Published in March 2013, a survey entitled “Local Planning at Risk: Is the NPPF delivering planning for people?“, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit [LGiU] in partnership with the National Trust, reveals that 60% of the local planning authority senior local government politicians and officials surveyed “disagree or strongly disagree that the introduction of the NPPF has had a positive impact on their ability to deliver a Local Plan that reflects local concerns and priorities”. Furthermore, respondents to the survey suggested that “the Planning Inspectorate, through the examination process, is prioritising development over the views of local people”.
Ministers are using the age-old carrot-and-stick approach. The stick with which they are bludgeoning LPAs into creating Local Plans is that, without a Local Plan, developers and house-builders will have a field day and the LPA and local residents will have little protection. The carrot is to encourage LPAs to get their Local Plan fast-tracked by reviewing Green Belt boundaries and thus release Green Belt land for housing development.
So why don’t LPAs use the brownfield sites already identified as suitable for housing? This is what the estimable LGiU report (never thought I’d see the LGiU as ‘estimable’) goes on to say:
“The NPPF excludes many of the 400,000 sites nationally that have planning permission from a council’s deliverable five-year housing supply on the basis that they are currently considered economically unviable for development.
The NPPF encourages a short-term view of economic viability that risks unnecessary development of greenfield and Green Belt sites. Local Plans must identify a “deliverable” five year housing land supply. This means that development plans must be shown to be economically viable and achievable within a reasonable timeframe.
The fact that greenfield sites are more profitable to develop than brownfield sites, and therefore more viable, is forcing councils to propose development of these sites.”
Do I sniff a ‘blame game’ going on here? It’s very convenient for Tory-controlled local planning authorities, such as Guildford Borough Council, that sat on their hands for 10 years trying not to implement the previous government’s top-down Regional Spatial Strategies that forced house building targets on them in a typically ‘apparatchik’-driven central policy directive, now to cry ‘foul’ when their own party takes a particularly underhand and pernicious approach to foisting them with exactly the same policy but rigging the planning system via the NPPF so that local planning authorities take the blame for it with the local electorate and not ministers.
Meanwhile, the Tory Prime Minister seems to be in a huff with his ‘middle-England’ supporters who have discovered, somewhat belatedly, that their beloved Green Belt is being sacrificed on the alter of the big building business interests that have done deals in smoke-filled rooms with ministers because house building is one of the most effective economic multipliers to implement and quickly absorbs thousands of the unemployed and unskilled – just what you want when an election is looming in 2015 and you can’t stop it.
Perhaps the latest ‘good news’ on the UK economy might give ministers some ‘wriggle room’ to reverse their planning legislation blunder and avoid the stampede of those ‘middle-England’ voters to the door named ‘Exit’ when it comes to Tory council and historically safe Tory parliamentary seats in the South East of England, where the current incumbents appear to have put their fingers in their ears while singing ‘la la la’ and are hoping it’ll all just go away.