National Trust chair accuses builders of “most intense lobbying” over planning changes

Developers have defended themselves against accusations of undue influence over the government’s proposed reforms to the planning system.

Speaking to the communities department select committee, National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins said the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework had been subject to the “most intensive lobbying I have seen in a long time in this game,” and that developers “fingerprints” were all over the draft framework.

Jenkins, who is also a columnist and journalist, said the government had also decided to drop plans to introduce third party rights of appeal into the planning process under pressure from developers. He said: “This process has seen the most intensive lobbying I have seen in a long time in this game. The sums of money involved are huge. There are very big interests involved in the construction on greenfield land.”

He added he was sceptical about the content of the document in the circumstances, which was based on a document drafted by a four-strong group of planning practitioners. “We are up against some very powerful and very rich people,” he added.

However, Jenkins accusations were described as irrelevant by developers, also giving evidence to the select committee yesterday. His comments followed a question by committee member Simon Danczuk MP, who asked whether developers felt they had got “value for money” through the NPPF document following reported donations to the Conservative Party.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said: “The support given by any developer [to a political party] is a total irrelevance to this process.”

John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders’ Federation, said: “It has no relation at all. Quite frankly I’m not aware of what the donations are.

“The process has been conducted in a normal way with consultation. We had a green paper before the election from the Conservative party that has informed the documents, and a dialogue around that. But there hasn’t been any undue influence on the document.”

The committee’s evidence session came as the consultation on the NPPF closed. The RIBA said the framework could be undermined by a lack of resources for local authorities.

The organisation’s response to the government’s consultation on the plans was broadly supportive, but it said the transitional and ongoing costs of the new system had not been thoroughly accounted for and could end up causing delays for developers making applications.

It said: “Beyond one off familiarisation costs, there will be ongoing costs to local authorities for the resources appropriate to deliver the assessments and strategies required by the NPPF, such as Strategic Housing Market Assessments, energy opportunity mapping and the historic environment record. We believe that all of these are necessary, but are concerned that local authorities do not at present have sufficient resources to deliver them effectively.”

It added that it expected to see an increase in the number of developments approved under the new policy.

The RIBA said it supported the controversial presumption in favour of sustainable development but that quantity and speed of development should not be prioritised over quality of design. Sustainable inclusive design needed to be a core principle of the planning process, it said.

The NPPF was also attacked by architect Lord Richard Rogers for removing the “brownfield first” presumption in the current planning system. Last week he told a House of Lords debate on the planning system: “Much of what we build today will last for hundreds of years. If the framework isn’t greatly improved it will lead to the breakdown and fragmentation of cities and neighbourhoods and the erosion of the countryside.

“By cutting over 1,000 pages of proposed legislation to just over 50 pages, careful, detailed advice has been abandoned in favour of generalities.”

He said that delegating decision making to a local level was desirable but it would necessitate a need for a greater numbers of well-trained specialists, which he said were already in short supply.