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An MHCLG insiders perspective on revising the NPPF

Posted 08/08/2018

by Ashleigh Cook

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After what seems like endless rounds of consultation and the ever-changing face of the housing minister, the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was finally published on the 24th July. By now, I imagine, most planning consultants will have attended at least one CPD session on the revised NPPF and inboxes will be full of varying perspectives on the new policies.

But, has anyone taken a moment to consider the Civil Servants who have invested so much time, hard work and dedication to the production of this key document?

Let me offer you a little insight from the inside.

Before joining Iceni Projects I was fortunate enough to spend a year working as part of the team responsible for producing the revised NPPF at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). A year is a short spell in what was a much longer journey for the NPPF. But it was a year in which I gained a unique and valuable perspective on what it takes to produce a national planning document.

The revised NPPF is the result of three separate consultation documents; several Budget announcements; and most crucially, hours of policy drafting, testing, re-wording, legal reviews and editing. It is a challenging task in any political climate, but the inconsistencies and regular ministerial reshuffles of the current Government made it even more so. During my year at MHCLG I witnessed two ministerial changes.
When a new minister starts it becomes the role of the Civil Servants to educate the new minister on all things planning, often starting with “What is the NPPF?”. A new minister brings new ministerial ideas. Despite already having a package of policies, which have either been through consultation or are progressing through that process, new ministers introduce new policy ideas, which contradict or challenge many of the policies already tested with the public and key stakeholders but still need to be given due consideration.

Ministerial change could therefore be seen as a way to keep Civil Servants on their toes. Ensuring they are ready to adapt and work at pace to create new policies out of new ideas within a short time frame. Or ministerial change could be regarded as a huge inconvenience. One which pushes already stretched resources to their limit and puts a spanner in the works of policy creation.

Whatever your take on ministerial interventions, I do question what the NPPF would have looked like had MHCLG experienced ministerial continuity and consistency.