We didn’t ask for the National Planning Policy Framework. We pointed out that a government actually committed to localism wouldn’t issue detailed instructions on how local powers are to be used; it would get out of the control freakery business altogether.
Nevertheless, the NPPF arrived, on Tuesday, amidst much trepidation. Environmental groups, alarmed by the slash-and-burn pro-growth tone of last year’s draft, were pleasantly surprised by the final version. It was, according to Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust, “a case of a disaster averted”. We’re cynical enough to recognise that the ‘red line’ concessions sought by campaigners were those that could safely be made anyway, while ministers spent summer, autumn and winter playing to their financier chums in the gallery.
Does the final version deserve a clean bill of health? No, it does not. It still confuses prosperity with growth, despite the best efforts of the late Sustainable Development Commission to explain that breaking the link is desirable today and inevitable tomorrow. (Of course, the greatest gains from doing so may well accrue to those who act first and, sadly, that will not be us.) Growth – the exploitation of even the very last of our natural resources – is needed to pay the interest on imaginary debts to the banks. The damage will continue until we realise how daft this all is – and how fast the London regime is selling us all into an inward slavery where money alone is allowed to have value.
What else is it up to in the NPPF then? Well, local councils aren’t allowed to decide planning applications on their merits. If they don’t have a formal policy in place that covers what’s applied for, then they are required under something called, bizarrely, ‘the presumption in favour of sustainable development’ to grant permission, unless the harm that would result would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. Not just outweigh, but ‘significantly’ outweigh. So here’s a built-in bias in favour of development that makes the community demonstrably worse off. Hardly very sustainable, especially as the harm is likely to be cumulative over time as more and more of this stuff gets passed. As for transport policy, development has to be approved unless the traffic impacts are ‘severe’. Congestion is allowed, encouraged even, to get worse, before (with the end of cheap oil) things inevitably start to get better.
The NPPF is the handbook on how to present a worsening situation as improvement. We are running out of space to accommodate growth without wrecking treasured environments. (For some it is already too late.) We are running out of oil and water as demand for both continues to expand. It’s alright though. There’s nothing to worry about, honestly. It seems the one thing Wessex voters never run out of is patience with London party liars.