Planning Reform Debate AV Architects

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Planning Reform Debate

28.12.2011 Planning Reform Debate

The Department for Communities and Local Government is the body responsible for determination of planning policy at a national level and significant reforms have been proposed to the system recently.

The reform was outlined in a draft National Planning Policy Framework published in July 2011 issued for consultation purposes and although the draft document is substantial, fundamental objectives to make the planning system ‘less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable growth’ have been identified.

Proposals have triggered considerable debate and the task and scope of reform and the political implications are complex. The planning system is instrumental in defining the physical character of our environment, both urban and rural. The consequence of planning policy influences our social, economic and aesthetic landscapes and as such the planning system, in whichever guise, impacts upon each and every inhabitant and visitor to the country.

Various campaigns and lobbying groups have emerged as the debate has intensified and gained prominence and each group with its own agenda, has a role influencing the planning system and law in the future.

Economic motivation, provision of additional housing, conservation of the natural and the historic environments, complexity and cost of the planning system, sustainability, urban renaissance / decay, utilisation of existing empty homes or brown field site are just a few examples of the many cases thrown into the planning reform debate melting pot.

In its report of 20th Dec 2011 regarding the reforms, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee states:

Planning is a balancing act, which requires consideration of the preservation, use and development of land for this and future generations, within the context of agreed social, environmental and economic needs.

Critical to the debate is whether the government has struck the correct balance and it appears proposals will be subject to variation. Recent media speculation suggests reform plans will be watered down and recent comments from the planning minister Greg Clark appear to acknowledge reforms favour developers, noting an ‘inevitable’ risk of building on rural parts of England.

Key wording referring to ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is considered imperative to the governments strategy and most controversial with campaigners claiming this will give developers a license to build in rural England

In particular environmental campaigners, perhaps most prominently the ‘National Trust’ and the ‘Campaign to Protect Rural England’, have presented sustained critism of proposals. The National Trust perceive proposals present

“a huge risk to our countryside, historic environment and the precious local places that people value” suggesting “financial considerations dominate reform proposals”.

The Trust website notes “the presumption in favour of sustainable development is intended to simplify things while guaranteeing certain minimum protections for the environment. But the danger is that the default answer will be ‘yes’, even to bad development.”

The government wishes to utilise planning reform to assist in stimulating economic growth particularly via relaxation of planning policy relating to housing development. Reform, as proposed in the draft National Planning Policy Framework document, will edit down more than 1,000 pages of legislation to just 52 with an aim to reduce bureaucracy and simplify the planning system. Key legislation relating to affordable housing will be omitted with local planning authorities granted strategy responsibility for housing requirements in their area as part of the governments Localism Bill.

Support for reform has been forthcoming from a growing number of organisations including the British Chamber of Commerce. Adam Marshall, BCC Director of Policy commented:

“Businesses have long called for greater speed, clarity and certainty in the planning system. The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) set forward a planning regime that balanced economic growth with environmental concerns. Suggestions by the committee that the draft needs significantly altering, including the removal of the presumption in favour of sustainable development, risk the ability of businesses up and down the country to grow, and help our economy to recover.


Home Builders’ Federation and the Federation of Master Builders have backed proposals as well as the Royal Institute of British Architects. The RIBA policy manager Rebecca Roberts-Hughes commented:

 “As a whole, the RIBA welcomes the draft NPPF. The section on design is strong and there are opportunities for architects in the focus on local and neighbourhood level planning. The recognition of the importance of design review is also good news.”

As Director of Aire Valley Architects I broadly support startegy to stimulate economic growth and recognise the need for planning reform. Nevertheless, I consider it critical economic motivation does not promote poorly designed environments. This is a concern if inadequate policy and enforcement provail and the draft frameworks would perhaps benefit from more definition in relation to what is considered sustainable.


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