Business leaders urge David Cameron to stand firm on planning reforms

27 Aug 2011

Policy area: Planning

Business leaders from across the property industry have urged David Cameron to stand firm in the face of growing controversy over much needed reforms to the planning system.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, 15 CEOs from the biggest names in property this week hit back at claims that the reforms will destroy England’s countryside and lead to Los Angeles-style urban sprawl across the Green Belt.

The signatories, led by British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace, argue that changes to the planning system are vital to allow the property industry to provide badly-needed homes, to support economic growth and at the same time allow local communities to protect valuable green spaces.

And they point out that some critics have misunderstood the fundamental point of the changes proposed in the draft national planning policy framework (NPPF) – that councils and not developers will have the final say over development proposals, and that the changes do not change the way that the Green Belt and other protected sites are safeguarded.

As well as attracting the support of business leaders, reform of the planning system has also been backed by several countryside groups (see quotes below).

The 52-page NPPF replaces thousands of pages of policy that micromanaged and dictated how councils must make decisions. The NPPF simply streamlines the old system, and gives democratically elected councils, rather than unelected regional quangos, the responsibility of deciding how much development is needed in their communities.

Under the proposed NPPF, councils will draw up a local development plan which sets out what housing, commercial development they need and where it should go, balancing economic, social and environmental needs.

A proposal for development would then be judged against this plan and where it conforms there will be a presumption in favour of it going ahead. It is only where councils have failed to produce a plan, seven years on from legislation that required them to do so, that developers’ proposals will be judged against the national criteria set out in the NPPF.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “What is needed now is a sensible debate about how we provide the homes and business facilities that our country needs while giving equal weight to the protection of the English countryside that we all love. 

“Claims that our cherished countryside is to be slathered in concrete misunderstand the system that has been proposed and the safeguards that it will contain. Councils – not developers – will have the power to dictate where development will go, and planning applications that deviate from these local plans will quite rightly be thrown in the bin.

“It would be a tragedy for our economy and for our society if these proposals were to be rejected on the grounds of erroneous claims made bodies who seem fundamentally opposed to development anywhere and of any description.”

Harry Cotterell, Deputy President of the Countryside Land Association, said: “CLA members live and work in rural areas. We do not want the countryside concreted over any more than preservation organisations claiming to speak on behalf of rural interests, but we do understand that sustainable development is essential to economic growth.

“The planning system is currently failing to provide either the jobs or housing the countryside desperately needs for its survival. The draft NPPF provides a streamlined and less bureaucratic way of achieving economic and social success, while at the same time protecting the needs of the environment.”

Richard Wilkin, Secretary of the Estates Business Group, said: “What is clear is that the status quo is not an option. We believe the proposed planning changes strike the right balance between a pro-growth and streamlined system that will help revive our economy while offering adequate protection to the green spaces and countryside that landowners and communities want to see protected.”

And Dylan Sharpe, Head of Media Relations for the Countryside Alliance, in an articlelast week argued: “The Countryside Alliance does, of course, stand beside the National Trust and CPRE in promoting the well-being and maintenance of Britain's priceless and cherished countryside. But equally, we are aware that many people living and working in rural villages and towns up and down the country are crying out for an opportunity either to provide affordable housing for their children or to expand their growing rural business, and the current planning legislation is a major impediment to both.

“While no-one wants to see the countryside concreted over; we also don't want to condemn rural Britain to permanent holiday home status, lifeless and joyless for all but a few summer months.”

ENDS

The following CEOs have endorsed the letter to the Prime Minister:

  • Chris Grigg, British Land Company plc (BPF Vice President)
  • Sir Stuart Lipton, Chelsfield Partners
  • Nick Criticos, F&C REIT Asset Management plc
  • Andrew Cunningham, Grainger plc
  • Toby Courtauld, Great Portland Estates plc (BPF President)
  • Peter Vernon, Grosvenor
  • Francis Salway, Land Securities Group plc
  • Bill Hughes, Legal & General Property Ltd
  • Dan Labbad, Lend Lease
  • Martin Moore, Prudential Property Investment Managers Ltd
  • Rob Tincknell, Real Estate Investment Opportunities Ltd
  • Malcolm Naish, Scottish Widows Investment Partnership
  • David Sleath, SEGRO plc
  • David Camp, Stanhope plc
  • Michael Gutman, Westfield (UK & Europe)