Blog by Andrew Lainton:  “So the new National Planning Policy Framework has fallen on its very first hurdle on the question everyone, developers, communities, campaigners want to know – when can you build housing in the countryside, when can you refuse it?

It is the simplest and single most important question of any planning system, and if it is not answered clearly in national policy we are in for years of argument, confusion, appeals, legal challenges and delay as well as bankruptcy by campaigners and developers along the way.  Fudge on this point is a key cause of cost and confusion in planning.

Today we had a planning sounding board meeting, where figures from key organisations question senior DCLG officals on planning developments.

Of course questions on key issues to do with the NPPF were at the top of everyone lips.

One of the attendees tweeted if there were any questions – the tweetstream, shored of tweety abbreviations was:

Does the new brownfield first policy allow u to refuse schemes on Greenfield sites if alternative [sites] & in advance of local plan adoption?

It was worded and mentioned only as an ‘option’ for local plans and as ‘encourage’ not ‘prioritise’

What does protection of [intrinsic] value of countryside ‘mean in practice’ (para 6) – as it is just an objective (para 17) not policy (18-219)

And the answers
Good Questions – No Answers. General view was “let’s see what happens” or ring the helpline

Breathtaking.  They don’t know, or don’t want to tell us and if they don’t how will any applicant or local authority?  As we said yesterday the helpline, because of a recent Supreme court decision will not be able to substitute its professional judgement of policy is unclear or has a plain English meaning which has a logical meaning different to that presented.  It is for the government to correct unclear policy and later policy that doesn’t mean what it wants to mean NOT the job of the Planning Inspectorate etc.

So DCLG the helpline will kick these questions upstairs to the Govt.  What is the answer?

Start an FAQ on the NPPF now, absolutely essential to making any helpline system work (so the same questions don’t get asked again and again) and open the helpline up to more than just local authorities, to all practitioners, applicants and those preparing neighbourhood plans.

Of course if it is found that these clauses don’t have a clear meaning then they cannot be used. It is the same as not having policy at all applications simply have to be decided on the totality of other material planning considerations.

On this question, the question that created a year’s storm, what is the protection of the countryside? The end result is in effect the same as not having any policy on the countryside at all. 

Some result.”