Response to nppf public consultationDocument Transcript
Response to NPPF Public Consultation <br />Professor Alister Scott : Birmingham City University firstname.lastname@example.org <br />1 Introduction <br />1.1 This response is based on the coalition government’s NPPF consultation and draws upon my own research and experience in spatial planning. Please see Appendix 1 for the primary evidence sources which have shaped the views advanced in this paper. These represent my own views alone.<br />1.2 The role of planning <br />The planning system plays a crucial part in the quality of life of a nation. Effective planning is about making good decisions that create a virtuous circle between the p laces, the people and the environment therein. In such respects planners have a key role to play working across the public and private realms to shape the kind of society that is required through their role as positive active agents of social, economic and environmental change. My response below is based on the operationalisation of this role. <br />1.3 Having read the NPPF as a whole the key areas I have identified for critical discussion are as follows. <br />
The presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The need for a spatial map
The need to connect within and across different scales of planning
The duty to co-operate
The countryside-urban divide
Designations and green belt.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development (SD)
The NPPF places central importance on the presumption in favour of SD for the operation of English planning, both in terms of the development plans that are produced and individual development proposals where no development plan is in force. There is a clear requirement to follow the government’s interpretation which, in this case, stresses the primacy of economic development. This a fundamental corruption of the SD term as defined by Bruntland and could lead to poor, short term decisions which by their very nature will not be sustainable.
Economic development is currently based on market considerations and needs which are short term in focus and outlook. However, the environmental and social considerations are long term and less easily to quantify and measure. Therefore by placing the emphasis on the economic aspect the system is rooted towards short term considerations. Furthermore where there is any conflict between these aspects the national interest will favour automatically the economic imperative.
The arguments in planning have always been stacked towards economic arguments simply because they are based on easily understood and identifiable criteria. So we hear daily the importance of GDP, number of jobs and investment figures in arguments for new housing or roads. In such respects we tend towards “valuing what we measure as opposed to measuring what we value”. Here, the environmental and social aspects can remain hidden or ignored in favour of tangible and more immediate economic benefits. Indeed recent work within the National Ecosystems Assessment (NEA) (Defra 2011) has tried to cost the value of the natural environment to address this. However by using the quantifiable and the costed a decision making environment is created which ignores legitimate and important environmental and social considerations which by their nature are not easily quantified but, nevertheless, are of immense or even irreplaceable value.
SD requires a more balanced interpretation stressing the triple bottom line of the social, economic and environmental contexts but based on a clear understanding of the NEEDS and the LIMITS within each area at the relevant scale of analysis (see section 2). Scale is a key consideration, as for many decisions administrative boundaries are increasingly irrelevant with the need for planning to work across such boundaries in order to make the best decisions. This is only partially recognised in the NPPF through the duty to co-operate.
Both ‘needs’ and ‘limits’ should be defined and operationalised from extensive evidence bases drawing on both quantitative and qualitative datasets across relevant agencies and also adding to evidence where it is partial and incomplete. The evidence base should be a key consideration in the NPPF to aid SD and where there is insufficient evidence the ‘precautionary principle’ should be applied in decision making, set within an adaptive framework where experimentation can, and should, allow new policy to emerge. This provision is currently not in the NPPF and is a crucial part of SD theory and practice particularly given the driver of climate change.
The principle of basing development around SD is sound but critically the definition of SD should be based around a more inclusive process and debate concerning what we actually mean by development itself. The ideas of resilience, betterment, progress, skills, lessons learnt and wisdom all should feature but do not in the NPPF which presents o one dimensional view of housing an economic development. I argue that development is as much about people, place and environment as it is around the economy.
The present definition, therefore, is positioned more as a short term knee jerk response to an economic crisis which, although understandable, fails to recognise the importance of connecting across economy, society and environment within more long term considerations. The rationale is also emerging from other government departments where the environment is seen as a brake on development rather than an opportunity space for development itself. Such views are myopic and fail to appreciate the virtuous circle.
Most worryingly the definition of SD as currently drafted will be a charter for legal interpretation and a planning system based on appeal with all the implications for lengthy delays in decision making; a truly perverse outcome.
2.9 Uncertainty represents the greatest enemy to planners, developers, environmentalists and communities. The present approach in the NPPF raises the spectre of this enemy as SD is too vague. My preferred view is to argue for a truly plan led system where approved policies provide the basis for decision making set within a much clearer articulation of SD as expressed above.
The need for a spatial map and vision
Within the NPPF there is no clear vision of the kind of England we want for the future. It is left to the interpretation of terms such as SD, localism and a development led system. This creates uncertainty and a classic tenet of all good plans is to present a clear vision so that all stakeholders have a clear sense of where they are going. The current furore concerning different interpretations of the NPPF clearly shows that there is no adequate vision. The lack of this is a key omission and is urgently required.
