NPPF and West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy are coming home to roost?

NPPF was always going to be controversial
NPPF was always going to be controversial

NPPF and West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy are coming home to roost?

In recent weeks I have been inundated with emails and letters from residents seeking support to oppose a specific large-scale planning proposal that is in the West Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy.

I have written on a number of occasions about what I believed was the dangers of the
Coalition Governments National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and how it would change the nature of planning policy in the future.

I also warned against those who in the lead up to elections were making all kinds of outlandish and ridiculous promises to stop future development proposals when in fact they had no intention of doing so.

The Government insisted that the contentious National Planning Policy Framework was going to be the “greatest simplification of planning laws for 60 years “, and it is certainly true that it has “simplified” the planning process.

Since becoming law and in general terms planning and especially the new planning legislation has bubbled away in the background without a major “Buckton Field” issue to raise the hackles of the public.

There have of course been some exceptions.

Whereas in previous writings on this subject I quite frankly didn’t really care how I expressed my views.

In this one having now been appointed to the Northampton Borough Council Planning Committee I’ll have to take care not to be seen as predetermining future planning applications.

What the planning system depends on is a planning committee made up of elected Northampton Borough Council Councillors who “should not be whipped” on how to vote on any specific planning applications, in other words free from political interference.

What worried residents as much as those of us involved in the political process was the statement at the time from David Cameron when in shrugging off the opposition, much of it from Conservative supporters he said that he “wants to see a Victorian – style blitz on new building to boost growth”.

thousands of homes are needed
Thousands of homes are needed

There are no doubt not only tens but hundreds of thousands of new homes are needed, and if new homes are as well-built as those between the wars then it may be a good thing.

The problem that communities have is the perception that the planning development changes has made it easier for developers to apply for planning permission on the Borough Boundary and in areas such as Hardingstone, Wotton, West Hunsbury and Collingtree.

What residents have to understand, and I will never criticise them for being frustrated and angry over the impact of development proposals on existing communities, is that the Joint Core Strategy has had to be agreed by the Borough Council.

What they also should understand is that the West Northamptonshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee is made up of elected Councillors the majority of who are elected Northampton Borough Councillors.

Details of the committee and voting on the Joint Core Strategy at Borough Council meetings are available to the public on the Northampton Borough Council website.

Interestingly I have recently been sent a Borough Council election leaflet from a Hardingstone resident in which the candidates at the time said,

“We are very concerned that there is a need to protect the countryside on the edge of Northampton, and that large-scale development will impact negatively on the local people’s ‘quality of life. We will therefore fight inappropriate housing development. Your Nene Valley Conservative team do not support the Core Strategy which proposes 1000s of new houses being built, putting immense further pressure on local roads and services”

I said in a previous blog that questions will be raised on how would the councillors who represent Nene Valley, East Hunsbury, Hardingstone and Collingtree vote when the core strategy is brought to the full council after they have staked so much in opposing it,

and as we know it has come to Council and been approved.

Of course the burden for making the decision on individual applications will now fall on the shoulders of the Planning Committee.

Who are going to find themselves in the unenviable position of facing pressure to grant or reject planning applications whilst having to justify their decisions not only to the public but also the independent planning inspectorate?

What is not in question is the need for large-scale developments to provide housing and especially affordable rented housing in Northampton if we ever going to meet the current and ever-increasing demand from the growth of the town over the next 20 years.

The next 12 -18 months may well turn out to be the point at which in the future people will look back and identify as being the period that green field sites across Northampton and Northamptonshire were sacrificed to meet the coalition Government agenda.

Arguing or making a decision to reject proposals on ‘non-planning grounds’ against the NPPF and what has been agreed in the Joint Core Strategy will simply be overturned by an independent inspector at a great cost to the Northampton taxpayer.

Future planning committees could be very interesting
Future planning committees could be very interesting

Whether individual Councillors on the planning committee seek to pass the blame onto the independent inspector by taking what would be an easy politically expedient way out in rejecting planning applications on non-planning grounds has yet to be seen.

I personally think it would be the coward’s way out.

I can speak only for myself when I say that I’ll treat every planning application that is brought to the Committee on its own merits and take a position based on all of the information presented and made available to me.

What is certain is that future planning committee meetings will be very lively.