This afternoon in Parliament the Planning Minister Greg Clark announced the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework.
He stated off by explaining the need for reform:
A decade of Regional Spatial Strategies, top-down targets and national planning policy guidance that has swelled beyond reason to over 1000 pages across 44 documents, has led to communities seeing planning as something done to them, rather than by them.
And as the planning system has become more complex, it has ground ever slower. In 2004 Parliament required every council to have a plan – 8 years on, only around a half have been able to adopt one.
During the last decade – starting long before the financial crisis – we built fewer homes than in any peacetime decade for 100 years.
The average age of the first-time buyer is approaching 40, and rising rents mean that families have to spend more and more on housing, and less and less on themselves and their children.
We can’t allow this to go on. To do so would be to deny our responsibility to young families – to tell them that the property-owning democracy was for our generation but not for yours.
Not all of this is down to sclerosis in the planning system, but some is. The Chambers of Commerce have said that the planning system has become “too complicated, too costly, too uncertain. It discourages investment, creates mistrust and holds back our recovery.”
Does all this delay and bureaucracy actually mean that the homes that do get built are of good quality? Of course not. We have deference to the socialist ideology of the architects and planners. Supposedly "exciting" and "innovative" it means the grim box ticking of "modernism." Repeatedly the default position has been to return to the ugly conformism of 1960s tower block "housing units." All too often Tory councillors on planning committees have acquiesced to this brutalism. Often their claim that they don't have the power to stop it has been legally accurate. Then there has been the dilemma that new homes are needed and that an ugly development is the only development on offer.
Clark makes the point in a more understated way:
It’s not as if what has made it through has made up in quality what it lacks in quantity.
Too much development in recent years has been mediocre, insensitive and has detracted from the character of the areas in which we live and work.
Too many of our habitats have been degraded and nature driven out.
The effect has been that much of the public have come to assume that any particular change to our built environment will be negative – that it will tend to impair beauty, damage the environment and make our lives worse.
Localism in planning policy is about trusting the people and in this context it means trusting them to allow the new homes that are needed to be built but ensuring that those new homes are beautiful. Rather than imposing brutalism the document offers guidance in the opposite direction.
It raises the bar on design standards so that we have the most exacting requirement for design that the English planning system has ever contained.
The document says "good design" should "establish a strong sense of place, using streetscapes and buildings to create attractive and comfortable places to live, work and visit." That it should "respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials", that it should "create safe and accessible environments where crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine quality of life or community cohesion" and that it should offer building that "are visually attractive as a result of good architecture and appropriate landscaping."
The Prince of Wales should be pleased.
Of course some people who generally believe modernist architecture is attractive and has served us well. But these people are a minority. As of today there is no longer the slightest justification why their views should be imposed on the rest of us. Councillors no longer have the excuse that it is all so complicated they were bamboozled by their planning officers into approving ugliness.