In today’s Telegraph Online (4 January 2012) our Chairman Loyd Grossman OBE FSA warns that planning reform through the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is not just a rural issue, but one that significantly affects London, our great regional cities and our market towns.
Read more from The Alliance on the NPPF here.
Loyd said in The Telegraph:
“Those who value the beauty and history of our countryside have been alarmed by the government’s proposed National Planning Policy Framework. As this newspaper’s Hands Off Our Land campaign has shown, people and organisations ranging from the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to dissident cabinet ministers, backbenchers, farmers and ramblers have all raised serious questions about and objections to this fundamental overhaul of the planning system. I share their concerns, but would also like to make the point that planning reform is not just a rural issue, but also one that significantly affects London, our great regional cities and our market towns. The Government have presented their plans as a major contribution to their growth agenda- which I welcome as we must deliver prosperity to more people- but by implying that the conservation and protection of our historic environment somehow doesn’t contribute to growth they have shown a perverse misunderstanding of the value of our heritage, rural and urban.
The NPPF frames the economic development debate for towns and cities in terms of ‘vitality and viability’, and that of the countryside in terms of ‘raising quality of life and the environment’ as if quality of life and a distinctive sense of place were not as critical to urban as to rural areas. We live in one of the ten richest countries in the world, yet in too many places, it just doesn’t feel like that. We see squalor and neglect and the consequent lack of civic pride, social engagement and good citizenship. Why can’t our governments grasp that our heritage can be and should be a major part of delivering better lives to more people? All over Britain, people care passionately about their everyday historic environment. Recent figures tell us that 93% of adults agree that ‘when trying to improve local places it is worth saving their historic features’ and 71% agree that they are ‘interested in the history of the place’ where they live.
Our heritage has been the heart around which many major, successful and sustainable- to use the NPPF’s favourite word- regeneration projects have been built: Gloucester Docks, the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, Manningham Mills in Bradford are a few among many examples. If such developments don’t make a contribution to our economic and social well being, I don’t know what does. I am also puzzled by the NPPF’s failure to mention tourism, aside from one fleeting mention of rural tourism. Tourism is one of this country’s major economic activities and heritage driven tourism contributes a useful 20 billion a year to the economy. Where there are cathedrals, museums, heritage centres and historic high streets there are also flourishing shops, pubs and hotels.
The NPPF also fails to understand that the dynamism of town and city centres is about much more than retail and commercialised leisure. It is the rich and inspiring mixture of culture, education and sheer historic beauty and interest that can make our towns and cities such compelling places to work in, live in or visit. One way to ensure that a town centre first approach prevails is to concentrate any new development on brownfield – previously developed- sites.
The purpose of planning is to balance short term demands and interests with long term public benefit. In its current form the NPPF reduces the long term public benefits of protecting our heritage, by the loss of the vital presumption in favour of conservation and the lack of policy on designated assets where there is less than substantial harm.
The NPPF is admirably concise, but such brevity can lead to ambiguity. In a wide variety of ways- economic, social and spiritual- our historic environment is one of our outstanding national assets. For too long, government has seen it on the wrong side of the balance sheet. If we want to deliver more prosperous and meaningful lives to our citizens, our heritage is a tool waiting to be picked up and used.”