It’s not often that I, or indeed the readers of this magazine, evince sympathy for the NIMBYs (‘not in my backyard’). But do spare a thought for these poor tortured souls in the depths of their despair. For they are in danger of losing one of their most treasured possessions: the planning system.
People or groups of people can’t possess the planning system, you might say. Surely planning exists for the benefit of all?
Yes. But it all got hijacked and the planning system, with its endless add-ons, played into the hands of those who learnt to use it to stymie development; unless of course it was they who were proposing it in the first place.
Successive governments tried to reverse this process by increasingly requiring centralised ratification, all the while clawing back power to the centre. The last government, alarmed by the slow pace of building and frustrated by the volume of unused planning permissions, reduced the duration of consents from five to three years.
Then, fed up with 5 year Local Development Plans where, once a plan was adopted and ratified, its shelf life was diminished by the necessity to produce the next plan, they introduced the concept of Local Development Frameworks (LDFs). These would be much more of a loose leaf rolling programme, capable of adapting to changing circumstance and National strategic requirements.
The trouble was that these LDFs were fiendishly complicated to produce; to the extent that, barely 3 out of 10 Local Authorities (LAs) in England have an adopted planning policy. What made things even more difficult were the requirements of the Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs), much hated by the NIMBYs, which required LAs to facilitate a certain number of new homes in their areas.
Then in 2010 we had a change of government and the NIMBYs must have thought that all of their Christmases had come at one time.
“We’re going to scrap RSSs with immediate effect”, the new government announced. ‘Top Down’ dictation was to go. People would be able to decide the environment they lived in. The forthcoming Localism Bill would enshrine this concept. Neighbourhood Groups would be able to formulate their own planning policies and, following a simple local referendum, their wishes would become the planning rules in their community.
The NIMBYs must have been queuing up to join in.
Fast forward to the actual Bill and imagine their disappointment when they realised that they would not be able to stop anything. That they could only propose more, not less, development and that any proposals would have to accord with adopted local and National policy.
Now, enter the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which, in planning terms, approaches year zero.
Thousands of pages of previous guidance documentation is slimmed down to just fifty pages of government aspiration, summed up by a phrase, repeated throughout, that, henceforth, there will be a ‘Presumption in favour of development’, so long as it is sustainable.
Truly the stuff of NIMBY’s nightmares.
But what is ‘Sustainable’? Is it based on economics? Is it purely environmental? Is this the word that the naysayers will latch onto?
The answer is, hopefully, within the requirement for LAs to prepare new Local Plans on the basis of the NPPF, within which, it states quite clearly that LAs should ‘grant’ consent unless ‘the adverse impacts…would significantly outweigh the benefits…’.
Any decent Planning consultant could, with those words, drive a coach and horses through many planning refusals.
But there’s one more sting in the tail (or tale). For the draft NPPF also states that LAs should ‘grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date’.
Yet the vast majority of LAs still have no adopted plan in place and are muddling through on the basis of an out of date plan. And even those few with an adopted plan will now have to re-visit and update it to conform with the tenets and logic of the NPPF.
Which means that, if it’s adopted, they’ll be considering all future applications on the basis of a centrally formulated planning policy. So much for localism!
Are NIMBYs in danger of becoming an endangered species?
Not at all. They’re-grouping as I write, trying to raise the specious scare that the Green Belt is in danger and that Britain is about to be concreted over. We need to block them. This draft NPPF is good for self building and we need to fight to preserve its integrity.