Planning Resource (7th April) carried an interesting story regarding developer pessimism over the impact of the NPPF on planning processes, and in particular, the impact on home building. In the same article, it is reported that the majority of respondents have greater confidence in a future Conservative administration making a positive, material impact on the same issues than any other party.
This throws up some interesting paradoxes, and all the more so because those being interviewed were from house building companies and housing associations, so people that know a thing or two about on-the-ground delivery.
It was the Coalition that introduced the NPPF, and so whilst it would not be right to solely place the credit (or blame) at the door of the Conservatives, they have undoubtedly had a greater influence on its inception than the Lib Dems, and certainly more so than the collective opposition. So although most people interviewed think the NPPF has not worked, they are nonetheless more receptive to the Conservatives continuing at the helm of planning than any other.
Why is that? It would be wrong to say what individuals privately felt. However, it may be argued that the NPPF – and the professional practitioners that led its drafting – came up with a perfectly sound planning organ to lead development in the 21st Century. What has undoubtedly undermined its operation can be broken into three parts: political intervention, funding, and speed of change.
Firstly, there is nothing like an unexpected Secretary of State decision, or ministerial statement of ‘clarification’, to completely destabilise planning decision making, developer investment, and ultimately development implementation. Within this context, I would include tinkering with permitted development rights and unilateral changes to the NPPG.
Secondly, seismic changes to planning at a national level are inevitably felt most locally, and in particular, both those local authorities struggling to introduce a new style development plan that complies with the objectives of the NPPF whilst at the same time, responding to swinging budget cuts, which in many instances have ripped the heart out of many council planning departments. Teams that have evolved organically, with depths of experience of local communities, geographical areas, and planning, have been badly damaged.
Thirdly, the resultant impact of change borne by the NPPF, and the difficulties of responding to change within an era of austerity, has resulted in frustration from Government, the development industry and local communities, essentially at the speed of implementation of the NPPF. Ironically, the desire for change is partly to blame for the pace of change.
So why are developers apparently willing to give the Conservatives a further five years? I suspect in part, this is because there has been enough change to last anyone for a good while yet, and that now is the time to bed in foregoing events. Equally, there is typically a sense that planning is a subject for Governments to grow into, and that a second Conservative-led administration would be capable of taking a more balanced view about the role of planning, and where the fault lines lie than a new regime.