Grey Bloom by Michael Eden, 2010

National Planning Policy Framework

October 2011

The Crafts Council responded to selected questions from the Department for Communities and Local Government consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework. Read our comments below and for more information on the consultation click here.

1) Delivering Sustainable Development

The Framework has the right approach to establishing and defining the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The Crafts Council supports the prioritisation of Sustainable Development in the Framework and its broad definition, covering the built environment as well as economic, social and environmental factors (paragraph 10). However, creative industries and cultural participation can make significant contributions local economies, landscapes and communities and as such should be recognised and supported in Sustainable Development planning policies.

We are concerned that the absence of specific references to cultural services and facilities, including craft venues as well as theatres, concert halls, art galleries, museums, libraries, public art initiatives and artists’ studios, in Sustainable Development planning policies threatens the protection of existing services and facilities and future provision; making it harder for Local Authorities to plan for culture and failing to provide them with proper national guidance.

We believe that a specific principle relating to cultural provision should be included in the ‘Core planning principles’ (paragraph 19), to protect, enhance and develop cultural assets, ensuring that the needs of local communities are met and the important contributions of culture to ‘well-being’ and ‘creating vibrant places’, amongst other areas, are harnessed.

The Crafts Council has a wealth of evidence to demonstrate the specific contribution of contemporary craft to all three key Sustainable Development criteria.

The craft sector is part of a vibrant creative industries sector which contributed 5.6 per cent of the UK’s Gross Value Added in 2008 (source: DCMS). The contemporary craft sector employs nearly 35,000 people and produces turnover in excess of £1bn each year – although actual direct economic impact is likely to be significantly larger, as available statistics exclude crucial elements of the craft sector production cycle (e.g. trade, retail, education).

Developing craft skills can build the confidence that strengthens social interaction and individual well-being, in some cases making important contributions to the ‘vibrant healthy communities’ referenced in the Framework. For example, in the British Ceramics Biennial the Graffiti*d project, profiled in recent Crafts Council research, saw a group of 13-16 year old boys working with ceramicist Cj O’Neill to develop public graffiti pieces. The boys, who were excluded from school, used the graffiti to transform ceramic plates into installations which commented on the closure of the Ainsley Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent. In the process, they gained a voice on local issues within their community, whilst developing pride in their work and enthusiasm for work opportunities in the creative industries.

The Graffiti*d project is just one example of craft’s well-being potential which is examined in Craft and Wellbeing, a recent briefing note from the Crafts Council.

Contemporary craft makers are also pioneering new, low-impact alternatives, as well as raising awareness of environmental issues through their work. The Crafts Council briefing paper Craft and Environmental Sustainability examines the role of craft in building a more sustainable future and cites makers who are developing waste materials, such as plastic bags and recycled glass, into new forms of textiles and building materials, for example. The briefing also explores what is distinctive about craft and its ability to effect change; and in the context of emerging Government environmental policies and initiatives, how the craft sector can be best equipped to build on its successes in furthering the sustainability agenda.

2) Plan-making

The Framework has clarified the tests of soundness, and introduces a useful additional test to ensure local plans are positively prepared to meet objectively assessed need and infrastructure requirements.

The Framework requires Local Authorities to produce Local Plans which will set out ‘opportunities for development and clear guidance on what will or will not be permitted and where’ for the area, specifying that Local Plans should cover the ‘strategic priorities’ for the Local Authority in a number of policy areas (paragraph 23).

Culture is not listed as a policy area for which Local Authorities must set out their strategic priorities, meaning that Local Authorities are not required to include culture in their vision for the future and resulting in a lack of clarity and guidance in the Framework around the inclusion of planning polices relating to culture in Local Plans. The Plans are also intended to be key in delivering ‘development that reflects the vision and aspiration of local communities’ (paragraph 25); cultural services and facilities, as described above are central to many communities.

Given that the Local Plans will cover a relatively long time period ‘15 years’, indicate ‘locations for strategic development’ and ‘allocate sites’ as well as identifying land that it is ‘important to protect from development’ (Paragraph 24) we are extremely concerned about their potential impact on both the protection and future provision of cultural infrastructure and community access to culture.

The Crafts Council believes that culture should be routinely integrated into planning, redevelopment and tourism policies at Local Authority level. Cultural policy should be included as a strategic priority in Local Plans and, in line with the requirements for heritage outlined in the Framework (paragraph 37), Local Authorities should have up-to-date evidence about the cultural assets in their area; assess the significance of cultural assets and the contribution they make to their environment. In addition, Local Authorities should set out their plans to protect and develop existing services and facilities and develop new cultural assets in the future.

6) Business and economic development

The town centre policies will enable communities to encourage retail, business and leisure development in the right locations and protect the vitality and viability of town centres.

