Group, wonders whether the government will buckle under pressure to amend draft planning policy
I had an entertaining lunch this week with a planning lawyer (is this the first time anyone has ever written that sentence?). Over the meat and fish we talked about what will emerge in the next few weeks from the Government’s planning reforms.
The pressure on the Government to amend the presumption in favour of sustainable development from the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has continued. Just before Christmas, a Commons Select Committee published its report into the NPPF. The Daily Telegraph duly trumpeted a victory for those wanting to see the presumption removed, but actually the committee called for a redefinition so there was a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development consistent with the local plan’. They then went on to call for a transition period for councils to get their plans up to date.
In the New Year, the battle was joined by the shire Tories. Local councils in 14 of the constituencies of the 21 members of the cabinet wrote to the Government claiming the NPPF threatens the localism agenda by handing too much power to developers.
So, will the Government buckle? The department has already responded to the Select Committee’s report agreeing to a transition period, but so far has been silent on whether it will amend the presumption in favour of sustainable development. My lawyer friend points out that the presumption has been a feature of planning since 1923.
Last year Eric Pickles, George Osborne and Greg Clarke sounded as if they wanted a reformed planning system to help generate growth. The next few weeks will be an interesting test of the extent to which they are willing to stick to their guns.
Historically, Conservatives have made decisions about the planning system against the best interests of their natural allies. My lawyer friend’s best story was the history of how the wartime coalition Government, when planning for post-victory growth, fretted about how landowners could be recompensed for losing their right to build under a new planning act. They set up a system of compensation, which was duly enacted by Attlee’s Labour Government 1949. Yet when the Conservatives came to power in 1951, a cash strapped administration, threatened with huge deficits and keen to cut costs, decided that the bill for the compensation was unaffordable, so they simply abolished it. Back then squawking and bleating from shire Tories and landowners made no difference. Let see if the current cohort of Conservatives are made of the same stuff.
Written by Stephen Byfield