Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The NPPF and the "presumption"

Welcome to the world of planning under the National Planning Policy Framework 2012.  It's not just me, but the four distinguished guests invited by Clive Anderson to discuss the NPPF on his Unreliable Evidence programme could not see any substantial change to the planning system.  The main 'change' is the removal of substantial volume of quite helpful advice which will now have to be reinvented by planners and lawyers and tested through appeals (and the courts).  I do not hear the lawyers celebrating but this implies a lot more work.  One of the reasons for the lack of celebration is the lack of resources to actually pay to reconstitute the policy framework.

From my point of view as a parish councillor with some planning knowhow, the NPPF presumption in favour of sustainable development is a gift.  But one which needs ramming home in early conversations with planning departments, landowners and developers.  For decades villages have been regarded as both unsustainable and less sustainable locations than towns (and cities) for residential development.  If, as is the case in many villages, residents would like new development to pay for an upgrade in services and facilities, this is their chance.  new residential development should be required to pay for the higher frequency bus services, expansion/alteration of the village school, upgraded village hall and recreational facilities, allotments etc all necessary to reduce the reliance on the car and larger towns.  Car clubs have been wary of rural locations for lack of users but might look again when the average journey length is taken into account.

In so far as new housing in villages is intended to compensate for a declining occupancy rate (only half the bedrooms in some villages (and market towns?) might be occupied), most new dwellings should be  2 bedroomed.  This would encourage downsizing by some of the 5 million households looking for a smaller home in the next 5 years and be suitable for the young family until their two children cannot share.  More 3 and 4 bedroom houses would be a waste of resources when the NPPF is looking for zero carbon housing and building in accordance with CLimate Change Act targets and lead to further under-occupancy.  The 2 bedroom dwellings would be more attractive to downsizers if there were shared facilities; libraries for their books, workshops for their tools, offices for their files, gardens for their plants and a common house for guests.

So the NPPF should be grabbed by village residents who should start immediately on their community or neighbourhood plans to provide a policy framework compatible with the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF.  Landowners will be unhappy with the impact on land values but  this is simply a reflection of the true costs of building sustainably in villages.