A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


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Greg Clark, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Adam Marshall debate the NPPF

This morning saw a very interesting debate at the offices of Berwin Leighton Paisner, organised by the British Property Federation. I am grateful to BLP for allowing me to be there. 

What were the significant points?

 Greg Clark – the intent is to put power into the hands of local communities who feel that planning is “done to them”. The main purpose of the presumption in favour of sustainable development is to determine applications only where no plan is in force. Planning is to achieve optimal balance between growth and environmental protection – and growth means development.

 Adam Marshall (for the British Chambers of Commerce) – supported the NPPF and the presumption. The reforms are essential for business confidence as the system is not working.  11% of businesses don’t apply for permission because of their perception of the system.

Dame Fiona Reynolds – it’s good to have the PM’s letter (to the National Trust and published in the Telegraph yesterday) both for its tone and the confirmation that balance is the purpose of the planning system.  She recommended three books published in the 1930s by the Trust – England and the Octopus by Clough Williams-Ellis; Britain and the Beast also by Clough Williams-Ellis; and Must England’s Beauty Perish? by G M Trevelyan. The NPPF is not balanced, planning should not be a tool for growth, the real worry is for the undesignated countryside and there should be a limited third party right of appeal to bring balance.

What is my take on this?

When  George Osborne announced the “strong presumption in favour of sustainable development” I said that was the high water mark.  As the broad statements of a budget speech are fleshed out there is bound to be qualification and finessing.  I suspect that will continue and so well advised developers might want to seize the opportunities they have now.

 Adam Marshall make good points about business confidence. The reticence of the 11% may be misplaced, but finance and business is often driven by perceptions and confidence, as the world financial  markets have shown over the past three years.

I have a book recommendation for Dame Fiona Reynolds. It is the Uthwatt Report, price 2s 6d from HMSO in 1942. It is the foundation of the modern planning system and makes it quite clear that the purpose is growth. We nationalised development rights in 1947 to ensure that post-war reconstruction was not hindered, and that nationalisation was underpinned by the presumption in favour of sustainable development. It is a positive system which enables a huge range of factors to be taken into account including world economic crises and environmental protection. It is not a system which allows growth at all costs and it provides for balance and weighting which can change according to circumstances.

 The  NPPF recognises the importance of landscapes, natural resources, heritage and, crucially, the protection of the best and most versatile agricultural land. I think it is legitimate to ask the National Trust what it actually wants, because at the moment it looks as though it simply wants to stop the NPPF in its tracks.  I was able to put that question to the Trust at their bloggers’ briefing later this morning and I hope that they will soon spell out what they think is wrong with the NPPF, with reasons and suggestions for changes.

1 comment to Greg Clark, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Adam Marshall debate the NPPF

  • In case people are thinking my intelligence on the National Trust spelling things out soon was flawed, they said they would be fleshing things out on Sunday 25th September. Nothing appeared then and I enquired when we might expect it. Thursday 29th we are told.

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