NPPF detractors have no idea of planning reality

(This shortened version of the “NPPF brings out the nutters” piece was published as a letter in “Planning” magazine on 4 November 2011)

This may not be politically correct but it has to be said. DCLG’s draft NPPF really has brought out the “nutters”. I am talking about the comments supposedly ordinary members of the public make in response to articles covering the draft NPPF in the website editions of serious newspapers.

Worst of all are the racists. These proclaim that new housing development would be totally unnecessary if we just sent back all immigrants. On the basis of this reasoning we don’t need an NPPF and preserving our green and pleasant land is easy.

Next come the conspiracy theorists. To them any development is evil and it’s all a plot by David Cameron to line the pockets of his rich friends.

Well behind this – but still quite dangerous – is misinterpretation of actual facts. For instance, since planning permission exists for about 300,000 house plots there is “no need” for more land release. This ignores the fact that in the 1950s “Super Mac” delivered 300,000 new homes in one year. It also ignores the nature of the development process which needs a pipeline to ensure steady output. Similarly, the requirement for 5 years supply of deliverable plots has been attacked by critics assuming this is an innovation to pacify development interests.

On top of all this is a level of vitriol and political hatred which is usually reserved for arguments about Government economic policy and defence cuts.

While you may find their opinions laughable, it is worrying that so many supposedly well-informed people know so little about the planning system. The respondents to NPPF press coverage either think that the existing system allows everything through or allows nothing through. They are generally united in thinking the NPPF will allow everything through. There has clearly been a major communications failure over the years to bring us to this situation. The thousands of pages of Government guidance and multiplicity of local authority plans and supplementary planning documents, etc have not provided transparency and understanding. In principle, a 52 page NPPF is to be welcomed. The same goes for shorter local plans without a plethora of supporting papers and supplementary planning documents.

The NPPF will not concrete over the entire country in the way some hysterics predict. Nor will it ease things to the extent that some development lobbyists expect.

Kim Penfold