The National Planning Policy Framework - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

2  The case for reform

7. The Coalition Agreement set out the Government's intention to publish a "simple and consolidated national planning framework". It also pledged to build on the principles of the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning by giving neighbourhoods "far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live", and to create a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the planning system.[13] The latter was set out in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs section of the Coalition Agreement, but more detail on the planning reforms was later provided in a joint Treasury and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills publication, The Plan for Growth, in March 2011. In this document, the new presumption was described as "powerful [...] so that the default answer to development is 'yes'". The National Planning Policy Framework would be "inherently pro-growth", and the Government wished to "set clear expectations that with immediate effect local planning authorities and other bodies involved in granting development consents should prioritise growth and jobs".[14]

8. The presentation of the NPPF as "inherently pro-growth" led the National Trust to comment that

    the Government appears to be fundamentally changing the purpose of the planning system. We are particularly concerned that in doing this the fundamental principles of maintaining a balanced planning system whereby no public benefit is given weight over another is under threat.[15]

9. In a debate in the House on the NPPF on 20 October 2011 the Minister, Greg Clark, sought to reassure that:

    it is not our intention to change the purpose of the planning system. There has been some suggestion that the proposals represent a fundamental change in what the system is about, but they do not. They will, quite rightly, balance the environmental, the social and the economic, and there is no change in that regard.[16]

10. We asked the Minister to outline in oral evidence to us the Government's intentions in reforming the planning system; his response was couched in terms of localism and transferring power to communities, and did not refer to economic growth. He spoke of the need to change the current system because it was "very centralised and very top-down in its impositions" which "can have the effect of alienating people from the process."[17] Community engagement in the process of producing Local Plans would be promoted, in his view, by a much simpler policy framework, and the ultimate aim was for "decisions to be taken locally."[18] We will examine further the implications of the Government's localist ambitions in Chapter 6.

11. RTPI Chief Executive Trudi Elliott warned that "it is unwise to talk about the costs of planning without also talking about the benefits of planning to the economy".[19] These include what Adrian Penfold, author of the 2010 Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents, referred to as "the abattoir effect"—the certainty the planning system gives to developers that, having made an investment, they will not see it devalued by, for example, planning permission being granted for an abattoir next to their residential or office development.[20] 'Place-shaping' is also a valuable process: although restrictions on erecting tall buildings across Westminster incurs an indirect cost on businesses which might have wished to occupy such buildings, nonetheless there is a more general benefit in Westminster not being an area of dense high-rise development.[21]

12. We received much anecdotal evidence as to whether the planning system is currently an obstacle to growth or whether other factors are more important in slowing the economy and curtailing the level of house building. There were different views as to whether any problems that did exist with the planning system were more to do with process than policy or guidance. We found no conclusive research, however, that planning policy or guidance is a particular constraint on economic development. For the purpose of this Report we have chosen to concentrate on the specific content of the draft NPPF, rather than the rationale for its production. The costs and benefits of the planning system are an issue which should be the subject of further independent research and is one which the Committee may wish to return to at a future date.


13   HM Government, The Coalition: our programme for government, May 2010, pp 11, 18 Back

14   HM Treasury and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Plan for Growth, March 2011, para 1.34 Back

15   Ev 108  Back

16   HC Deb, 20 October 2011, col 1082 Back

17   Q 304 Back

18   Q 306 Back

19   Q 273 Back

20   Q 274 Back

21   As above Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 21 December 2011