Plans for the future
Last week may have seen the first day of spring, but today is far more significant – it is the day that the National Planning Policy Framework finally becomes law. There has been so much argument about it that it has almost felt like one of those things that would never happen – and now here it is.
Lawyers and specialists have pored over the detail, but it is unlikely until it is actually applied that we will really understand what it means. Some things are certain however. It is much shorter than what went before, and it is intended to be ‘pro sustainable development’. This of course is what has caused consternation among countryside lobby groups. There is certainly plenty to worry about. Even the British Property Federation, which is broadly supportive, believes that there should be a stated preference for brownfield sites and existing settlements.
But the shortness is almost equally important. Legislation has a tendency to get longer, as new exceptions and conditions are introduced to prevent abuse. In the case of planning policy, this had reached the point where nobody felt that anything could be done. Radio 4 this morning interviewed a developer and a local activist in Yorkshire, where a proposed development took 10 years to get through. For the developer this was frustrating. The local protesters felt that they had done pretty well to hold it back for that long. But I thought, why bother? If it was going to happen in the end, was all that effort really worthwhile?
We can be sure of a few things. Planning needed to change. The new legislation will get longer as exceptions and conditions are introduced. Unexpected weaknesses will be discovered. There will be some bad faith, and some truly lamentable decisions. We do need more houses. Other than that – it’s up for grabs. We should be in for an interesting year or two.