I’ve written previously about the threat that planning reform poses to the natural environment, and particularly the draft National Planning Policy Framework. The rationale for planning reform is often posed in terms of the way the planning system is supposed to hold back economic growth. But is this what the evidence really shows?
We teamed up with the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust to commission some top-notch economists to have a serious look at this question, and their report ‘Inexpensive Progress?’ (that’s from a John Betjeman poem, by the way) is published today.
The report finds that although there have been a few studies of the costs of the planning system, the claims made on the back on them have been overstated - and very little has been done to measure the benefits that good planning delivers. It concludes that while there are costs in some sectors, there is no evidence that planning has large, economy-wide effects on productivity or employment and that the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is unlikely therefore to have much effect on growth.
Especially in the light of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, there is a pressing need for more research on the environmental role of planning. There’s already a healthy debate about how we should value, or account for the benefits of ‘non-market’ goods, such as clean water, biodiversity, tranquillity or beautiful landscapes, and how we can live within environmental limits.
We are encouraged by moves within Government to start accounting for this kind of ‘natural capital’ and to move beyond measuring national wealth just in terms of GDP.
However, it’s clear that the case for planning reform has been one-sided. The Government runs a serious risk that its planning reforms will impose significant costs on national wellbeing, without delivering the economic boost it hopes for. In particular, if the NPPF gives greater emphasis to the role of market prices in plan-making, it should complement this by giving due weight to the ‘non-market values’ of land and recognise the vital contribution these make to the quality of life.
The main conclusions from the report include:
the NPPF is unlikely to have any positive effect on growth or employment in the short run. Given the importance of the planning system, it is desirable the NPPF’s impact is closely monitored after it is implemented;