Oral statement to Parliament

National Planning Policy Framework

Mr Speaker I would like to make a statement about planning policy. I am delighted today to be publishing the National Planning Policy Framework…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP

Mr Speaker I would like to make a statement about planning policy.

I am delighted today to be publishing the National Planning Policy Framework and our response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report of the 21 December 2011.

Our reforms to planning policy have 3 fundamental objectives:

  • To put unprecedented power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they live;
  • To better support growth to give the next generation the chance that our generation has had to have a decent home, and to allow the jobs to be created on which our prosperity depends; and
  • To ensure that the places we cherish - our countryside, towns and cities - are bequeathed to the next generation in a better condition than they are now.

To achieve these objectives reform is sorely needed.

A decade of Regional Spatial Strategies, top-down targets and national planning policy guidance that has swelled beyond reason to over 1000 pages across 44 documents, has led to communities seeing planning as something done to them, rather than by them.

And as the planning system has become more complex, it has ground ever slower. In 2004 Parliament required every council to have a plan - eight years on, only around a half have been able to adopt one.

During the last decade - starting long before the financial crisis - we built fewer homes than in any peacetime decade for 100 years.

The average age of the first-time buyer is approaching 40, and rising rents mean that families have to spend more and more on housing, and less and less on themselves and their children.

We can’t allow this to go on. To do so would be to deny our responsibility to young families - to tell them that the property-owning democracy was for our generation but not for yours.

Not all of this is down to sclerosis in the planning system, but some is. The Chambers of Commerce have said that the planning system has become;

too complicated, too costly, too uncertain. It discourages investment, creates mistrust and holds back our recovery.

And it’s not as if what has made it through has made up in quality what it lacks in quantity.

Too much development in recent years has been mediocre, insensitive and has detracted from the character of the areas in which we live and work.

Too many of our habitats have been degraded and nature driven out.

The effect has been that much of the public have come to assume that any particular change to our built environment will be negative - that it will tend to impair beauty, damage the environment and make our lives worse.

What a disastrous state of affairs in a country which is home to some of the most talented designers, and the best architects and craftsmen in the world, and which has over the years constructed villages and cities and buildings - like the one we meet in - that people cross the world to see.

Our reforms to the planning system take on each of these challenges:

  • They enshrine the local plan - produced by local people - as the keystone of the planning system;
  • They make planning much simpler and more accessible, reducing over a thousand pages of often impenetrable jargon into around 50 pages of clearly written guidance;
  • They establish a presumption in favour of sustainable development that means that development is not held up unless to approve it would be against our collective interest;
  • The Framework guarantees robust protections for our natural and historic environment, and goes further by requiring net improvements to put right some of the neglect that has been visited on us;
  • It raises the bar on design standards so that we have the most exacting requirement for design that the English planning system has ever contained.

Mr Speaker, I have always regarded reforming the planning system as a serious responsibility.

From the start I made it clear that Parliament should be central to the development of the policy, we have had three full debates in this House and in the House of Lords - and I asked the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to consider the draft National Planning Policy Framework and to give me its considered advice.

I put on record my thanks to the chairman and members of that Committee and to Environmental Audit Committee for the seriousness and thoughtfulness that they brought to the task.

I am pleased to tell colleagues that of the Committee’s 35 recommendations, I have been able to accept 30 in whole or in part.

In particular the final framework:

  • Makes it clear that the local plan is, as the Committee put it, the keystone of the planning edifice
  • Is crystal clear that sustainable development embraces social and environmental as well as economic objectives and does so in a balanced way;
  • Refers explicitly to the five principles of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy;
  • Goes further than ever before and is clear that councils should look for net improvements on all dimensions of sustainability;
  • Makes explicit that the presumption in favour of sustainable development works through, not against, local plans;
  • Makes it clear that relevant policies - such as those protecting the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and other areas - cannot be overridden by the presumption;
  • Recognises the intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside (whether specifically designated or not);
  • Makes explicit what was always implicit: that councils’ policies must encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use;
  • Underlines the importance of town centres, while recognising that businesses in rural communities should be free to expand;
  • Takes a localist approach to creating a buffer of housing supply over and above 5 years, and in the use of windfall sites;
  • Allows councils to protect back gardens - those precious urban oases
  • Ensures that playing fields continue to benefit from that same protection that they do currently;

The final framework has been strengthened by the contributions of everyone who has taken the trouble to submit their views and I am very grateful for them.

It has always been my intention that councils who have done the right thing and either adopted, or have made good progress towards adopting local plans, will not be disadvantaged by the change to new policy.

Accordingly, I have introduced transitional arrangements suggested by, and agreed with, the Local Government Association. They accord weight to plans according to how advanced they are. However, I have gone further in two respects. I have allowed 12 months from today for existing plans to be adjusted to be in complete conformity with the new framework, and made clear that weight can be given to emerging plans.

Finally, Mr Speaker, this House has a particular role to play in safeguarding the interests of our successors. Having shaped the development of the new framework, I will ensure that Parliament supervises the implementation of the policies starting with a debate on the floor of the House soon after we return.

Mr Speaker, the purpose of planning is to help make the way we live our lives tomorrow better than it is today.

This National Planning Policy Framework will help build the homes the next generation needs.

It supports growth to allow employers to create the jobs our constituents need.

It protects what we hold dear in our matchless countryside and in the fabric of our history.

It does so by taking power away from remote bodies and putting it firmly into the hands of the people of England.

I warmly commend it to the House.

Published 27 March 2012