Housebuilding starter or NIMBYs' charter?
by Luke Major
Today the Government published its revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The core principles of the NPPF have, as expected, remained the same, with a presumption in favour of sustainable development and a focus on a planning application’s economic, social and environmental merits against any perceived harm it causes, to determine whether or not it should be approved.
Similarly, nothing has changed with regards to community consultation. Developers are still encouraged to engage with local stakeholders as early as possible in the planning process, in order to identify and then rectify, any issues that arise (enter Cascade).
However, there are two outstanding features of the NPPF that are likely to cause the development industry some frustrations, namely:
• A more muscular focus on building ‘attractive, better-designed homes’; and
• A renewed commitment to protect the Green Belt from development.
For a government who, were it not for Brexit, would have the country’s housing shortage at the top of its agenda, it seems unnerving that two of the NPPF’s core sections could have been written by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Anyone who has ever listened to an objector at a planning committee meeting will know that a proposal’s ‘design quality’ is the first thing that will be attacked when no legitimate reason to refuse planning permission can be found. This focus on design essentially provides NIMBYs with a large stick with which to beat developers and architects already hamstrung by restrictive planning laws that incentivises unimaginative design in order to keep costs down. It also puts planning committee councillors under pressure to give greater consideration to the entirely subjective quibbles of their constituents.
Equally disappointing, but less surprising, is the renewed commitment to protect Green Belt land. This is despite a plethora of information in circulation, highlighting the productivity-reducing, inequality-causing effect that these planning laws have on our economy. What also seems to have been ignored is the fact that a large swathe of the Green Belt does not even have any aesthetic or environmental value.
The Government’s ambition to achieve the delivery of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s has already been dismissed as unrealistic, so why are they empowering the people best placed to block that target further?