Brett Amphlett: builders must work to environmental limits.

Planning system: Dame Fiona and Sir Simon pick a fight with Uncle Eric

Published:  16 January, 2012

UK: The Government's programme to reform the planning system in England has caused much public debate. The Department for Communities & Local Government's public consultation on its draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) closed in October amidst claims and counter-claims on the likely consequences.

Opponents like Sir Simon Jenkins and Dame Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust reckon the countryside will be concreted over – that Eric Pickles' proposals are a developer's charter. The CPRE and RSPB both obtained legal opinions to bolster their campaigns.

Builders' Merchants News asked Brett Amphlett, policy manager at the Builders' Merchants' Federation, to delve into the squabble between the good and the great.

"There is a heavy slant towards statutory consultation with social and environmental organisations in the document – but hardly any to economic ones. This shows how ridiculous the criticism by, for example, the Campaign to Protect Rural England is. They conveniently forget a duty to consult Natural England or the Environment Agency is enshrined in law.

"A duty to talk to economic interests, like Chambers of Commerce, simply does not exist". Mr Amphlett added that it does not extend to non-statutory consultees like Railtrack or the National Grid. "Railways and electricity transmission lines that criss-cross the nation are a significant feature of the countryside – yet there is no requirement to talk to them".

Several issues are not included in the consultation paper. "Amazingly, there is no mention of cities or eco-towns; costs of planning appeals; the Code for Sustainable Homes and travellers – despite the Dale Farm dispute," said Mr Amphlett.

The one issue that divides opinion the most is the omission of brownfield land. "Plenty of organisations have attacked this. They demand the NPPF be modified to enshrine a 'brownfield first' approach to force builders to work within environmental limits. The Town & Country Planning Association is one," and Mr Amphlett believes they are wrong.

"At a time of economic hardship – and against a backdrop of lifting the burden of regulation – anyone seeking to transform brownfield plots will have second thoughts.

"Urban sites left for any length of time become colonised by flora and fauna – not to mention limited site access, contamination and pollution, etc, making it more expensive to put right before any works start. If the aim is to make more sites developable, fuller explanation of living within environmental limits is necessary to encourage business to bring more sites back into use.

"Wildlife charities would do well to remember the consultation mentions the EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive. Yet, the interests of the elderly in society are not covered – another example of tunnel vision by some campaigners," said Mr Amphlett. The BMF is not the only one. Several MPs have made this point to Mr Amphlett as they grapple with the problem of rising social care costs as we all live longer.

Read about the proposals which merchants can support in the latest edition of Builders' Merchants News out on 24 January.

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