The government has a choice over the future direction of planning and place-making in England: it can continue on the path of planning deregulation and growth at all cost, or it can use the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to clarify and strengthen its commitment to people and place.   

The NPPF is the government’s main way of shaping local government decision-making and, as such, is vital to a whole range of outcomes which will impact people’s lives, from housing to fracking and from roads to wind turbines.

There is no doubt that the current NPPF deprioritises vital policy on climate change, good design and social equity, each of which is essential for building quality places. A key factor which led to this outcome was the introduction of viability testing, which places the needs of developers and land owners above the wider-public interest. This test has spawned a wasteful and costly industry for all parties, which has had the net effect of inflating land values and dramatically reducing the delivery of affordable housing.

Planning needs a new direction, creating places that work for everyone over the long term. If the government is serious about this commitment, the new NPPF, which is due to be published for consultation next month, must pass each of the following eight tests:

  1. Does it restore a genuine commitment towards sustainable development and the welfare of future generations?
  2. Does it reflect the Garden City Principles by committing to using part of the profits from development for the long-term benefit of the community?
  3. Does it rewrite the viability test to ensure that policy which enhances people’s lives and saves public money over the long term is equally as important as landowner and developer profit?
  4. Does it prioritise good design and set out mandatory space standards for new homes?
  5. Does it reprioritise action on climate change, making clear that planning must deliver the carbon reduction target stated in the Climate Act?
  6. Does it prioritise the promotion of people’s health and wellbeing in planning decisions?
  7. Does it focus on a meaningful definition of housing affordability based on people’s ability to pay, prioritising social rented homes?
  8. Does it defend people’s rights to participate in the planning process?

 Ultimately, planning must change so that it is focused on people’s needs; the updated NPPF is the key test as to whether the government has the appetite to do this, recognising that smart, democratic planning is vital to our nation’s future.