The government had a choice over the future direction of planning and place-making in England – between de-regulation and chaos or quality and effective delivery - and at this pivotal moment it has simply chosen the wrong one.

The overall approach of the government remains basically the same: demand side investment and deregulation and the hope that, somehow, the resulting chaos will deliver high-quality new homes or that people won’t notice the very poor outcomes.

It’s true that there was movement in viability testing, and if, as the consultation suggests, the 'price paid for land is not a relevant justification for failing to accord with relevant policies in the plan', we might be on brink of real change. But forgive me if I remain sceptical given the immense complexity of the new viability regime and the fact every inch of developable land in England is bought or optioned already. There is more than a good chance that local government will still be left trading off good design for affordable homes and low value areas will still get next to nothing in developer contributions. But that’s the best of new NPPF and the negatives are very stark:

  • Sustainable development is still there but there but oddly defined and with no attempt to translate the principles into planning priorities.
  • Affordability has been redefined to include grossly unaffordable housing products.
  • The Local Plan is no longer a requirement of the NPPF, the minimum now being a light-touch strategic plan. Where will placemaking fit now? And no, it doesn’t fit in neighbourhood planning, over which local authorities have no detailed policy control. Placemaking standards on health are not an optional extra; they are basic minimum requirements.
  • The link to the Climate Act has been downgraded, with decisions no longer having be in line with objectives of the 2008 Act but instead the much weaker formulation 'in the context’ of the Act.
  • Perhaps worse of all, the new NPPF removes any reference to the Garden City Principles from its policy on strategic growth. I find this the most extraordinary move of all given that many authorities were genuinely trying to bring forward scale growth, and the government continually talks about garden towns and villages. These principles  really matter and removing them creates confusion and undermines confidence in the government's commitment to placemaking.

And it's worth reflecting that we have not yet had the consultation on the major relaxation of permitted development, which is already resulting in some very poor development and to which not even the weak safeguards of the NPPF will apply.  

It’s easy to get caught up in these detailed changes, but where in today’s announcements is the transformational policy on delivery? Nowhere that I can see. Blaming local government and imposing a new housing forecasting regime should not detract from the basic reality that the housing crisis is the government’s responsibility; that they have always had the powers to intervene in planning to impose their will on ‘nimby councils’ if they cared to. Real progress can only be made by government being clear about the spatial development of the nation and by unlocking the potential for local government to build. 

And what of planning out poverty? Or the planning system’s power and obligations around promoting inclusion and social justice? Have fun with the word search but, to save time, you wont find policy on equality, social justice, poverty reduction, redistribution, fairness, social exclusion or needs the children and young people.

Surely we are capable of being better than this?

Read the TCPA's Press Release on the new draft NPPF here.