Consultation on the NPPF closed yesterday and the task of reviewing the opinions expressed in many and varied submissions now takes place in Whitehall. I was pondering on the possible outcomes whilst driving to the office this morning. My journey to work takes me over a hill just south of Cambridge city limits (it isn't all flat around here!) and I have been struck in recent weeks by the number of cranes I can see in the city. Several big schemes are under construction in central Cambridge and there's plenty more consented development on the fringes. If you want a good example of the growth agenda playing out, as a positive consequence of the planning system, Cambridge is it. The result of a green belt review a few years ago is now coming to fruition and the new development it permits has given businesses in the local economy the confidence to invest in growth. Interestingly, the new housing is slow to come out of the ground, but that is a consequence of the current economic uncertainty and the new credit crunch, not the absence of consented schemes.
In some circles, there is a fear that the new NPPF will result in swathes of the countryside being indiscriminately concreted over by housebuilders, unfettered by the planning system. The reality will surely be different. The land releases on the fringes of Cambridge were modest in comparison to the collective ambitions of landowners and developers promoting a range of sites. It was no lottery which were chosen, rather the outcome of a detailed public inquiry. As the Inspector in the recent Sandbach appeal (see our recent post: http://www.plan-it-law.com/2011/10/another-point-for-localism-nothwithstanding-low-housing-land-supply.html) said: "The role of the planning system is to make an informed decision based on the land-use merits of each proposal, and not on a popularity contest between unknown merits of competing sites!" Which leads me to suggest that if local communities engage in the planning process under the new NPPF and local authorities enable this in a positive way, we should be confident that it will produce the right results, not that my spectacles are so rose-tinted that I expect everyone to like those results, and allow successful communities to grow and with that enable sustainable economic growth.