NPPF gets mixed reaction from construction industry

Published:  27 March, 2012

UK: The Construction Products Association welcomed the Government's new National Planning Policy Framework, published today, but not all sectors of the industry were happy to embrace it. 

"This document should put an end to the confusion," said CPA chief executive Michael Ankers. "We are particularly pleased to see the Government has reaffirmed the long-standing presumption in favour of sustainable development. What it has to do now is to ensure that local authorities support fully this objective in the way they consider each and every planning application within their area.

"Improving the country's infrastructure and the rest of our built environment is a key component of our economic recovery and the creation of a low carbon economy. This Framework should reassure the environmental lobby that these developments do not harm areas of significant environmental importance, but without the interminable planning delays that we have had in the past and which only served to discourage large international companies from investing in the UK.

At the Confederation of British Industry, director-general John Cridland, said "The new framework hands the responsibility back to local communities to decide where new homes, businesses and infrastructure to support them should be built. The onus is on local authorities to work with people and businesses in their area to develop suitable plans as quickly as possible.

"Let's be clear, this is not an invitation to concrete over Britain, as some would have us believe. For too long, our planning regime acted as a drag on growth, and this framework lets people decide the future for themselves."

Richard Tamayo, commercial director at the National House Building Council, said: "Our own registration figures reflect the drastic need for more new homes. Under 115 000 new homes were registered with NHBC last year – a fall of more than 40% since the height of the market in 2007. "The new planning framework and recently-announced first-time buyers' mortgage initiative are both important steps in empowering the private sector - the current engine of growth for housing numbers – to produce the volume of homes the country urgently needs," he stated, warning that other challenges, like zero carbon homes, still remained.

Mark Leeson, a director of property and construction consultancy McBains Cooper, said the NPPF is based on correcting the current approach from one of 'development control' to 'positive sustainable development', but questions how well it has been thought through.

"The planning system has now changed in a significant way, but the people involved in it will find the changes difficult to adapt to as a result of the need for greater interpretation because the policy is now far more general, relying on detail to be developed at a local level, by local people," he said.

"Planning officers – without 'top-down' guidance – act in a reactive not a proactive way, responding to proposals made by others. Then, there is the issue of how local interest groups will be supported and funded? In terms of individuals, where does strategic policy fit in if driven by individuals. It could potentially be like herding sheep with no sheepdog if everybody is doing their own thing.

"Private sector consultants could be crucial to this, but they will generally be funded by companies with a pro-development stance looking out for their own interests rather than wider strategic, social or economic concerns.

"It looks like the policymakers have listened to the front-line and professional consultants in relation to a focus on brown field sites, but this would appear to be a 'lite touch' stance 'suggesting' brownfields be considered first, rather than setting targets or dictating priorities in detail. Again, it will be left to locals or interested parties to decide what is appropriate on a site by site basis, risking the strategic overview.

"While it is far better for local issues to be resolved locally, communities and officers serving them need to be prepared for the change, and they are clearly not prepared yet. A set of more simple guidelines do not mean a more simple process.

"Our concern is that planning applications could take longer as policy makers struggle to understand how to fill the void left by the outgoing legislation and in the meantime, planning inspectors will be busier than ever."

Paul Smith, director of Apex Planning Consultants, commented: "The reduction in regulation is quite simply breathtaking. Years of planning guidelines have been thrown onto a latter-day bonfire of the inanities.

"For years the planning process has had a reputation for being confusing, bureaucratic and slow. "The arrival of the pared down Planning Policy Framework is no guarantee that things will get simpler.

"Much of the ire vented so far has focused on the "presumption in favour of sustainable development. The problem is that the definition of 'sustainable' is notoriously woolly, and different local authorities will inevitably interpret it in different ways.

"Once conflicting precedents are set, the waters will quickly be muddied. What is clear is that this document does not give carte blanche to developers intent on building on green belt land. Opponents who raise the spectre of urban sprawl are being disingenuous at best, and misleading, at worst." 

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