“Why was he born so beautiful?
Why was he born at all?
He’s no blumin use to anyone.
He’s no blumin use at all….”
Well we are going to find out aren’t we? Last year on the 27th March 2012, the Rt Hon Greg Clark the then Minister for Planning launched the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). But what impact has the NPPF made in the last year and how do we think it will influence the future of development in England?
To be honest the NPPF has been a little bit of a damp squib so far. Our green and pleasant land has not been concreted over as was predicted by protesters, but equally the country’s housing shortage has not be alleviated as was hoped by the government.
Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Planning Inspectorate (PINs) show that there has been no significant change in the ease at which planning applications are passing through the system or that they are doing so at any increased speed. Correlating with this, our WoodWatch team have not seen any rise in applications threatening ancient woodland either. Though importantly the speed at which local plans are being written has increased.
The key test will come now the NPPF is truly in force. Annexe 1 states the following:
214. For 12 months from the day of publication, decision-takers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with this Framework.
215. In other cases and following this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).
This 12 month ‘grace period’, is now over, if local plans are not consistent with the NPPF they will be given less weight in the decision-making process. This means that the pro-growth NPPF with its presumption in favour of sustainable development will dominate decisions.
This is critical considering that research from Planning Magazine has shown that less than half of Local Planning Authorities have adopted plans 48.2%. Even more worryingly, only 7% of councils have been judged by the Planning Inspectorate to have plans that are in conformity with the NPPF.
This leaves swathes of our countryside at the mercy of the NPPF and its presumption in favour of sustainable development. Whilst ancient woodland does get some limited protection in the NPPF its remains at the mercy of the documents pro-growth stance and the loop-hole that allows Local Planning Authorities to put economic growth ahead of our most precious irreplaceable habitat.
Ancient woods and trees are facing many threats from tree diseases and climate change, but surely planning is one man-made problem that would appear easy to fix. Here’s a plea to Local Planning Authorities, please hurry up and write your plan and please protect trees in it!
If you hear about any threats to ancient woodland or would like support with your campaign to protect ancient woodland please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We hear about most threats to ancient woodland via members of the public. Please don’t assume we know about a threat, as we are not a statutory consultee Local Planning Authorities do not have to consult us, all we can do is ask them to.
Please watch this space, we will be monitoring the impact this change will have on ancient woods and trees very carefully and will continue to lobby for increased protection. We will not hesitate to act if we believe that the NPPF is proving to be a threat to ancient woods and trees.