Greg Clark MP: The National Planning Policy Framework is one year old – it’s already succeeding
Homes: we all need them, there aren’t enough of them and building more of them would provide a welcome boost to the economy.
Unfortunately, the last Labour government left us with the lowest peacetime level of house-building since the 1920s. They also left us a completely dysfunctional planning policy.
In attempting to break the planning deadlock, Labour only made things worse – by imposing targets and regional spatial strategies. This top-down approach certainly had an impact: adding both to the bitterness of local planning battles and to the bureaucracy of an already over-complicated planning system.
Tomorrow, March 27th, marks the first anniversary of the publication and entry into force of the NPPF, which I prepared and published as planning minister.
Writing the NPPF was a far from simple process. Good planning is all about reconciling economic, social and environmental objectives that can easily come into conflict. It took a year of intensive listening and consultation to develop the final framework.
Though the controversy that surrounded the whole process considerably enlivened my time as planning minister, I believe the effort was more than repaid, with the final NPPF gaining an exceptionally broad measure of support from people and groups with all kinds of interests – business, environmental, cultural, housing, heritage, local government, rural and urban. By contributing to the consultation, they helped shape the outcome.
But one year after publication, what practical impact has the NPPF had? Well, in England – where it applies – the number of new homes granted planning permission has risen by a quarter. Admittedly, this is from a low base – and some might argue that this is just the result of natural recovery from the crash in property development that followed the Credit Crunch.
However, in Scotland and Wales – where planning policy is a devolved matter and the NPPF does not apply – recently published figures show that permissions for new homes actually fell (by 10 per cent and 3 per cent respectively).
We will have to see what happens in future years, but the signs are that the Framework is helping to provide the homes and also the business premises that we need.
It is, however, also worth noting what hasn’t happened.
For instance, local planning authorities have not been left scratching their heads unsure as what to do. It turns out that they are more than capable of acting to meet local needs on the basis of local knowledge. Over 70 per cent of councils have a draft plan now, compared to just 33 per cent before we took office. Nor has the abolition of housing targets resulted in a halt to planning approvals – quite the opposite in fact.
On the other side of the equation, prophecies of an environmental apocalypse have not come to pass. The green belt is still very much in place, containing sprawl and ensuring that England remains green and pleasant. Indeed, as more and more local authorities are adopting Local Plans, which the NPPF puts at the heart of the planning system, communities have the opportunity to pro-actively shape their own development to their own advantage, something which was denied to them by the old regional spatial strategies.
And, finally, despite warnings that the NPPF would be struck down by the courts, it is, twelve months on, alive and well and respected as a clear, practical and sensible framework of policy. Users of the Framework – including communities, councils, and businesses – are positive about the NPPF and welcome its clarity and concision.
The NPPF has succeeded in combining development with conservation, national standards with local empowerment. Those who would wish for much more forbidding policy – or a much more lax one – are of course entitled to their opinions. But, in my view, the mainstream majority should be allowed to get on with job of planning a better, more prosperous and more attractive future for our nation.