The draft NPPF, reduced to a "builders' charter"

The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is seriously deficient says the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) in its response to the Parliamentary CLG Committee on the NPPF. It offers an impoverished view of sustainable development, equating it to all intents and purposes with “growth”. It does not integrate with other Coalition policy goals and frameworks and lacks a regional and strategic dimension. Furthermore, and crucially, it reduces “the environment” to a marginal set of designated protected zones.

Under the new slimline NPPF, CIWEM believes that it is inevitable that there will be insufficient detail and clarity, resulting in a wealth of opportunities for those with less honourable intentions to hijack the planning process for their own short-term commercial ends. There is a real danger that the majority of this will occur as a result of the way "sustainable development" is defined and used in the Framework.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development would be warmly welcomed; if only it were adequately defined, unequivocal and above all genuine. As it stands the NPPF is skewed to favour economic over social and environmental considerations because it presumes that development equals growth.

To grant planning permission “where [a] plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date" is a highly irresponsible move by the Government. Fewer than 30% of Core Strategies have been adopted1 leaving vast areas open to debate. Decision-making on this basis is simply not sustainable. In addition the Framework appears to ignore a host of competing factors which will determine what sustainable development looks like in this country; factors such as climate change, population growth and diminishing resources.

Ultimately, the NPPF reads as a series of headline-grabbing buzz-words and sound-bites providing no further depth with the use of illustrative examples or guidance against which proposals could be realistically assessed.

CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says: “Surely a new planning framework is an opportunity to do things better? But, sadly, this Government’s proposals are little more than a builders’ charter and a sop to the powerful construction lobby. Developers will be rewarded while neglecting sustainability and the environment. There is no presumption in favour of sustainable development; it is just that of development, cynically green-washed. It is also a clear affront to the Natural Environment White Paper which promises to reverse the decline in our natural capital and not accelerate it. Urban sprawl and poor design of the type seen in the pre-war and post-war periods is back.

Planning should not be simple; it needs to consider a wide range of factors, the sum of which equates to people’s quality of life. The present system may seem like a lumbering leviathan but that is as much to do with the resourcing of local authority planning departments as it is the current guidance. In this attempt, the Government has confused clarity with brevity, and communities and their environments will suffer as a result.”

[1] 47% of councils have not published Core Strategies. Fewer than 30% of Council’s have adopted Core Strategies, DCLG Impact Assessment of the NPPF.

Source: The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)