Another day, another acronym in the world of planning.
Last week saw the launch of the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) website. This new website was launched in response to the Taylor Review. The review set out that the government should bring together all planning guidance in one easy-to-navigate website. The principle being that by removing the plethora of often rather aged and out of date guidance with one up-to-date source the planning system would become more accessible and as a result speedier.
Whilst we are always supportive of anything that cuts down the complexity of the planning system and encourages community’s engagement, this really does seem to go the other way.
The website represents a massive stripping back of the current guidance, whole documents are summarised into just a few paragraphs. For example, one of our primary areas of concern is the guidance on Tree Preservation Orders. This guidance has been cut from 96 pages to 14 paragraphs and 7 flow charts. By taking this approach, the more straightforward issues surrounding TPOs are answered clearly …yet it seems to miss more nuanced issues. For example, where is the guidance on the Secretary of State’s right to make TPOs? Or the occasions where LPA’s may find it appropriate to make a TPO prior to a planning application being made? It also fails to give any further direction on how LPA’s should incorporate trees into their strategic visions and how TPOs can be a tool for this. It is these more detailed yet key points that seem to be lost in the drive for simplicity and brevity.
Guidance should put more meat on the bones of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), presenting more detail to support Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in drawing up their local plans and providing more information and explanation for local communities. The new guidance is so minimalist in its approach it seemingly only acts as signposting to the NPPF and legislation. Such an approach can only lead to more planning by appeal as the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State are forced to make more decisions as LPA decisions will increasingly be seen as open to argument.
We also have concerns about the usability of the website itself. It is very tricky to judge whether you have found everything there is to be found on topic, it is also very easy to get lost within the website, particularly when navigating between the NPPF and the NPPG. Another significant point is that there are no accompanying lists detailing the documents that are being replaced by each section. This makes the role of consultees even trickier in trying to judge not only what is there but what is not.
The website is currently in its beta phase, meaning that during the consultation period (until 9 October 2013) the format of the website is likely to change, the content however will remain unaltered. Please do take the time to have a play with the new website and let DCLG have your comments using the electronic response form and/or by letter. We are working on the Trust’s official response at the moment – if you have anything to feed in, please do leave a comment below.
Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Adviser