I was lucky enough this morning to be able to attend the NPPF debate organised by the BPF, at which Greg Clark MP, Dame Fiona Reynolds (National Trust) and Adam Marshall (British Chambers of Commerce) spoke and took questions from the floor.
Greg Clark gave an assured, and assuring, introduction to the draft document. He explained that the purpose of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which has been the subject of so much concern, is to determine applications if no local plan is in place, and to act as an incentive for authorities to ensure their development plans are current and kept up to date. He confirmed that there would be transitional provisions, and if local authorities were doing their best to get plans in place, they would not be penalised. The intention, it seems, is not to create a new regime that is more permissive than the local plan would be, nor to provide a loophole which would allow 'alien' developments to be imposed on communities; rather, the Government has tried to replicate the policies which a reasonable local plan would include if it was in place.
From the business perspective, there was clear support of the thrust of the NPPF and the presumption in favour of sustainable development, with a view to attracting inward investment and promoting growth. Interestingly, figures were given from a recent BCC survey which suggested that 72% of questioned applicants found they received conflicting advice between different authorities - I can't help but think that localism will not help with that quandry!
Reference was made to Britain's 'culture of No', and the extent to which that has affected the NPPF debate.
For the National Trust, Dame Fiona welcomed the Prime Minister's letter of yesterday and the opportunity to take forward discussions with ministers. She quite sensibly wanted to focus on what the document actually said, rather than what ministers say it says. In her view, it is not a balanced document and she outlined the 10 items on the Trust's 'wishlist' that are due to be formally announced this weekend. We will cover the Trust's wishlist points in a future blog, but suffice to say for now that it is clear that the National Trust's concerns are not, as set out in much of the press, simply that the green belt is about to be concreted over. Support was given to the system as it exists to date, although that is not to say that the Trust is anti-growth, or anti-reform and has closed its mind to change. Indeed Dame Fiona confirmed that she had been discussing reform with the Government for some time before the draft NPPF was published. The Trust's points appear, for the main part, to be of detail and of balance.
Dame Fiona also expressed that the Governemnt would need to 'warm people up' to their new role in localism.
As questions were taken from the floor, Greg Clark was careful not to predetermine the result of the ongoing consultation, but noted various points made, including the request to reintroduce the requirement to build on brownfield land first. He explained the 'extra 20%' housing requirement to be a buffer necessary to take account of the fact that not all consented developments are built out. I suspect that the Government will be looking again at that, or at least taking time to explain its rationale for the given figure.
The debate, of course, continues as the consultation period is still open.