You’ve Been Frameworked!

By the Government’s 10 May deadline, over 20,000 responses were received to the draft revised NPPF, albeit apparently almost half of them duplicated campaign responses (for example the TCPA-led campaign to reinstate the express support for garden city principles that is in the current framework). The final version is expected in the week beginning 16 July. As many have pointed out, there surely is not enough time for any detailed consideration of all of that thinking, in the sliver of time between the initial process of collation and the final process of sign-offs and proofing?

Given that for development control purposes the policies in the revised framework will have immediate effect, perhaps it is as well if there are few surprises in the final version.

In England the 2012 NPPF has become a familiar (sometimes irritatingly vague) friend, but this is an appropriate point perhaps to remind ourselves of the peculiarities of the concept, born of the reforms introduced by the incoming coalition government in 2010, that swept away centrally approved regional spatial strategies and a mass of existing national policy statements and guidance, in the name of a Conservative version of localism as well as less prescriptive ways of working across local authority boundaries (the duty to cooperate, LEPs). The extent to which that system is or is not delivering is analysed well in this month’s interim report of the Raynsford Review of planning in England, but six years on we now take for granted the various oddities of the document, in that it is:

⁃ non-statutory – with no formal prescriptions as to its content or the procedure for its preparation and review – and with an uncertain formal status: in development control matters its principles are very much subsidiary to any relevant policies in an up to date development plan

⁃ determinedly non-spatial, with of course not a whisper of the “regional” word, not a whisper of where in the country growth might be more or less appropriate, or as to differences of approach in London and the core cities as opposed to rural communities- and, as a consequence of that lack of spatial policy making, the lack of any formal sustainability appraisal of policy options given that strategic environmental assessment requirements are not engaged.

⁃ devoid of top-down targets, in relation to housing numbers for example, which are left to percolate up from a myriad of contentious local plan processes, with until now no standardised approach as to any methodology for assessing local housing needs

⁃ not co-ordinated in any way with national economic or infrastructure investment priorities

⁃ immutable in the face of difficulties of interpretation and changed priorities, whilst shadowed by much more detailed planning practice guidance that has been subject to constant tinkering

⁃ despite its best intentions, relatively impenetrable I’m sure to non-planners.

I only practise in England. It is sometimes a shock to look at differing approaches being taken in other parts of the United Kingdom, as well as in Ireland. Whether as part of the NPPF or as a separate document, our unique choice is not to have any form of spatial plan for our country. Odd isn’t it?

Scotland

In Scotland, the National Planning Framework (NPF) is currently reviewed every five years and guides the preparation of Scottish planning policy, by setting out a strategy for Scotland’s spatial development and the priorities for that development. It is prepared pursuant to the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006.

The current Planning (Scotland) Bill would have the effect of incorporating Scottish planning policy into the NPF, which would then only be reviewed every ten years, and thereby putting Scottish planning policy, in addition to the NPF, on a statutory footing. The NPF would become part of each local authority’s development plan

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee published its stage 1 report on the Bill on 17 May 2018, broadly supporting the proposals whilst seeking for the Scottish Parliament to be consulted on NPF changes and for the NPF to have a “clear read across to funding arrangements“.

The next version of the NPF, NPF4, is expected in June 2019, once the new arrangements have come into law. NPF3, “Ambition – Opportunity – Place”, was published in 2014. It is entirely different in character to the English NPPF, particularly in its spatial focus, and was the subject of detailed strategic environmental assessment.

Wales

The framework for Welsh land use planning policy comprises Planning Policy Wales (Edition 9, November 2016) supplemented by a series of Technical Advice Notes (TANs) and Minerals Technical Advice Notes (MTANs). There is also the Wales Spatial PlanPeople, Places, Futures, last updated in 2008.

The Welsh Planning Directorate has begun work on the production of a National Development Framework (NDF). The NDF will set out a 20 year land use framework for Wales and will replace the current Wales Spatial Plan.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has its Strategic Planning Policy Statement for Northern Ireland -Planning for Sustainable Development (SPPS) (September 2015), published by its Department of the Environment, alongside its Development Strategy 2035 (March 2012), published by its Department for Regional Development.

The SPPS reflected the new tier-tier system which had been introduced, devolving various planning functions to local authorities whilst retaining for the Department of the Environment responsibility for regional planning policy, the determination of regionally significant and called-in applications, and planning legislation.

However, best laid plans and all that. Following the current dissolution (effectively since January 2017) of the Northern Ireland Assembly, its Departments have no minister in charge of them. As a result of the ruling of the Northern Irish High Court this month in the Colin Buick case, the full ramifications are now plain: absent a minister a Department is not in a position lawfully to exercise the powers specifically given to it.

In Buick, the decision of the Department for Infrastructure to grant planning permission for a major waste disposal incinerator, promoted by the Arc21 consortium of local authorities, was quashed:

“I have also noted the argument made in the papers that the delay in concluding a determination of the Arc21 planning application is impacting upon the implementation of public waste and environmental development at national, European and international level. However, the entire programme for government is on hold whilst the current impasse continues. This is extremely unfortunate. However, I do not consider that the exigencies of the current situation are an adequate justification for the course that has been taken. The commendable motivation and aims I refer to cannot override the proper construction of the statutory regime which this case requires.”

This presents a major constitutional and political dilemma. Until such time as the assembly can resume its work, how are significant decisions, both as to plans and projects, to be progressed in Northern Ireland? The Northern Irish planning system is currently broken, in a way which (for all the doom and gloom of the Raynsford review analysis) the English system is not.

Ireland

Finally, the Irish government has published its strategic planning and development framework, Ireland 2040, which comprises a national planning framework alongside its national development plan 2018 – 2027.

Its framework is very definitely spatial, unlike its 2002 predecessor document. The document refers to “…the situation that had arisen by the end of the 2000’s, when there was enough land zoned for a population of 10 million people in Ireland, but not located where required. We cannot continue with such a lack of focus.”

It directs the relative levels of growth it expects for its regions and its gestation has been far more controversial than has been the English draft revised NPPF, no doubt because it tackles difficult questions. There is a good summary of the document by Roger Milne in The Planner https://www.theplanner.co.uk/news/news-analysis-ireland’s-npf-sets-out-its-stall-on-joined-up-planning-and-development (19 February 2018). It will have a statutory basis once the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill currently before the Seanad is enacted.

Lastly, it should be noted that there is a Framework for Co-operation – Spatial strategies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (24 June 2010).

Back to England, with ad hoc national interventions and initiatives, seemingly little structured coordination as between on the one hand what the planning system can achieve and one the other hand any strategic approach to investment and funding, and reliance on many permutations of local alliances and forms of joint working. I certainly agree with many of the criticisms set out in Nick Raynsford’s interim report (whilst the direction and practicality of the solutions flagged may be open to question).

Let’s see how we get on shall we? Special, but determinedly not spatial.

Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over
Thought I’d something more to say
.” *

Simon Ricketts, 19 May 2018

Personal views, et cetera

*Mason, Walters, Wright, Gilmour

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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