Thirty years of influencing political decisions has been long enough for me to start positing a few natural laws. Byfield’s ‘first inverse law on fees”, for example, states, at its simplest, that the lower the fee paid by the client, the higher their day-to-day demands.
Another is my law that reforming politicians always regress to the mean. In economics ‘regression to the mean’ is the phenomenon whereby a variable that is extreme on first measurement tends to be closer to the average on second measurement. This definitely applies to policy. Take, for example, the simple statement in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that “the default answer to development proposals is “yes…”
Here was something clearly understandable, easily enforceable and probably useful. But by the final version it had been replaced by, “Every effort should be made objectively to identify and then meet the housing, business and other development needs of an area, and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth.” Para. 187 also states “Local planning authorities should work proactively with applicants to secure developments that improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the area” and that they should “look for solutions rather than problems.”
The loss of “the default answer is “yes”, sums up everything that is wrong with the final NPPF. Simple unambiguous policy has been muddied by the Government’s need to appease critics. If the NPPF was genuinely reforming, someone would have been upset. Yet the British Property Federation, the National Housing Federation, the Federation of Master Builders, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust, all welcomed the NPPF.
The upshot is a planning framework robbed of its ability to force reluctant local authorities to generate the homes, jobs and economic prospects the Government wants.
In my last column I predicted four things the Government would do in the final version of the NPPF. And guess what? I got all four right. Unfortunately, I fear my next prediction will prove right as well. The NPPF will do little to help you build more houses. To secure planning you will have to persuade local communities that what you propose is good for them without the benefit of top cover from RSS numbers or an unambiguous NPPF.
Which brings me to my third law: successful developers deploy a community-focused local approach to secure planning. There really will be no other way now.
Written by Stephen Byfield