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RTPI President writes in Daily Mail on NPPF

19 September 2011

RTPI President Richard Summers, has an article published in the Daily Mail on the row over the draft National Planning Policy Framework.

The row over planning reforms has now reached fever pitch with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor wading into a debate that has been hotting up for weeks.

The final spark that ignited the tinderbox was the government's publication of its draft National Planning Policy Framework. It has proved divisive, leaving on one side the champions of economic growth – led by George Osborne – and on the other the environmentalists, including the National Trust. At the heart of the problem is the proposed 'presumption in favour of sustainable development'.

The policy framework has defined 'sustainable development' as a balance between economic, social and environmental issues. In practice this means local plans – the policies that councils use to guide their decisions on planning applications – must fit in with the policy in the national framework. However, if there isn't a local plan or an existing one is out of date, then councillors will have no choice but to approve planning applications if they match the rules outlined in the NPPF.

Strategic vision: The polarised debate needs to be resolved to secure a workable planning system, says Richard Summers (pictured)Richard Summers

The protagonists claim this means there isn't a level playing field. They warn that economic growth has been given the trump card in the small print. And they wonder what happened to 'localism'.

Investors and property companies blame the planning system for slowing down development despite the fact our economy clearly needs kick-starting.

They think planning policies should be relaxed so that the default answer is 'yes' to planning applications, so that decisions can be speeded up for much-needed housing can go ahead. For their part planners have been criticised as the 'enemies of enterprise'. Far from it, they help to set policies to promote economic growth and regeneration, to allocate land for commercial, industrial and retail activities and to take decisions on planning applications to secure sustainable development.

But the protagonists don't leave it there. Some say the green belt, even the everyday countryside, are at stake. They argue development and recovery should not put sensitive environments at risk. So can we square the circle?

The Royal Town Planning Institute has been working with the government to help achieve its objectives. We will continue to discuss how the wording of the Localism Bill and the NPPF could be improved.

Two weeks ago, 23 past Presidents of the RTPI signed a letter to confirm the profession's support for the government's overall intentions but warned hasty progress on the draft NPPF could unintentionally cause confusion, delay and uncertainty. So, how could the policy be improved?

The institute wants it to provide a strategic vision. The framework should indicate broad areas where development, regeneration and necessary infrastructure should go ahead to meet housing and employment needs.

The present list of control policies is not enough. The NPPF should promote a longer term view of wider-than-local issues for development and conservation.

How should the Localism Bill be improved?

The RTPI thinks the draft NPPF should be mentioned in the Bill to recognise its intended significance. It also wants a stronger duty to co-operate between public authorities, simplification of proposals for neighbourhood planning, proper transition arrangements from the present system to the new one and withdrawal of the proposal that incentives should be 'material considerations' in planning decisions.

The RTPI promotes the art and science of town and country planning in the public interest. It would like to help settle the current conflicts by showing how the Localism Bill and the draft NPPF could be improved to secure the government's planning and wider objectives. The polarised debate now needs to be resolved to secure a workable planning system.

Monday View: Strategic vision is the answer to planning spat was published on 18th September 2011.