Thursday, 26th April 2012, saw a continuance of the squeezed Parliamentary debate on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). What comes through in Hansard, is the ‘cunning plan’ that Local Plans, supported by neighbourhood planning, are the way “local communities are to be put in the driving seat”: even if that is in the back of the car!!
The last Government’s top down Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS),are criticised for giving housing targets but failing to create homes or alleviate housing problems, as they didn’t support the ‘right type of housing’: we got city centre flats, rather than affordable (based on median incomes) family homes.
However, all ‘cunning plans’ need careful implementation (as Baldrick so comically failed to recognize) and four very important needs are becoming apparent with this one:
1) Local authorities and indeed neighbourhood forums, need to carefully assess ‘local housing needs’ from the local development framework to the strategic housing assessments (SHLAA). There was a hint that this may not be happening, and that ‘Ministers’ need to ensure that it does. (WARD is currently starting to look into this locally.)
2) Neighbourhood planning needs support and funding, and it is not clear from whence that will be coming in areas like ours where many communities are not covered by a parish council; and there is no time, given the one year deadline for plans, to set one up.
3) Housing developments need to be encased in plans for infrastructure, jobs and green space development. (Something laypeople might think obvious, but obviously isn’t.) Houses are not affordable if large amounts have to be spent on travel to work, school and visiting green spaces. And, they are not sustainable if the increased traffic ‘gridlocks’ roads, or local schools cannot cope with additional children.
4) Communities need the same right of appeal against development that they deem harmful, as housing developers already have. At the moment, after appeal to a cold, ‘remote’ planning inspectorate, all the communities can do is go to judical review, which is expensive, and difficult. Whereas, developers can repeatedly go to appeal; which costs local Leeds ‘rate payers’ millions of pounds . This is not yet being addressed by the NPPF, as the Government is frightened of the ‘idol of nimbyism’ – and yet state “when local communities are put in the driving seat, they fully understand the need for homes, jobs, their children, grandchildren, parks and recreation”.
So, maybe it is time ‘the Government’ gave communities the gear stick and steering wheel, as well as asking us to draw up the road map on a ‘fag packet’.