The opposition to the Government's proposals to simplify the planning process continues to generate more heat than light. Many environmental and heritage groups and housing charities are broadly supportive and making detailed submissions offering specific, constructive ideas for how they could be improved.
For instance I blogged at the Daily Mail new Right Minds section yesterday about how the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment welcome what is proposed, for instance in terms of design guidelines. They are calling on it go further to ensure that we have more housing but that it is in harmony with nature rather than a brutalist attack on it. But even as the proposals stand at present they are an improvement so far as design is concerned.
Yet the media have preferred to portray this as the Government declaring war on the countryside, in the pay of property developers and facing the implacable and united opposition of all groups concerned about conservation.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England have found their attacks on the Government accepted at face value – seldom is it mentioned that their Chief Executive Shaun Spiers is a former Labour Euro MP.
"Wimpey Director wrote Tories new planning law," said a headline in The Sunday Times. This was based on the advisory group (some of whose advice was incorporated) including Pete Andrews of Taylor Wimpey. But it also included Simon Marsh of the RSPB. The headline could just as well as read: "RSPB wrote Tories new planning law."
In fact the draft was changed quite a lot. Marsh has blogged about it being a compromise. He has called for a constructive approach but points to some welcome changes:
There’s real potential to make something positive out of the NPPF if government listens to the public and environmental NGOs like the RSPB during the consultation. For example, the NPPF establishes the right for local communities to identify areas of Local Green Space for special protection – and these could include local areas important for wildlife and people’s contact with nature.
Another adviser to the process was planning consultant John Rhodes. He argues that localism does not need to mean less development. That local communities can be persuaded to embrace rather than resist development, it is not something that has to be imposed. The Telegraph presents these comments as scandalous.
"If you keep on telling communities what they have to do they will naturally resist that. Where as if you empower communities to understand the opportunities that they have to shape their own place and shape their own needs then they embrace development and see it as a positive thing."
The point is that bad development will be easier to resist but there will be more incentive and opportunity to embrace good development. Maybe he should have phrased it differently but I would challenge any fair minded person to look at the YouTube clip and dispute that he has been misrepresented by the Telegraph story.
The Telegraph also present as scandalous that property developers have made donations to the Conservative Party. But the planning proposals don't give special favours to one property developer rather than another. Of course more development would be in the interests of developers but if it is the right sort of development) it could also be in the interests of the rest of us.