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Planners welcome select committee report's recommendations on National Planning Policy framework

21 December 2011

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), which represents over 22,000 planners in the UK and abroad, welcomes the Communities and Local Government Select Committee recommendations the draft National Planning Policy Framework, released today (Wednesday 21 December).

Richard SummersRichard Summers (pictured right), President of the RTPI, said:

\"We warmly welcome the Select Committee's report which strongly endorses many of our views. Like the Committee, we believe that the planning reforms need a sensible transition period and that the language in the draft NPPF needs to be tightened up. We also believe that the Government should think about how best it can map its policies and programmes so the public can see how they will affect local communities. We agree with the Committee that there is still much to do to produce an NPPF that plays an effective role in a workable planning system.\"

The report contains 35 points in its conclusions and recommendations, many of which reflect the RTPI's point of view:

Clarity and terminology (recommendation 2)

We are pleased to see that the Select Committee is recommending a tighter wording for the NPPF given its quasi legal status.


Additional guidance (recommendation 3)

The RTPI has maintained for some months the need for the Government to take a position on guidance.  We are especially concerned that where guidance for example on quantitative methodologies has the function of determining decisions on plans or proposals, that there should be clarity from Government regarding which methodology is to be used. We welcome the Committee's suggestion that the housing market assessment guidance currently being produced should be endorsed by Government. There are a number of other critical areas where we consider that either government should produce guidance or endorse that produced by qualified organisations, preferably working in partnership (see para 117). We have convened a forum of leading organizations to explore this issue.

Spatial planning (recommendation 9)

The major omission of a spatial dimension to the NPPF has been one of the RTPI's key observations and we welcome the Committee's recognition of the importance of this. However it is not only the impact of the NPPF's own policies on different localities which is needed, but greater transparency regarding the impact of the existing policies and programmes of all relevant government departments and how these necessarily influence the planning activity of local authorities. The RTPI welcomed the National Infrastructure Plan and its recognition of the key links between transport infrastructure and housing growth.  However this applies not only to nationally-significant projects in the NIP, but to the impacts of government spending decisions on a much wider scale. The RTPI will shortly be publishing research on this topic.

Conclusions on the definition of sustainable development (recommendations 10 and 11)

The RTPI welcomes the Committee's recommendation that the ambiguity currently surrounding the term sustainable development should be rectified.  We were especially concerned that the phrase \"sustainable economic growth\", an older term with quite a different meaning, seemed to be used interchangeably with sustainable development.

'Presumption in favour of the Local Plan' (recommendations 12-14)

The RTPI welcomes the suggestion that there should be a presumption in favour of the Local Plan expressed in the NPPF, which is indeed the current legal position.


The transition to a new system (recommendations 24-28)

The RTPI considers that the Committee's proposals on transition to a new system are well thought through and most helpful.  We would be happy to work with local government partners to make recommendations regarding suitable transition period lengths, which will need to take account of the wide variations in authorities' Local Development Schemes, with some having recently adopted plans and others with emerging plans.
The supply of sites for housing (recommendations 30-32)

We drew the Department's and the Committee's attention to the potential risks involved in imposing the 6-year housing supply on authorities with no transition period.  We continue to believe that a sufficient time period is needed to adjust to this requirement, should the Government wish to pursue it.

Town Centre First (recommendations 33 and 34)

The RPTI welcomes the Committee's suggestion that offices are brought back into the town centre first principle.  This matter goes much further however than simply offices. We call for public sector capital investment in buildings also to follow the same principles. It is inequitable to impose strictures on private investment in shops and offices without public investment following suit.

The RTPI continues to wish to see much more promotion of real positive planning in the NPPF. The 1947 Act was based on the principle that substantially through the proper planning and coordination of public capital investment, better places could be created.  Despite necessary reductions in such investment from its peak in the 2008-11 CSR, the level of influence of the public sector is still very great, and can lever in private investment in its wake.  Indeed recent Government promotion of the need for the public sector, local and national, to sweat its property assets and cooperate in their best use shows how especially in hard times, this is a key role.  It is a role for planning which receives short shrift from the NPPF.