The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) are busy making enemies and in doing so are making a mockery of their own name over the NPPF, which has been left in tatters by the scrutiny of it by a large number of associations and individuals from very different backgrounds. The very British system of forming associations to provide an official platform for people with similar interests is being attacked by those who were hoping to further extol such practice, to ensure ‘Big Society’ ideals worked. The backbone of English ‘Communities’ is the myriad of NGOs and associations which help to ensure tools and guidance to aid those in any given community to represent their own interests. To ignore this is to not understand what constitutes a modern English community.
The pretense of ‘sustainable development’ has been largely dropped by pro NPPF commentators, the middle ground argument is largely silent in the mainstream with the strongest voice coming surprisingly by way of the grass roots campaigners. The pro / anti NPPF is no longer a debate but a battle, ignoring both the communities it is to serve and those whose duty it is to make it work in the community, the planners and other practitioners.
The DCLG and its ministers lost their credibility early on by way of entering the social media stage by retweeting and further publicising pro NPPF arguments by house building organisations. As the debate widened, the draft NPPF was further dissected and exposed simply as being unfit for purpose, the rhetoric then changed: suddenly those opposed were worrying for nothing, the realised threats were apparently non existent. In a world were cached images and published statements remain ‘online’ this change in promoting the NPPF is a dreadful PR blunder from within the DCLG and if the PR is weak the NPPF is weakened still further.
Sniping towards opponents of the draft NPPF by ministers and others became ludicrous – heated animosity targeted towards stereotypes assumed to be prevalent in the organisations criticised. The single largest opposition voice is the National Trust – whose membership is greater than of any political party and who cannot be accused of having a stereotypical membership, despite attempts. There certainly appeared to be a concentrated effort to deliberately cause polarisation within the National Trust by government. Why else would they ignore the statement by the National Trust with regards people and ordinary places and continue to solely defend greenbelt? Does the DCLG not realise that there are now many more people now working to expose the NPPF for what it is than they control and these people come from all backgrounds – all political, social and economic groups many with the qualifications and expert knowledge to talk about the issues embedded within the NPPF.
The DCLG simply cannot keep fighting an unwinnable and costly battle at the expense of the taxpayer; the NPPF is now nothing more than a lawyers dream.
The position taken by the National Trust is actually a highly significant moment for land based industry in the UK and further. This full acceptance and preparedness to fight for ordinary landscapes for all people by the most dominant land based NGO in Europe is extraordinary. Whilst many of us wonder why the word ‘place’ has been used instead of ‘landscape’ is perhaps irrelevant. This is recognition by the National Trust of the ideals of the European Landscape Convention. It is the stepping out of a box of protective landscapes to fight for the right to a landscape by all people. Suddenly at a time when the large landowning NGOs were quite rightly criticised for inaction during the Forest Sell Off, the National Trust are prepared to become the champions of all landscapes, it is wonderful. The National Trust will quite rightly earn a status in England at the forefront of landscape preservation for all, giving a huge voice and power to its members embedded in all communities rural and urban and alongside those whose voice has been until now, diminished by the power of the land owning NGOs, those stoic and impressively qualified small NGOs like the Tree Council Tree Wardens, The ITF & RFS and many others who can quickly and efficiently enable a community to realise its ambitions in terms of ensuring a landscape actually works for the community to which it belongs.
Ministers will always want to leave their legacy, but the essence of true localism ensures such desires are redundant, thus using compliciting associations to help ensure this legacy is forthcoming will only result in damaging these associations by proxy.
As the ideals of Localism and Big Society are given by central government to its communities, the governmental departments aiding this process need to know when to back off. Big Society cannot and will not be manipulated and any attempt to sway a flawed argument by central government and its ministers will explode in their face.
An ongoing dissection of the NPPF has been carried out by the Planning Consultant Andrew Lainton on his blog – Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.
The National Trust petition can be found here – Developing for People Not Profit