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Launch of National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG)

The Government discarded many 100’s of pages of planning guidance amid much fanfare and controversy when NPPF was introduced in March 2012. NPPF has continued to hit (some) headlines as some Councils and local residents have felt besieged by applications for housing in areas that cannot meet their requirement to have a 5 year supply of housing sites available. Many such applications have been allowed because of the NPPF requirements.

It was with very much less fanfare that the Government re-introduced 100’s of pages of planning guidance in a web based form as NPPG a couple of months ago. It will take time before the subtle differences between previous Guidance and NPPG become apparent and there has already been much investigation of the minutiae of wording to see if NPPF is being gently nudged in a different direction.

As yet no major shifts in policy are apparent. We say “as yet” for 3 reasons. Firstly, NPPG is in a web based form with links between supposedly related pages and supposedly similar topics covered together in groups. This makes use of the site neither simple nor clear for the professional user. In particular there are some surprising “holes” which might result from inadequate search facilities, poor linkages or from omissions. Secondly, much previously helpful detail has disappeared or been “simplified” to the point that it is no longer as clear as had previously been the case. Thirdly, we cannot help but wonder how successfully Mr Pickles and his successors will be able to resist the challenge to tinker with advice and policy now that it is so easy to do so!

There also seems to be a blurring of the distinction between policy and advice which will only be clarified in the months (and years) to come as cases and decisions are decided and the Courts begin to make their presence felt

For example, as many readers will know, Walsingham Planning plays a significant role in assisting the hospitality industry obtaining planning permission for hotels and other similar developments. It is therefore with some dismay that we find the entirety of the Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism reduced to a few platitudes. Granted, the GPGPT would have benefitted from a severe edit but much useful advice has been discarded in the NPPG exercise with consequent potential damage to the tourism sector and its future development.

Meanwhile, CIL (which really does need some explanation and simplification) has seemingly rebuffed attempts at simplified explanation and there is merely reference back to the (horribly complex and much amended) Regulations.

The complexity of paragraph references with a 3 digit number followed by a 13 digit reference and a revision date will no doubt cause practical difficulties as will references to a “live” website unless all involved (e.g. at a Public Inquiry) have access to a web link and some form of computer.

The vagaries of the search process will cause some amusement and waste time, but may perhaps be improved and refined as the site matures. At present a search for “non-material amendment” brings up not only some relevant guidance but other entries where the word “non” and “material” appear in entirely different contexts.

Whilst commentators and practitioners are now seeking the differences and both sides of any development proposal will no doubt be seeking advantage, there is perhaps a wider question regarding future use of a live web based system: how will anyone know when there has been a change, must we all check every time anyone wishes to refer to NPPG to make sure that a revision was not sneaked in under the cover of darkness?

You may call me old fashioned, but a system where you could use your own intelligence and experience to look up the information needed, keep an easily referred record of what you had found and be reliably informed when it changed seemed to work pretty well.

We now have a system seemingly best suited for casual occasional use – but maybe that is what planners said to Caxton when he started churning out hand printed and leather bound copies of the Town Planning Etc Act or whatever it was that started the paper trail which the current Government now wishes to consign to the incinerator.

If you need help with the NPPG or any of the issues that you hoped it would clarify, please get in contact.

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2014 saw Walsingham Planning celebrate 30 years in business as a town planning consultancy. We would like to thank all of our clients for their continued support and look forward to the next 30 years.