Historic Towns Forum says NPPF is better than it might have been

NEWS RELEASE - 28 March 2012

  1. The NPPF, published by the Government yesterday, has addressed a lot of the concerns that were expressed by all parties of the deeply-flawed original. For that we may thank the Planning Minister Greg Clarke, who acted in a similarly responsible manner with suggested improvements to the Localism Bill last year.  The Historic Towns Forum is particularly pleased to see the Government’s strengthening of the town centre first principle, and the recognition of tourism as a significant contribution to successful centres.
  2. The revision of PPS5 Planning and the Historic Environment in 2009 proved a good example of how Government Policy could be made significantly more focused and precise without losing the necessary influence and control. The HTF is pleased to see its essence retained in the NPPF. That was achieved through extremely careful drafting.  Brevity doesn’t necessarily guarantee simplicity however, and the imprecise language scattered throughout the NPPF is likely to increase rather than decrease uncertainty. The inclusion of opinion and guidance among the policy is a recipe for confusion, along with the liberal use of value-laden terms such as significant, appropriate, great weight, poor design – open to varying interpretation.
  3. Inflammatory Government statements elsewhere on the inadequacy of the planning system, notably in the Chancellor’s budget speech, are given little attention by most of those actively involved in planning and development. The HTF agrees with the view recently expressed by the British Property Federation, that there is more consensus between the various interests in planning and development than the Government seems to think.   The planning system is not an obstacle to development.  It provides the rules of engagement on which the development industry relies.  If some activities are not approved, that is because their impact would be unacceptable. That is not a constraint on growth, but a way of directing growth towards long term success - for everyone.
  4. To whatever extent the NPPF modifies national planning policy, the planning system remains the same.  Successive Governments have tinkered with the planning system to no great effect, but its inefficiencies stem largely from repeated attempts to improve democratic access to it.  It remains the Forum’s view that the best way of improving the planning system is to improve the representativeness of the local authorities charged with implementing it.
  5. In deleting all the Planning Policy Statements that came before, the NPPF severs the link to the valuable stock of guidance that helped provide the basis for negotiation between different interests and opinions.  Without that, the HTF fears that the new policy regime will increase rather than reduce the costs and timescales for decision-making. The NPPF references to local plans suggest the demise of Local Development Frameworks, but there is no explanation of how or by when this is to be achieved.  The setting of a 12 month transition period allowing local planning authorities to adapt to the new regime, while declaring its policies immediately material to decision-making, will add to confusion.
  6. A lot is being made by the Government of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.  The only novelty here is the introduction of the term sustainable. This should be encouraging, but much hangs on the definition.  The Minister’s introduction to the NPPF suggests that the Government has accepted that this requires a balance of social, environmental and economic factors.  This is a welcome move away from the primacy of the latter in the first draft. Whether the absence of any precise definition will be helpful remains to be seen.
  7. The passing reference to “following the principles of garden cities” in the NPPF (para 52) is intriguing, especially as the Prime Minister, also referred to garden cities in his recent speech on the nation’s infrastructure.   It is good to see the Government recognising the value of historic places.  There are lots of others too, created with enlightened private investment – such as Saltaire, Bournville, New Lanark, Port Sunlight, New Earswick. The communities in these places continue to prize and protect their historic character and the quality of life to which it contributes.  The NPPF doesn’t enlarge on what principles it considers still relevant, but the HTF is ready to help identify and redefine these for the post–paternalism Twenty-first Century.
  8. Our historic towns and cities are living examples of how society’s changing needs can be accommodated within and around those places and features that mean the most to us. The Forum’s members, representing public and private sector interests, will continue to work together to identify and promote better practice in strengthening the performance of historic places for the future.
  9. The NPPF is not the carte blanche for development that some feared or hoped for, but the lack of greater clarity and precision, may make the everyday business of negotiating schemes through planning process more challenging.


Notes for editors

Noël James, Director, Historic Towns Forum
Tel: 0117 9750459
Email: noel.james@uwe.ac.uk
Twitter: @HTF_

HTF Logo:  please call 0117 9750459 or email htf@uwe.ac.uk to request file.

More information:

Information about the Historic Towns Forum, its Membership, good practice guidance publications and activities can be obtained from www.historictownsforum.org

The Historic Towns Forum (HTF) – formerly English Historic Towns Forum (EHTF) - has been supporting professionals working in the historic built environment since 1987.  The Forum’s events and publications focus on perennial and topical issues, drawing together practitioners across the disciplines and sectors.  This collective then offers a strong platform from which to lobby policy makers on behalf of historic towns and cities.

HTF, through its Membership and Partnership schemes, offers everyone with an interest in the historic towns and cities of UK and Ireland an opportunity to exchange and develop ideas, and facilitates exchange with European colleagues.

HTF is supported by:
Bircham Dyson Bell, CgMs, John Lewis Partnership, Land Securities and University of the West of England

HTF patron: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales