• Environmental groups gear up fight on planning reforms

    14th December 2011 | News | Claire
  • ‘Taking on the Plan’ was a carefully chosen title, reflecting the fact that our planning campaign has been based on policy, not politics. We don’t make a habit of criticising Government, but we couldn’t avoid making our position clear on the changes that were taking place in England as a result of the Localism Bill (now an Act) and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

    And the response was amazing – we’ve received more signatures to our public petition than there are members of the Conservative Party.

    What’s wrong with the NPPF?

    The planning reforms at stake are ill-conceived and they’ve come about as a consequence of serious lobbying by developer interests. They are a denial of planning in its traditional sense.

    You can’t abandon planning in favour of just giving planning permission. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is particularly ill-defined – it gives a green light to all sorts of developments that would not otherwise be given the go-ahead.

    Our position

    We’ve tried to be a helpful voice in the debates, while at the same time using all our influence to present a clear challenge to the proposals as they stand. This is not always an easy balance to make. It’s hard to tell where things stand exactly at present, now the consultation has closed. If a poor version of the NPPF is the end result, we are prepared to make a large public noise again.

    What needs to change?

    At present, the draft NPPF just doesn’t meet its own criteria. It doesn’t ensure localism, and it won’t promote growth – and these two objectives might in some ways be antithetical. We need to re-establish the sovereignty of the plan, to ensure sensible decisions are made about the future of the country.

    Beautiful and ugly are words going out of fashion – we should be open about the need to protect things on aesthetic grounds as well as simply because they are old.  Listing the countryside would be one possible option, using the evidence we have about the character of the nation’s landscapes. Then we would know more clearly which bits of the countryside would tolerate development. (Our campaign has been mainly about the countryside.)

    Keeping up our campaign

    We need to keep up the pressure on the NPPF. We’ll need an effective transition to the new regime, and also we’ll need to mobilise voices to ensure that local plans are influenced at the local level. We need to concentrate on helping councils and communities to understand and value heritage – it’s not all about what we say to central Government.”