|Obligatory photo of bucolic countryside required when discussing planning|
- Is there a presumption in favour of 'sustainable development' and, if so, does it provide clarity on what this means? Or is it potentially a developers charter?
- What safeguards are there for heritage and the natural environment?
- Does it deliver on the Government's promise to put local communities at the heart of the system?
- Does it provide a coherent landscape strategy, that includes non-designated areas?
I also have reservations about where house-building will be going. Everyone seems to agree that we need more (affordable) homes in the system, but for all the talk of good design and local communities you do wonder whether this is little more than a green light for more of the generally unimaginative projects - lacking appropriate scale/ character/ local connectedness - that the large-scale housing companies tend to deliver. I am also highly dubious about the garden city (new town being out of fashion) concept. For instance the muted new Arden City proposed for the current gap (ie rural and semi-rural landscape) between Birmingham and Coventry: this makes sense on a spatial plan, but looks fairly horrible to me, knowing that area quite well; as does a proposed alternative nearby, between Kenilworth and Coventry. I roamed these fields and woods as a kid and this part of Warwickshire has a subtle mix of man-made and managed landscape features and settlements developed quite organically over the 'long game' of history - like much of England; I fear that a new mega-settlement, however well designed, would sweep this away. My preference is for a mixture of (real and enlightened) urban renewal, as exemplified by the redevelopment in the Kings Cross area and the enabling of small-scale, community-focused housing in the countryside (including, God-forbid, opening up the treasured protected countryside to local people building affordable housing for themselves).
A bit of an acid test for me will also be whether policy changes on a personal bug-bear, the proliferation of enormous distribution warehouses in recent years. There is a welcome section in the Framework on Ensuring the vitality of town centres but it remains to be seen whether this in any more then window-dressing in the face of the retail behemoths.