Lobbyists round on “unofficial” national planning framework

Planners have criticised an “unofficial” draft national planning framework released by a group of government advisors today.

The document, prepared by a practioners’ advisory group for the National Planning Policy Framework convened by localism minister Greg Clark, has a presumption in favour of sustainable development at its heart, as promised by the government.

However, planning groups have hit out at the definition of sustainable development, saying it prioritises commercial developers and economic growth above environmental and social sustainability.

The Town and Country Planning Association said the document’s call for “planning for prosperity” was not balanced by emphasis on environmental protection, ensuring justice and health, promoting good governance and promoting sound science.

Kate Henderson, TCPA chief executive said: “This draft NPPF has identified a number of important priorities, but does not provide all the necessary key principles or practical tools to face those challenges. The Government must move quickly to ensure there is genuine cross-sector support for the new framework based on a robust policy to deliver a fair and low carbon society.”

Royal Town Planning Institute president Richard Summers said he was “seriously concerned” about the way the presumption in favour of sustainable development was expressed.  “It is a denial of the concept of sustainable development to give over-riding emphasis to the approval of development proposals without ensuring that that they are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable,” he said.

While the document is not government policy, it is seen as a significant pointer to the direction of travel the government is likely to take when it formally consultants on its draft National Planning Policy Framework in July. The framework, which will ultimately replace all existing planning guidance, has been branded by Home Builders’ Federation executive chairman Stewart Baseley the “the most important planning document since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.”

Once adopted, the official framework will guide planners how to interpret the new planning system and processes being laid down within the Localism Bill, currently going through parliament.

The practitioners’ advisory group consisted of four planning experts, John Rhodes, director of planning consultants Quod, Peter Andrew, director of land and planning at Taylor Wimpey, Simon Marsh, acting head of sustainable development at the RSPB, and councillor Gary Porter, chairman of the Environment and Housing Programme Board at the Local Government Association.

Rhodes said: “Reform is necessary to reduce complexity, devolve power and to make planning more accessible to all those that it affects. But reform is also necessary to drive growth – responsible growth that can deliver the development, the places and the environment that the country deserves.”

Marsh said: “If properly planned, increased levels of development can achieve multiple “wins” – increased economic growth, better access to housing and the means to achieve positive environmental enhancement.”

The document has been broadly welcomed by development and housing groups. The HBF’s Baseley said: “If Government is serious about tackling our housing crisis, now is the time to prove it.  It needs to deliver a planning system that creates real economic growth alongside the homes our country desperately needs.”