For example if this government is going to be the ‘greenest government ever’ how is this idea translated into its planning policy? If this government wants to say is ‘open for business’ how is this translated into its planning policy? If this government is about ‘localism localism and localism’ how is this translated into its planning policy? I see a laudable set of objectives here but it is unclear how, if at all, they all connect within the NPPF. This is reflects the lack of vision and presents more of an idealised wish list.
Both Wales and Scotland have an explicit spatial dimension to their national planning frameworks. This is important as it sets a route map for future development, clearly indicating the spatial l implications of national approaches and priorities towards development. This provides clarity for all parties concerned. Clearly such a spatial framework needs consultation and buy in across the population and should reflect joined up and emergent priorities in housing, energy, transport and environment.
In England there is no spatial dimension to the NPPF at all which runs the risk of national policy disconnecting with issues at more regional and local levels. At present the government claim that localism is the key defining characteristic of the new planning system and the government are not going to control planning as the previous administration did. However, by creating new National Planning Policy Statements, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Enterprise Zones, each with the potential to have profound effects on the pattern of investments and development, they are effectively pulling some of the most powerful strings of the new planning system implicitly. Yet these are currently divorced from the planning system and have the power to override any localism efforts.
The potential for major disconnects is huge and there is a need to have more clarity and accountability about the way national planning rules and decisions will influence developments at a more local level otherwise localism is empty rhetoric. Here the need for a coherent transport, energy and environmental policies are crucial. Yet these are not all properly developed and articulated and even where they are eg Defra 2011 Biodiversity Strategy and Climate Change Act, 2008 (DECC), they are not integrated into the NPPF or other areas of public policy.
I therefore argue that the kind of route map as provided for in the Scottish National Planning Framework for Scotland should be adopted within a revised NPPF and supporting vision to give greater clarity and spatiality towards the planning system.
The need to connect within and across the different scales of planning
The spatial map brings into focus the need to focus on the different scales of planning, both vertically (Global to local) and also horizontally ((sectoral) e.g transport, housing, environment and development) . Within the NPPF there is a clear emphasis on local and neighbourhood scales only. However, this fails to recognise the importance of planning decisions being made at the right scale in the interests of SD and good spatial planning theory and practice; eg Global, European, National Regional, Landscape, Local and neighbourhood scales. Such scales, can at times, have conflicting interests but good planning attempts to manage these in the public interest where the principle of subsidiarity is crucial.
The NPPF fails to consider this crucial multi-scalar dimension in any satisfactory manner, putting the focus at the local scale. This localism neglects important aspects of EU, national and sub-national policy that will apply and influence/restrict development opportunities.
These must be understood and used to maximum advantage. EU directives such as Strategic Environmental Assessment, Habitat Regulatory Assessments and Water Framework Directives amongst many others will impose restrictions on development. This is not made explicit in the NPPF and could again lead to legal challenges for failure to adhere to the principles therein. Of particular importance here is the need for a SEA of Neighbourhood plans.
The government have abolished the regional tier of planning leaving a clear vacuum in English planning. England is the only country in the EU without any regional planning perspective to spatial planning. The importance of a regional approach is clear with regard to key areas of planning such as housing, transport and energy. Decisions here about development and investment need to work at larger spatial scales where there is a clear identity and spatiality otherwise decisions will be insular and often conflicting. Furthermore, within a wider spatial perspective new benefits and costs are identifiable that remain hidden. There is an urgent need for a democratic regional perspective and infrastructure body to fill this vacuum.
By facing inwards to the local/neighbourhood level there will be problems in securing joined- up endeavours. This has been exacerbated by the creation of separate Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS) which seek to promote economic development; Local Nature Partnerships (LNP) which seek to create nature areas. Crucially, neither body has a formal planning function. Here the further separation of economic development from environment from planning thematically and spatially reinforces an artificial divide that good spatial planning should overcome. Moreover, this pursuit of the sectoral approach is leading towards a disintegrated planning system; again another perverse effect of policy.
I argue that we need to make planning decisions at the right spatial scale for SD. Administrative boundaries here often pose a hindrance to this as we need to understand the connections and interdependencies first to then select the most appropriate scale to make decisions at. In such respects natural boundaries at a landscape scale might be more effective. However, there is no consideration given to this and the importance of then working across the scales to maximise benefits. This is what spatial planning is all about and there is a missed opportunity within the NPPF to do this.
The duty to cooperate (DTC)
Within the NPPF the government stress the importance of a duty to co-operate partly to address many of the issues I raise above in sections 3 and 4. Whist this is welcome, it does not go nearly far enough to address or arrest the sectoral fix that shapes so much planning and public policy.
