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Government to streamline 6,000 pages of planning guidance

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The government has opened a new review to hack down the amount of planning guidance underpinning the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The department for communities and local government has announced a six week study to be led by Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Taylor.

Expected to report its findings in time for the Autumn Statement, the commission will look into streamlining the 6,000 pages of practice guidance which explains statutory provisions, planning and the planning system.

The panel will decide which guidance should be ‘immediately cancelled’ and which ‘should be prepared as a priority’ – according to a DCLG statement.

Even planning experts struggle to navigate the 6,000 pages of guidance

Planning minster Nick Boles said: ‘The planning system needs to be supported by practical guidance that is clear and easily accessible if it is to be effective. Even planning experts struggle to navigate the 6,000 pages of guidance that currently supports the system.

‘I am delighted that Lord Taylor has agreed to lead this review of practice guidance and I look forward to reading the recommendations of his expert group.’

Piers Taylor of the Invisible Studio welcomed the review. He said: ‘the system despite the guidance encourages watering down of “good” design.’

He added: ‘I’ve no doubt there will be a few more poor schemes, but hopefully lots more good ones, with few in the now ubiquitous middle ground.’

Meanwhile yesterday the government introduced its new growth and infrastructure bill to Parliament.

The new law would exempt developers from paying a second community infrastructure levy following adjustments to planning applications and allow the renegotiation of S106 agreements thought to be holding back stalled developments.  

It will also create a fast-track route for large scale developments where decisions can be made within a year. Planning applications paperwork would also be reduced while over-lapping planning authorities will be removed.

Cameron said: ‘We are slashing unnecessary bureaucracy, giving business the confidence to invest, unlocking big infrastructure projects and supporting hardworking people to realise their dreams.

He added: ‘Already the changes we are making to the planning system are having an impact, with Land Securities giving the go-ahead to a major multimillion-pound investment, supporting thousands of jobs in our construction industry.’

The announcement was made at Lynch Architects’ Kingsgate House redevelopment scheme in Victoria. Lend Lease has been appointed contractor for the Land Securities-backed scheme which is now on site.

Robert Noel, Land Securities chief executive, said: ‘It is heartening to know that Government has listened to the industry and acted to remove some of the uncertainty in the planning process.

He added: ‘It enables us to take forward the development of the former Kingsgate House site and continue our transformation of Victoria to a distinct and vibrant West End hub.’


Further comment

Design Council CABE
This review of guidance is a welcome opportunity to promote best practice, it is not the time to reinvent the wheel. A lot of good guidance already exists and this should be updated to ensure that the planning system delivers the good quality housing and the necessary infrastructure the country needs.

The NPPF confirmed the strong role of design, now local authorities, developers and communities need to be given the help they need to secure good quality results through the planning system.

CABE recently published a ‘Design Wayfinder’ for local authorities, developers and communities identifying the main sources of guidance and best practice on good design. Following the inclusion of Design Review in the NPPF we are also updating the best practice guidance Design Review: Principles and Practice with the professional bodies.

Having worked closely with Lord Taylor in the past CABE welcomes the opportunity to support the review and ensure that what is set out in policy can be delivered in practice through the right guidance.


Stride Treglown director Graham Stephens
A review of planning guidance is certainly a necessary step forward to ‘Get Britain Building’. We are currently working in an ever changing world where complexity and flux is causing frustration in both the private and public sectors and is resulting is disenfranchisement of many who would otherwise be engaged in the debate. 

The NPPF presented a clear message in support of housing and economic development - to give a presumption in favour of sustainable development. If only life were that simple. How is sustainable development defined. The answer seems to be developments which are in accordance with the entirety of the NPPF. Not that clear then. Guidance on the practical application of a consistent set of measures which applicants could refer to when promoting schemes would lead to a more informed and one hopes a speedier decision making process. 

Whilst many planning practitioners welcome the reduction in the volume of planning guidance, there is a small part of me that feels that the paring back of the extent of our available reference material reduces those chances of finding ever positive, supporting statements to assist our clients case.

What will ‘Get Britain Building’ using Cameron’s own language, and quickly, is not a review of planning guidance per se, though this will be helpful in the longer term, but the removal of legal and financial restrictions that have, and continue to, prevent larger housing schemes with permission coming forward - notably in the form of overly restricted s106 obligations and which bear little relation to the current market situation. This is not a new problem.  In its ‘Planning for Growth’ publication of March 2011, the Government encouraged Local Authorities to renegotiate such agreements signed before April 2010. 

Unless clear guidance is issued very soon, Local Authorities and the development industry will enter a period of even greater uncertainty at a time when what is really needed is the removal of restrictions to financial borrowing, a more positive attitude to plan making and decisions in accordance with sustainable development principles. These are the issues that have the potential to deliver tangible results, and quickly.

What do architects stand to benefit or stand to lose?

Is the quality of the built environment at risk in any way?

Promoting developments which accord with planning policies and which can be demonstrated to be sustainable in nature will be key in the new world. Architects will have their role to play in designing and delivering buildings which perform strongly against clearly stated environmental criteria. Sustainable development is more than building design however. A building’s context, connection with its surroundings, infrastructure provision and access to facilities will all have their role to play. The quality of the built environment should not be at risk with an increasing number of talented urban designers in place, working alongside planners and architects and other property professionals. Creating quality places will remain the focus, but this talent needs room to develop and a planning framework which openly supports sustainable growth of an appropriate scale to its context will perhaps increase the chance of this being allowed to happen. 

Removal of helpful guidance:

The review would be wise to ensure that certain well established principles are not lost, though that does not necessarily mean rigid adherence to the old. Green belt status is considered by many to be sacrosanct, and whilst the principle is sound, there may be opportunities for future land swaps to occur, taking selected areas out whilst extending it in another area to release appropriate sites to play their part in future growth. 

There is no doubt that guidance relating to listed buildings and heritage assets will be given considerable and careful consideration. Statutory duties to protect such assets are in place, however how guidance issued by English Heritage in relation to the preparation of Heritage assets and assessments will be carried forward within supplemental guidance would be welcomed.



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  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Des Builda

    The sooner this mess is all sorted the better ! The Public should be get on board with the Sustainable Communities Act http://www.localworks.org/blog/entry/why-councils-should-use-the-sustainable-communities-act
    Then the Public will be able to object to any Planning - providing the objection is reasonable. The objective of the NPPF was to establish "Sustainability" as the Planning Objective - unfortunately it has become too complex - just as previous Planning Directives were.

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