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Guest Column: CBRE's Robinson reflects on what has changed in the NPPF

By Stuart Robinson - Thursday, March 29, 2012 11:08

The government's much-discussed National Planning Policy Framework arrived at last this week. CBRE's head of planning Stuart Robinson reflects on what has or hasn't changed in the headlining grabbing final document.

It never ceases to amaze me how a full-blown gale can arise in the smallest of tea cups. What was it in the original National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) draft that warranted a campaign to ‘save our planning system’? What miraculous reverse has been enshrined into the final version of the NPPF that underpins a particular claim that “last summer ('s draft) read like a builders' manifesto (and) has been replaced with proper planning guidance”?


Well, if you want answers to these questions don’t bother reading any further because I have no idea! How, what I believe to be a well intentioned and honourable attempt to simplify and clarify the gloriously confusing and contradictory 1,000 page series of government guidance became a veritable target for every environmental pressure group is beyond me.

Take the hysterical reaction to the 'changes’ in Green Belt policy. The wording in the original guidance is virtually the same as the July draft, which is the same as yesterday’s final version. However, instead of renewed furore that England was about to lose its green fields, we now hear that the green lobby are nodding their approval.

"Ah", some will say, "they have now re-stated the approach to the primacy of brownfield over greenfield as potential development land". Sure, the final version has set the context, as you might expect from a further iteration of what was a considerable task to reduce the 900,000 words of the raw material into something more manageable, but anyone who has been involved in planning knows that an inconsistency like this was never going to spark a complete U-turn in approach.

As with the fuss over ‘sustainable development’, where the draft took the well accepted Brundtland definition, there was a need in the final version to perhaps clarify and embellish this to placate the ever suspicious green lobby, but this certainly ain’t no climb down.

What some commentators have failed to grasp is that the planning system is full of checks and balances. Whilst the Government has done a commendable job of making the over arching guidance accessible and understandable, planning in the UK remains complex, time consuming, wasteful and overly burdensome. There is a whole suite of further measures coming through that will attempt to redress the balance. It will be interesting to see if those who oppose the NPPF have the attention span to keep up this level of scrutiny and, if they do, let’s hope we can now have a more informed debate.

Stuart Robinson is head of planning at CBRE.