The NPPF is about instilling a culture change and bringing an end to the top-down approach.
So said DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain at a special NLA half-day conference organised to debate the way the new cut-down planning document will be implemented across London.
‘The government was trying to achieve a radical reduction and streamlining of national policy’, said Quartermain, ‘but it was also about a cultural shift and the empowering of communities, doing away with the top-down approach.’
Quartermain stressed the importance of a ‘genuinely’ plan-led system and securing a high quality of design, with the presumption of sustainable development working through, not against local plans. The NPPF was ‘undeniably designed to promote growth’, he added, but this was also a chance for local authorities to keep on top of their plans, leading the way by making their plans ‘living’.
DPP chairman Bob Robinson suggested that problems could emerge about who implements the neighbourhood plans, and the onus being put on the local authority to decide who the appropriate representative in each case is. ‘I think that will be a real difficulty and represents a real barrier’, he said. The NPPF is not about development at all costs, Robinson added, but Westminster’s strategic director of built environment Rosemarie MacQueen was less enthusiastic about the document’s merits. ‘I was rather hoping for a greyhound of a document’, she said, ‘but instead I think it is a bit of a three-legged camel.’ MacQueen’s borough has received its first proposal from a neighbourhood – which can take over planning if delegated - from the Queen’s Park Community Council. The document recommends design review panels but Westminster will not be having them; something MacQueen worries might crop up in future inquiries.
Other concerns raised at the conference included that over whether the Localism Act will increase the burden and add layers of bureaucracy; that planning has become ‘more political’ over the years; that it could become a NIMBY charter; the amount of resource hungry ‘hand-holding’ local authorities will have to do with neighbourhood groups, and the potential for uncertainty and delays in the short term, resulting in more work for lawyers and planning consultants. Gaps in guidance will most likely being filled via a steady trickle of appeals over the next months. Positives expressed include that there is ‘no excuse for bad design’ now, but Design Council Cabe will fill a gap there by producing a ‘wayfinder’ on what good design is in the coming weeks. Kathy MacEwen, Head of Localism and Planning at Design Council Cabe confirmed the charity will also introduce charges for design reviews.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly