t has been over six years since the release of the original National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Government has now decided that it is time to review it. The original framework distilled more than 1,300 pages of policy statements, circulars and guidance into around 50 pages – the idea was to simplify the process for local authorities and provide a clear view on how national planning policies should be applied across England.
Fast-forward to Budget 2017 and the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced changes to the planning framework to open-up more land to development. The recently announced review of the NPPF is essentially needed to make it easier for Government to achieve its housing ambitions.
Yet, despite the laudable aims of the original document, the policy framework has still been criticised by many groups. The recent consultation period has seen fears raised around the supply of affordable housing, the green belt, the lack of protection for wildlife sites and ancient woodlands. Furthermore, the document appears to have forgotten the principle of garden cities and the importance of the skills and talents of architects. In short, it appears that few are happy with what’s being proposed.
From our perspective as designers and engineers we feel that, despite the proposed alterations, the planning system will remain an obstacle for developers and local authorities alike. The proposed NPPF remains largely the same, maintaining a focus on sustainable development that helps to deliver a strong economy. These are admirable goals in themselves but will ultimately fail in their ambition for meaningful change without our views being taken on board.
The whole point of plan-making is to ensure a common goal is achieved in an agreeable and sustainable way. It involves collaboration and a degree of forward thinking to ensure that today’s development doesn’t become tomorrow’s demolition site. This vigorous and progressive outlook is currently missing from the revised NPPF and forms the basis of ACE’s response.
That sustainability goals form part of the plan-making process is a strong first step. The next is to ensure we have a framework which enables these to be continuously met long into the future. Acknowledgement of sustainable development is insufficient – we should embed a culture of sustainable development and continuously emphasise its importance to the planning framework.
We also feel that the collaborative processes by which we build our communities should become inherent to our national planning policy. With a conceptual and broad policy, it is often easy to overlook how it can have a significant impact on day-to-day lives. This is why ACE has recommended the NPPF put the onus on local authorities to actively seek meaningful engagement and the views of those who will live with its impacts every day.
The planning system appears complex and difficult to navigate and it is clear that this needs to change. The system should not be something to fight against, but rather a tool that delivers desirable outcomes for local communities. With our revisions, we hope the NPPF can deliver a smoother planning process as well as a fair and sustainable approach to meeting the government’s housing ambitions.
Tom Smith is Global Director Property and Buildings at WSP and chair of ACE’s property group. Download ACE’s response to the National Policy Planning Framework consultation below.