“Stampede to build homes threatens the rights of locals”

Article by Andrew Motion, President, CPRE in today’s Times (pay wall):

In launching the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last month, the communities secretary Sajid Javidpromised “a continued emphasis on development that’s sustainable and led locally”. Was he really talking about the same NPPF that, for the past five years, has forced wholly unsustainable development on communities already struggling with overstretched infrastructure and shrinking green spaces?

Initial analysis of the revisions by the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that there is still not enough emphasis on a plan-led system such as the one that has been a cornerstone of our local democracy since 1947. We are calling for the final version to give a cast-iron guarantee that locally agreed development plans (including neighbourhood plans) should be upheld when deciding planning applications. It is the only way to restore communities’ faith in neighbourhood planning.

Local volunteers spend a great deal of time and effort in promoting good development, assessing housing needs and negotiating sites that respect settlement boundaries and preserve valued green spaces. So it is deeply disheartening that the revised NPPF could allow local authorities to overrule neighbourhood plans, either when local plans are reviewed (every five years) or if not enough homes are delivered elsewhere.

Communities across England are being targeted by parasitic “land promoters” who speculate on their ability to shoehorn large, expensive homes on to greenfield sites. In many cases the financial might of these companies allows them to steamroller councils in the appeals process, where the NPPF’s current “presumption in favour of sustainable development” provides the necessary loophole.

If it’s hard to achieve democratic decisions with respect to housing, the situation threatens to become even worse with fracking. The majority of recent applications have been decisively rejected by local authorities, yet the revised NPPF forces local authorities not only to place great weight on the supposed benefits of fracking for the economy, but also to recognise the benefits for “energy security” and “supporting a low-carbon transition”. This misguided emphasis can only lead to more travesties like January’s approval for oil exploration by West Sussex county council, in the face of 2,739 letters of objection (and 11 in support).

We must have new housing and infrastructure, but it remains vitally important that development benefits those who have to live with it. Now more than ever, we need to put people at the heart of the planning system.”

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