The final version of the National Planning Policy Framework, designed to consolidate an unwieldy multitude of complex policy statements, circulars and guidance notes into a single, simpler document, was published in a blaze of publicity on 27 March 2012. Containing under 100 pages, it replaced over 1300 pages of former Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) and Planning Policy Guidance documents (PPGs).
The ministerial foreword asserts that, “The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development”. “Development” is said to mean “growth” and “sustainable” to mean that “ensuring that better lives for ourselves does not mean worse lives for future generations”. Interestingly and controversially, the foreword continues, “Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay – a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision. This framework sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan or development unsustainable.”
The importance attached to promoting sustainable development is reflected in sections on protecting green belt land, meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change, conserving and enhancing both the natural and historic environment and in the encouragement of effective use of brownfield sites and the maximisation of use of public transport, walking and cycling.
With the mansion tax, the 50p tax rate, the housing market and the search for economic growth continuing to dominate the news, the ink was barely dry on this new policy dispensation when on 6 September 2012 Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in a housing and planning statement to MPs in the House of Commons outlined a range of new measures designed to boost the construction industry and provide more affordable homes. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have now entered the fray and plans include:-
- Consulting on a three-year relaxation of planning rules on extending homes and business premises.
- Increasing from 3 to 6 metres the length of extensions householders are allowed to construct without planning permission. R
- emoving requirements for developers to include affordable housing – if they prove they make a site “commercially unviable”.
- Making available an extra £280m for the FirstBuy scheme to help would-be homeowners with a deposit.
- Introducing a new bill to provide £40bn in government guarantees to underwrite major infrastructure projects and £10bn to underwrite the construction of new homes.
- Providing funding of £300m for the construction of 15,000 affordable homes and bringing 5,000 empty homes back into use. Introducing a new “major infrastructure fast-track” procedure for big projects.
- Putting poorly performing council planning departments into “special measures” and allowing developers to bypass them if they fail to improve.
- Funding of £300m to provide 15,000 affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty homes back into use.
Predictably these latest proposals have generated much party political controversy, in particular the proposal to relax section 106 agreements.
With this history it is bound to feature prominently in future exchanges regarding the economy and its future merits close attention.