Barton Willmore’s Ian Tant on the disappointing lack of clarity over planning reform in the budget

The delay in bringing forward the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is excruciating. I’ve said this before but while the draft released in July 2011 may not have been perfect, it formed a good operating basis for the new planning system.

The uncertainty since the close of the consultation period last October has caused at least some Local Planning Authorities to put their pens down, declining to move forward on their Core Strategies until the national planning policy is clarified.                                                                        

The delay has also given cause for wild speculation about the contents and timing of the NPPF. As late as Sunday 18 March, the chancellor was telling Andrew Marr on the BBC that the NPPF would be out in Budget week and many people expected a firm announcement in the Budget speech with the NPPF following later that day. They were disappointed – although the chancellor did promise its publication by the communities department on Tuesday 27 March.

So we’re still waiting, even if for only a further six days.

And what can we expect in the NPPF?  Well, the Budget speech did at least give some clues, even if some were just teases:

  • it will remain pro-growth and the presumption in favour of sustainable development is to remain – we may find a little more on the definition of “sustainable development” building on the Brundtland definition, which was the basis of the draft NPPF;
  • it will contain a policy for local authorities to establish local targets for the re-use of previously developed land – there will be no national target;
  • it will contain “appropriate implementation measures for local authorities with pro-growth local plan policies”. This hints at an exemption or transitional arrangement for pro-growth councils. If this is the case we’ll have to wait and see;
  • it will contain protection for “our most precious environments” – which ones, we wonder?
  • it will come into effect immediately on the 27 March – although it remains to be seen how extensively existing Planning Policy Guidance notes, Statements and Circulars are withdrawn at the same time; and,
  •  it will be 50 pages long – possibly a few pages shorter than the July 2011 draft. 

All this suggests the NPPF won’t be far removed from the July 2011 draft – but the devil will be in the detail.  We only have a few more days to speculate…

Ian Tant is senior partner at planning consultant Barton Willmore