The final version of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is only days away and now is the time for “more light and less heat” in this debate on the future of planning.

Throughout the Summer of 2011 swords were drawn. On one side government, and many in the property industry, saying the NPPF would promote growth and protect the countryside, and, on the other, a wide collection of groups including the National Trust, CPRE, and RSPB, saying the NPPF was the biggest shake-up in the planning system since it’s creation in 1947, and that it would lead to a developers’ free for all and the destruction of the countryside.

The heat generated by this debate has continued. Take to recent reports.

First, the CPRE report Protecting the English Countryside this secured lots of headlines on the back of a figure that said 50% of the countryside would be unprotected after publication of the NPPF. What the report actually said was that with NPPF and Local Plan protections that figure was 33% of the countryside currently unprotected. A high figure, but one we expect to come down significantly as local councils prepare local plans.

But the hyperbole is common to both sides in this debate.

Take last week’s publication by the House Builders’ Federation (HBF) of a report on planning approvals. This grabbed the headlines as a “drought of permissions caused by planning”. Again, the real story was that planning application approvals had gone up to 80%. The reduced number of permissions had nothing to do with planners holding projects back. They simply were not coming forward because of the poor state of the economy.

What do these reports have in common? They are both being used as evidence to justify the two extremes in the NPPF debate.

And they are both being used in the same, almost misleading, headline grabbing fashion. It is not that the reports are wrong. Just that selective use of figures and press release hyperbole is tainting what is, and should be, a serious national debate about the good and bad of our current planning system. Without this debate, and here we need some good old honest objective analysis of the facts, we are in danger of, on the one hand, dismantling the planning system based on unsubstantiated, free market rhetoric, and, on the other, scare mongering when clearly the system is in need of reform, and with the right support could retain and improve all that is good about a planning system that has done so much in the last 65 years.

Concerned about the NPPF? Need to understand what it really means for you? Speak to one of our planning experts on 01282 872570.

©Kirkwells Town Planners and Sustainable Development Consultants based at the Lancashire Digital Technology Centre in Burnley
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