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The Government’s planning reforms focus on sustainable development, but they’ve caused an outcry in the press The Government’s planning reforms focus on sustainable development, but they’ve Kevin McCloud
Nothing gets the British going like a good hoo-ha over planning. Perhaps this is because we live in the most crowded country in Europe; perhaps it’s because of our draconian centralised planning system; perhaps it just appeals to our protective, pastoral natures. We don’t like things happening in our countryside (including farming of any kind, power generation, railway lines, roads, fox hunting, recycling centres, mud and tourists) and we don’t like change.
standards, based on consultation and local need. Communities get to be involved: neighbourhood forums get to write their own plans that can alter the course of development and through the Community Right to Build can drive very specific projects. Design is written into the framework, with both national and local design review panels encouraged. The demand for contextuality and contemporary interpretations of place and local distinctiveness add intellectual fibre. In almost every regard, the most evolved and relevant twenty-first-century planning ideas from Europe are borrowed – from a new focus on the quality of public realm to the protection
Hence the explosion of hoo-ha-ing over the Government’s planning reforms, published in the summer. They are an attempt to sweep away the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, which was re-blurbed in 1990, amended in 1991 and every other Tuesday since, all 265 million pages of it. Instead, the Draft National Planning Policy Framework is just 58 pages long. It’s big on framework and stiﬀ guidelines. It leaves the details up to local authorities. Out will go the presumption against doing anything anywhere unless absolutely essential to be replaced by the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
‘It demands we change the way we build, plan and live’
of green-belt land and the need for flexible,
mixed-use schemes in town centres.
And I don’t think developers will get an easy ride, because at
Two of our most significant cultural bodies, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the National Trust, are terrified of this phrase and this idea, claiming it will create a culture of building anything anywhere. In the fulminating newspaper articles that emerged in August and September, this principle was quoted as the core philosophical poison that will destroy this Government by turning the nation against it – although the word sustainable was usually missing from the references.
Also missing from the columns and letters were the clear improvements that the framework suggests. Since this is such an important document that could change the way Britain looks, feels and works, I’ll leave the potential benefits for self-builders until next time and concentrate on the broad-brush terms. What the Government wants to see is every local and unitary authority writing its own local plan, within the guidelines and to national the centre of this framework, is that often misused and misunderstood term: sustainable development, which, as defined by the Brundtland Report of 1987, is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It remains the most stringent of definitions that demands we change the way we build, plan and live, minimise our resource use and reduce our carbon outputs. Using this at the centre of the Draft Policy changes everything. The framework is not perfect of course. There are places which are a bit thin (the section on the historic environment is weak and there is a woeful lack of commitment to specific carbon reduction targets and building code levels). But you’d expect this from a document which takes a sweeping view. It is a draft and it is a guide and perhaps its greatest cultural eﬀect will result from it not having to prescribe every singularity of mediocrity. But why take my word for it? You could download the Draft National Planning Policy Framework at communities.gov.uk/ publications/planningandbuilding/ draftframework and then read it comfortably in an afternoon. I have. And studied and digested it. Unlike, it seems, so many of its critics. GD
GRAND DESIGNS / NOVEMBER 2011 /17