Taken from the March 2012 edition of Housebuilder magazine.
The government has stayed calm under fire during the rows over the new National Planning Policy Framework, says Stephen Byfield, managing director of communications consultancy PPS Group, but will planning inspectors do the same?
There are all kinds of advantages to playing a long game so inaction dulls the attack of your critics. Look at the debate on planning reform. In November, planning policy was on the national stage. The National Trust’s objections to the provisions in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) were rehearsed on the ‘Today’ programme; and the Daily Telegraph ran an active campaign to protect greenfields from imminent urbanisation.
The Government’s has kept quiet. They have yet to respond to the consultation on the NPPF and in the face of this silence the protests are no longer news and are struggling to get traction. A recent report from Vivid Economics barely got coverage. Funded by the National Trust, it suggested that the presumption in favour of sustainable development would not have economy-wide effects. True, it was picked up in The Times; but it received a scant couple of columns; and these were on page 18.
The latest intelligence about how the Government will respond to the debate is confused. The Localism Act is slowly being implemented and the NPPF is due to appear at the end of April. The smart money is on changes to the definition of sustainable development, a strengthening of policies to protect the countryside and the introduction of a brownfield-first policy, but otherwise the thrust of the document seems likely to remain unscathed.
There has been much debate too about whether local authorities will persuade Mr Pickles to allow them transitional arrangements to get their local plans in order. A month or so ago it was widely accepted that an 18 month period of grace would be granted before the teeth of the NPPF began to bite. But this is now looking less and less sure.
Meanwhile, local authorities continue to struggle to produce robust, locally researched, housing numbers and formulate their plans accordingly. I sat through a fascinating Council meeting last week where the authority’s consultants, in the face of closely argued comments attacking their numbers, took a gulp and said that the higher end of their projections were probably still defensible. The councillors spent an hour congratulating each other on how brave they were being and then voted through a lower number.
It remains to be seen how Inspectors will view such limp-wristedness. But unless they demonstrate the same sort of calm under fire that Mr Pickles seems to be showing, the on-going battle to secure housing allocations and planning permissions will continue to be a hard one.
Written by Stephen Byfield