The Government has proposed that the current raft of planning guidance documents is replaced by a much shorter, more concise and clearer single document. The rationale is that the current planning system is acting as a drag on economic recovery and should be streamlined to allow the promotion of development, which will in turn stimulate business.
Conservation and countryside groups across the country have expressed deep concern over the proposals, while on 19 September a group of chief executives from major UK companies declared support for the planning changes.
The Secretary of State has published a "Myth-Buster" document with the following points:
Myth - change is not needed
Response: planning is acting as a brake on growth - the system is slow, bureaucratic and unresponsive.
Myth - the changes are a developer's charter
Response: since 1947, there has been a presumption in favour of development and since 1991, the approach has been that development in accordance with the local plan should be granted planning permission unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The change proposed is that the presumption will be in favour of sustainable development.
Myth - this isn't Localism
Response: communities will be able to control development through the local plan policies.
Myth - the presumption in favour means that all applications will be accepted
Response: all proposals will need to demonstrate sustainability.
Myth - communities won't be able to protect green spaces and the countryside
Response: all the current protections will remain - Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and other designations.
Myth - more development which will be uncontrolled
Response: all current environmental protections will remain. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) emphasises good design.
Myth - communities are being bribed, the real problem is not being addressed
Response: in the past communities have not benefitted from growth. Councils that choose growth will benefit from the New Homes Bonus, and communities will have a say in how a proportion of the Community Infrastructure Levy will be spent.
Myth - there are many thousands of planning permissions for homes which are not being built
Response: the changes are about the long term needs of the country.
There are valuable points made by both sides in this debate; the current planning guidance is complex and could in some cases "act as a brake on growth". There has always been a presumption in favour of development, and it is the local planning authority which is charged with balancing that presumption against other considerations.
The difficulty is that there is no definition or even description as to what "sustainable development" means. This "Myth-Buster" appears to reduce the concerns and objections to the NPPF to a set of simple issues and answers them in an equally superficial way. The real questions are not addressed.