The Government’s long anticipated review of planning guidelines has been welcomed by the property sector – although only time will tell whether it provides the intended boost to development.
Ministers say the new National Planning Policy Framework, which has seen more than 1,000 pages of guidance slimmed down to around 50 with a focus on a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, are necessary for economic growth.
Peter Leaver, planning director from the Birmingham offices of Jones Lang LaSalle, described the NPPF as “a noble effort”, saying the previous guidance was “too complex, bureaucratic and legalistic”.
However, while he felt there were safeguards in the new text to protect previously undeveloped green belt, he said that only time would tell if this was effective.
“On the surface a more moderate tone of the NPPF should please the conservationists,” he said. “However, in reality, there are the tools available for developers to make a stronger case for houses and jobs in areas where they are demanded.”
Friends of the Earth’s policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said it was too early to judge how water-tight any safeguards would be.
“Including a strong definition of sustainable development in the new planning guidelines is an important step forward, but this is undermined by confusing and contradictory information in the rest of the document,” he said.
“Ministers must make it crystal clear that the new planning system will encourage the low-carbon infrastructure and affordable homes our nation needs – and prevent poor quality developments that waste water and increases our reliance on expensive fossil fuels. But the devil is in the detail – Friends of the Earth legal experts will be watching closely.”
Stephen Hollowood, senior director from GVA, said the guidance should be broadly welcomed by all involved in the development sector.
He said: “We welcome the final NPPF which in our view, will provide much needed certainty to the planning system and finds an appropriate balance between supporting growth and protecting our environment. It remains plan-led – any proposed new scheme will have to demonstrate that it is sustainable and will be subject to the appropriate environmental checks as well as taking into account the views of communities themselves.
“We see this as a positive move to facilitate planned, yet sustainable development and recognition that planning is a collective enterprise and should be an inclusive process for businesses, local authorities and the communities they serve.”
Paul Rouse, planning director at Savills Birmingham, believes the presumption in favour of development was the most crucial aspect of the NPPF.
“The NPPF is to be welcomed,” he said. “In reality, the presumption in too many places has been against development for too long.
"However, although condensed, the new policy framework is still complex, and there is still much scope for debate as to what is or is not sustainable, so we must hope the Secretary of State is prepared to apply the spirit of the NPPF when he decides the inevitable appeals.
"It is a shame the exhortation to local councils to say ‘yes’ to development has been dropped in the final version, though the presumption in favour of development is nevertheless expressed in strong terms.”
The new NPPF will vastly increase the number of new affordable family homes in England, by making it easier to build on greenfield sites on the edge of towns, according to one land promoter.
“The NPPF will marginalise the self-interested vociferous minority who for the last 15 years have played a significant role in depriving a generation of the ability to own a home they can afford,” said David Gladman, director of Gladman Developments.
“For too long preserving the view of a rich man over the fields behind his house has prevented a nurse from owning a decent place to live.
“This affordability issue and shortage predates the current temporary mortgage availability problems which the government is already taking decisive action to address.”
Stephen Hammon, managing director of the Heart of England Conference and Events Centre, backed the reforms having just lodged an appeal with the Government.
His ten applications to invest £3 million to extend and improve corporate facilities at the venue in Meriden Road, Fillongley, were rejected by North Warwickshire Borough Council in February.
Hammon said he agreed the old planning system badly needed to be overhauled to encourage businesses to grow and therefore benefit the economy by creating jobs.
“The revamped planning system is needed to produce homes and jobs and to support sustainable development to help kick-start the nation’s economy,” he said.
“Sometimes there is a belief that any kind of planning is wrong and that it will automatically be to the detriment of the countryside.
“But reducing red tape in all areas of business is a matter which all company owners want to see and this planning shake-up will take one small step towards achieving that.”
Will Charlton from Brooke Smith Planning said it was all well and good changing guidance but the fiscal realities remained the same.
He said: “A review of the complex planning system is long overdue and the NPPF is a positive move to remove some of the complexity from the system. However, the document now issued will not, on its own, be a catalyst for the construction industry. Fiscal measures will still have to be introduced to incentivise developers.”
Ultimately, according to Irwin Mitchell partner Oliver Martin, it will probably be lawyers who have the final say on such matters.
“The NPPF provides no great surprises and does not depart significantly from the consultation draft issued last year.
"Those concerned as to how 1,000 pages of guidance are reduced to 50 pages of guidance will remain concerned – the impact of the new national guidance will only really be known once the interpretation of the key guidance is tested at appeal and in the courts.”