The DTC is not statutory and will be done where it is deemed appropriate by the local authorities themselves. This raises the issue of where an authority feel it is not appropriate to cooperate. An example illustrates the dilemma across all parts of the country. Redditch newtown has reached capacity within its borders and is planning for growth based on evidence of housing need. It wishes to build new houses for its growing population in neighbouring Bromsgrove District. However, Bromsgrove district is predominantly green belt and does not wish to share the extra development with Redditch. Therefore it sees no reason to cooperate here. The problem is that there is no one looking at the bigger regional picture to make a decision in the wider interest of the region; whether to protect the green belt or allow Redditch’s population to grow to alleviate pressures elsewhere in Birmingham’ fringe. The danger of an entirely voluntary approach to cooperation can lead to stalemates and again further uncertainty. This will be particularly problematic where local authority boundaries cross different political boundaries.
There is a need for the NPPF to instigate a legal duty to cooperate and whilst not ideal I would argue that the present LEP structure should be used the template to try and join up emergent policy areas.
The countryside-urban divide
The countryside (environment) and urban (town planning) divide in England can be traced back to the artificial separation of the built and natural environment through post WW2 planning legislation (Town and Country Planning Act 1947). This resulted in the establishment of two planning systems; town and country planning (now termed spatial planning under CLG’s remit based on regulation) and resource planning (now embedded in the ecosystem approach under Defra’s remit based on incentives and support).
These two approaches have created their own institutional architecture, frameworks and policies which unfortunately have been pursued in isolation. Resource planning is based on incentives for agriculture and forestry whilst town and country planning is based on restriction and control.
Therefore, it is noteworthy just how little consideration is given within the NPPF to resource planning simply because it falls under another department’s mantle (defra) further disintegrating planning..
This separation has been counterproductive, however, and there is a need to look collectively at the needs and limits across town and countryside to pursue SD outcomes. This means working across the two planning systems within a joint approach which unites rather than divides.
However, the NPPF makes no connection with the ecosystem approach despite its explicit purpose which lies at the heart of planning as articulated in the NPPF itself. “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way” (Convention of Biological Diversity COP7).
Similarly Defras 2011 National Ecosystem Assessment makes no mention of the NPPF and has pursued its creation of Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships in isolation from the creation of LEPs.
The publication of two documents each with integrate planning remits with no cross referencing or joining up of ideas represents a huge wasted opportunity. Our built environments; cities and towns are core components of nature. We are part of nature and we need to use the emerging science from the ecosystem approach to improve the way we plan for England (Carter and Scott, 2011).
The separation is counterproductive and potentially conflicting particularly given the NPPF’s focus on designated spaces (see section 6).
I am calling for greater cooperation between the ecosystem approach and spatial planning to improve the collective planning for our built and natural environments. At present these are pursued separately at all levels of government and the subsequent lack of Defra’s input into the NPPF via the NEA is a serious mistake which further hinders the joined up planning now required.
Given the importance of the environmental change agenda I would also see the need for BIS and DECC to have more input into this debate as planning; good planning has to be an agent of positive environmental., economic and social change. The failure to appreciate the complexities and interdependencies of planning across government departments as they pursue their own sectoral objectives is one of the more serious disconnects requiring attention.
Designation and the Green Belt.
6.1 The NPPF makes clear its intention to protect the environment through the extant designation processes operating at EC and national level and through green belt policies as the principal delivery tools. In addition there is a commitment to create a new non statutory local greenspace designation.<br />6.2 I generally support these ideas but with some important qualifications. Designations cannot be islands of protection .There is a need for the protection of the wider countryside through the identification of strategic corridors, greenspace or wedges in order to link designated sites. The NPPF does not do this in any coherent manner and through its support for designations and green belts is likely to divert pressure for development into non-designated countryside in an ad-hoc manner. <br />6.3 Therefore, there is a need to develop a more integrated approach towards environmental protection. The nature improvement areas under Defra 2011 do not provide sufficient scope for this and there is a potential disconnect here with greenspace networks in urban areas reinforcing the urban –rural divide discussed in the previous section. . <br />6.4 It is important also to note that with protection given to grade 1 and 2 agricultural land that pressure is further directed towards land which may have important environmental value. Such automatic presumptions towards protecting agricultural land whilst important should not be delivered through a one size fit all policy. Again I return to my needs and limits argument where these issues are identified and managed in a particular place and at the most appropriate scale for decision making. <br /> 6.5 Green belts and their protection is a key policy within the NPPF for the long term. However, rather than maintain a one size fits all policy for protecting urban sprawl based on issues back in the 1940s, I