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The NPPF Blame Game

The Government has faced criticism for its proposed NPPF revisions seemingly placing the blame for the housing crisis on local councils.

This accusation flows from the announcement that councils will lose their planning powers to determine where new homes are placed if they fail to meet new housing targets. 

Sajid Javid told local authorities that “we are going to be breathing down your neck day and night to make sure you are actually delivering on those numbers”.

Lord Porter, Chair of the Local Government Association and Conservative Leader of South Holland District Council hit back at the assertion that planning authorities are to blame:

“In the last year, councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed… The truth is that councils are currently approving nine in 10 planning applications, which shows that the planning system is working well and is not a barrier to building… It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils. The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided.”

The Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also criticised the proposed revisions, saying that by threatening to remove planning powers from councils, “the Prime Minister is suggesting local authorities bear at least some responsibility for the housing crisis.” RICS contended that “the real reason we no longer build enough homes to meet need is that councils no longer play any significant role in building new homes.”

Despite all this protestation, Sajid Javid recognised that it was a two-way street for councils and developers. He told Sky News that “people cannot live in a planning permission, they need those planning permissions to turn into homes."

Many will still argue that it is the developers who are not building. Lord Porter tweeted that “if we want more houses, we have to build them, not plan them. If we want cheaper homes, we have to build them, not plan them”, succinctly stating his argument that it is developers, not councils that are to blame.

But this blame game is not constructive and is not the point of the NPPF. The NPPF revisions exhibit a change in planning policy from the carrot to the stick, and this stick is used on developers and councils alike. Where Sadiq Khan’s draft London Plan has used the carrot of “fast-tracking” for developers that meet affordable housing policy, Theresa May has instead threatened penalties against councils and developers alike.

Of course, this council versus developer blame game is nothing new. The real question is whether the revisions are what the country needs to deliver the housing we need. Currently, the jury's out. 

The draft NPPF consultation is open for the next 8 weeks; you can give your opinions here.

Charlotte Owen

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