We need a planning policy that reflects the competing interests of the economy, the environment and communities
Green and, for now, pleasant: to regard the planning system as an arm of economic policy is deeply flawed Photo: ALAMY
After months of debate, the Government will shortly respond to the consultation exercise on its draft National Planning Policy Framework. As readers of this newspaper will be aware, this document has been dogged by controversy, though it need not have been. The original framework was drawn up about a year ago after painstaking discussions between Whitehall officials, countryside groups and planning experts. It seemed to bring together successfully the various competing interests by recognising the need to encourage development in the countryside beyond the Green Belt, but without creating an urban sprawl.
But by the time the official policy emerged, it was markedly different from the earlier drafts. In particular, the Treasury was determined that the planning system should be regarded as an arm of economic policy, which led to the inclusion of a “presumption in favour of sustainable growth” and an automatic approval for development where a local plan did not exist. This approach was deeply flawed, which is why this newspaper has urged the Government to reconsider a campaign that has been widely supported in the country.
Commendably, ministers have listened to the criticisms, working up a revised document that seeks to restore the previous equilibrium. Once again, however, it has been sent to the Treasury; so it is important that the same mistakes are not repeated. A streamlined planning policy that is more accessible to the public – and better reflects the competing interests of the economy, the environment and communities – is what everyone should be striving to achieve.