• NPPF:  A spectacularly badly handled process

    21st December 2011 | News | Claire
  • Leaving aside the financial incentives provided by developers to weaken the planning laws, I will stick to the quite astonishing comments uttered by ministers, supposedly intelligent ones, once the opposition started against the NPPF.

    As soon as the National Trust and CPRE started to object to the plan when it was launched for consultation during the first week of the summer holidays, Greg Clark came out all guns blazing.  He accused the NT of overreacting and scaremongering.  The old chestnut when an organisation that has cooked up a dubious plan wants to discredit someone who has a very good point.

    Then Bob Neill MP, in a remarkable moment of paranoia, raged that the CPRE was running ‘a carefully choreographed left-wing smear campaign.’ The CPRE reacted with some surprise at this rather odd unconsidered remark.

    Next Greg Clark came up with a desperate phrase, designed to get him in the papers again. He claimed that people who opposed development were guilty of ‘selfish nilhilism.’  Aside from the words being extremely pompous, the remark served to simply stir up further bad feeling between the campaigners and the Government.

    Eric Pickles and George Osborne then brought their clunking fists down on the table.  “No one should underestimate our determination to win this battle! ” they cried. 

    Sorry, did someone say it was a consultation?

    Finally there were a whole series of comments, again designed to discredit considered and informed debate.  Ministers told campaigners to ‘go away and read the document’.  We might ask you to do the same ministers, given that you have consistently misrepresented the true picture, as this published report today now confirms. 

    The National Trust at one stage, said there had been a ‘string of insults’ against organisations and people who had been asked to comment on their consultation document.

    I listened to many radio interviews with Mr Clark, shaking my head in disbelief as the soundbites rolled smoothly off his tongue, about the NPPF letting communities lead the way.  Of course, the NPPF has nothing to do with community benefit and everything to do with making shed loads of cash for developers.

    Mr Clark even tried to hide behind the Green Belt policy, to try and pretend he wasn’t removing protections from the open countryside.  Journalists interviewing him did not know enough about planning jargon to challenge him on the difference between Green Belt (around big cities only) and undesignated countryside – most of the countryside in the UK, not under specific designated protection, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    It wasn’t until the Royal Town Planning Institute (who had also opposed the NPPF) issued a press release suggesting that the Government should debate the issue in a grown up way, that the nasty rhetoric from Mr Clark and his pals abruptly halted.

    As a PR adviser, and assuming that the Government has access to PR advisers, I was staggered at how appallingly badly the consultation was handled and how ministers thought it acceptable to sling insults at organisations making valid and intelligent remarks..  It isn’t rocket science, it is about being respectful and listening to people.  No more difficult than that.

    We will find out in due course whether ministers have learned this simple lesson….and whether we will ever trust them again for trying their hardest to dupe us and hand our countryside over to any developer who fancies making a quick buck.