feel there is an important opportunity to rethink green belts and green space more generally within more strategic and sustainable interpretations. For example the idea of a belt may not be the most appropriate solution to protect important greenspace in some areas. We need to have corridors linking valuable greenspace and designations and therefore we need to develop strategic networks that reflect such needs and limits at a landscape scale. At a time when new drivers of climate change impact upon planning new responses are required. This is not to say that the green belt should be abolished; rather that it should be developed alongside other green infrastructure and with a particular approach to enable positive management and appropriate development in keeping with greenspace and designation objectives. The shift is one of moving towards considering connectivity as a key plank of planning policy. For example a city and its future evolution set within a pattern of green infrastructure where, for example, a wedge or finger like pattern might prove the most appropriate solution. <br />Conclusion <br />Planning and planners have traditionally imposed their own order of seeing and managing space. In some respects this may stifle important opportunities for innovation and creativity. It is important that planning works within an adaptive management framework allowing the new, bold and innovative to be tested where possible rather than restricting development. At a time of rapid societal and technological change the planning system must adapt and evolve. The government has tried to address this within the NPPF but in so doing has thrown far too many proverbial planning babies out with the dirty Labour bathwater. However, whilst the documents as a whole contains fine and bold rhetoric, in its present format it is not fit for purpose and could lead to perverse effects and significant disconnects across the collective sphere of operation of effective government at all levels. <br />To move forward the NPPF needs a significant redrafting set within a more inclusive process across all levels of government and other stakeholders where it is willing to learn lessons and plan positively with the support and involvement of the planning community in a more constructive manner than hitherto. Specifically. <br />
A clear definition of SD needs to be advanced drawing on ideas of needs and limits identified at the most appropriate scale for long term decision making. The identification of such needs and limits should provide the starting point for development plans where areas devise tailor-made planning solutions.
A plan led system is supported based on a new SD vision which must take account of the different vertical (EU to local) and horizontal (sectoral) scales..
There needs to be a clear and transparent scalar dimension of planning from the Global to EU to national to regional to local and neighbourhood set within a clear vision and spatial map of England.
Greater attention needs to be given to the right scale at which planning decisions are made. It must be recognised that not all decisions can and should be made at the local scale. The lack of a regional scale provides a clear vacuum in a range of planning solutions. A regional perspective can be built into the NPPF.
There should be closer connections between the different arms of government at all levels and the new NPPF. In particular the NEA must connect with the NPPF explicitly to provide more joined up responses between resource planning and town and country planning.
There should be a statutory duty to cooperate. The LEPS, although not ideal, provide the most pragmatic configuration for this. Where there are no LEPS, new collaborations should be shaped that best reflect the patterns by which people live their lives (TTWA etc).
Designations should be located within a wider strategic network of greenspace. The green belt is too rigid and negative planning tool as a one size fits all mechanism.
Planners have a vital role to p lay as positive agents of social, environmental and economic change. This requires a change of culture on those who seep lanners as the enemy of enterprise.
References and Evidence
The following material was used in shaping my consultation response.
Carter C and Scott AJ (2011) Spatial Planning and the New Environmental Governance, Estates Gazette October 2011 <br />Prager, K. Reed M and Scott AJ (2011) Encouraging collaboration for the provision of ecosystem services across multiple scales – rethinking agri-environmental payments, Land Use Policy doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2011.06.012<br />Scott AJ and Carter (2011) The Rural Urban Fringe Forgotten Opportunity Space? Town and Country Planning May/June 2011 231-234<br />Scott AJ (2011) Capturing Institutional memory: the case of the rural urban Fringe workshop Tripwire p11 March/April 2011<br />Scott AJ (2011) Beyond the conventional: meeting the challenges of landscape governance within the European Landscape Convention; Journal of Environmental Management doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.06.017<br />Scott AJ (2011) Progressing the debate about the national Planning Policy Framework, Exposing 3 myths. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHWeLvuAfNE views@bcu October 12th 2011. <br />Scott AJ (2011) Planning Professor comments on the recent debate on the Planning reforms September 28th http://viewsatbcu.posterous.com/planning-professor-comments-on-the-recent-deb accessed 14th October 2011<br />Scott AJ (2011) Who is the real enemy of enterprise http://viewsatbcu.posterous.com/professor-of-spatial-planning-asks-who-is-the accessed 14th October 2011 <br />Scott AJ (2011) 13 Steps towards the National Planning Framework HYPERLINK "http://viewsatbcu.posterous.com/13-steps-towards-national-planning-framework " http://viewsatbcu.posterous.com/13-steps-towards-national-planning-framework accessed 14th October 2011 <br />Scott AJ (2010) Planning encounters a black hole, Planning p6 1 October 2010 <br />Scott AJ (2010) Spatial planning encounters a black hole, Town and Country Planning, 326-327 July/August <br />Scott AJ, Shorten J, Owen, R. and Owen IG (2009) What kind of countryside do we want: perspectives from Wales UK Geojournal DOI 10.1007/s10708-009-9256-y online <br />