Ministers say controversial planning reforms are key to economic recovery

Chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Eric Pickles have reiterated the government’s determination to press ahead with planning reform despite vocal opposition in a letter in the Financial Times.

Osborne and Pickles have argued that planning was key to the economic recovery: “No one should underestimate our determination to win this battle.”

“Planning reform is key to our economic recovery. Opponents claim, falsely, the government is putting the countryside in peril. We say that sticking with the old, failed planning system puts at risk young people’s future prosperity and quality of life.”

Osborne and Pickles also argued that planning delays are costing the UK economy up to £3bn a year.

“It is twice as expensive to get planning permission in London’s West End than in Paris, and 10 times more than in Brussels,” they add.

The government launched the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July in an attempt to simplify the planning structure. The framework, which reduces a thousand pages of planning guidelines into no more than 60, includes a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’.

Groups including the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have dubbed the new framework a “developers’ charter” and demanded clarification over what can constitute sustainable development as well as guarantees for protection of green belt land.

Groups are also concerned over details in the proposals which call on councils to ensure that 20% more land was available for development than current levels.

Planning minister Greg Clark also defended the controversial plans over the weekend, saying that the changes were “absolutely crucial”.

However Clark agreed to talk to opponents to make sure their concerns could be addressed. Clark, who has come under attack from councillors in his own constituency of Tunbridge Wells over the planning reforms, said it was “quite right” that groups should be consulted due to the extent of the changes.

“Let’s be forensic about this - if there are particular aspects or sentences that you don’t think express clearly enough the protections that are there, then let’s talk about it.” Clark said.

The Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) has announced it is in broad favour of the changes saying that the NPPF provides ‘a golden opportunity to provide part of the solution’ to the housing crisis.

Grainia Long, CIH interim chief executive, said: “Over the last thirty years the failure to build the homes we need has left this country with a housing crisis which has resulted in a shortage of 142,000 homes every year.

“The draft National Planning Policy Framework is clear in its aims; it wants to provide freedom for every community to have the homes that they need.

“But to make this work, Local Authorities must take the lead in driving this forward; they must engage with residents and decide when to make the case for new housing that helps local people and economies.”

Long stressed that the framework will work only if Local Authorities produce a robust and strategic Local Plan detailing what development they expect in their areas.

Long added: “House building is currently at its lowest peacetime levels since 1924, if we do not do something to reverse this trend the impact will be far further afield than just a shortage of houses.”