The Framework affirms the Government’s commitment to securing sustainable economic development (paragraph 72). Culture has an important role to play in this process and can make significant contributions to the Government’s three key objectives in this area including ‘supporting economic development’; ‘promoting the vitality and viability of town centres’, and ‘supporting the rural economy’. However, in line with our response to question 2 above, to harness these important benefits Local Authorities should set out specific policies for culture in Local Plans. Below we provide examples of the potential of culture, specifically craft, to contribute to economic development and make suggestions as to where it can be better supported by the Framework.

Support economic development:
The creative industries, including craft, make a small yet significant, direct contribution to the UK economy and can play a significant role in creating the right conditions for sustainable economic development, for example by engaging isolated or excluded young people and helping them to find satisfying work.

The Xtravert programme in Cornwall is a good example of a rural project that does exactly this. Profiled at Assemble 2010: the Crafts Council conference, the project uses skateboarding as a hook to engage young people who were previously not in education, employment or training. Developing the young people’s carpentry and business skills over a three month period, it offers employment to the most successful within the Xtravert team. The project’s emphasis is on working with the young people’s existing interests, encouraging the development of focus, motivation and practical skills through craft.

We welcome the reference to ‘promoting and expanding clusters of networks’ including the creative industries (paragraph 73). There is however a danger of focussing on creative industry sub-sectors which are perceived as high growth and innovative when all creative industry sub-sectors, including craft, have both cultural and high-growth aspects. Support for the cultural aspects of creative industries, which in relation spatial planning covers cultural facilities, is vital to stimulating commercial growth and we remain extremely concerned about the lack of provision for culture in the Framework as a whole.

Promoting the vitality and viability of town centres:
Creative industries, including craft, can make important contributions to the vitality and viability of town centres, contributing to local identities and a sense of ‘place’ as well as stimulating local economic growth.

Major craft events can attract significant visitor numbers, for example Dorset Art Weeks – a rural Open Studios event with a high number of craft exhibitors – draws over 8000 visitors in two weeks. Year-round craft destinations also draw large visitor numbers such as the Devon Guild of Craftsmen which had 120,000 visitors in 2009.
In terms of tourism, craft makers today are not only selling work but are also providing a range of participatory experiences for visitors. Makers are supporting rural tourism behind the scenes too, supplying tourism sites and venues with important creative services. Heritage sites for example, frequently commission makers like Rachel George to supply bespoke models and props.

Along with other creative businesses, makers contribute to innovation in local contexts bringing new ideas and ways of working to rural areas. They are also often strong supporters of local trading.

Whilst we support the requirement in the strategy that planning policies should be ‘positive’ and ‘promote competitive town centre environments’ (paragraph 76), we strongly believe that all references to ‘retail and leisure’ (paragraphs 76-80) should be expanded to include culture, to ensure that Local Authorities allocate sites for cultural activities, the needs of local communities regarding cultural facilities and participation are met and the impact of cultural activities and facilities is assessed.

Support the rural economy:
Contemporary craft can play an important role in local economies. The Crafts Council briefing note, Craft and Rural Development explores the contribution of craft industries to local retail and experience economies – serving as a tourist attraction and creating retail and participatory experiences for visitors. Beyond tourism, research highlights the contribution of craft in rural contexts to innovation, supporting local supply chains, skills development and the use of waste materials.

To support rural economies we believe that cultural activities and facilities should form an integral part of rural planning policies and that references in the Framework to ‘tourism and leisure’ developments in rural contexts (paragraph 81) should be expanded to include culture.

12) Design

The policy on planning and design is appropriate and useful.

We firmly support the importance attached to good design in the Framework and its integral role in good planning (paragraph 114). Specifically, we welcome emphasis placed on ‘high quality and inclusive’ design in all developments (paragraph 115); that Local Authorities should not impose certain architectural styles or development forms and recognise design goes beyond aesthetic considerations (paragraphs 118 and 119), and that they should prioritise designs which raise design standards in the area more generally (paragraph 121). We also support the requirement that Local Authorities should implement mechanisms to achieve good design in the form of ‘local design review arrangements’ (paragraph 120).

In common with good design, cultural assets play an important role in placemaking and significantly enhance the built environment. Cultural assets have specific relevance to a number of the factors identified in the Framework as characteristic of good developments, including appropriately mixed land uses, responding to local character and reflecting the identity of local surroundings and enhancing the visual attractiveness of places. The Framework stipulates that Local Authorities should develop policies specifying the quality of developments expected for the area (paragraph 115) in Local Plans. In line with our comments elsewhere, we believe that Local Plans should also recognise and support the potential of cultural assets in enhancing local developments.

Although the creative industries, including craft, are often associated with small scale work, Crafts Council research indicates a number of ways in which craft practice contributes to the built environment. Craft knowledge and innovation permeates sectors throughout the creative industries and beyond; our report Making Value shows makers contributing to sectors from film and theatre to health and architecture and partnering manufacturers in new commercial products. Craft makers have also made major, direct interventions in the built environment; at the 2009 London Design Festival the Crafts Council presented Hand Built, a showcase of makers who work in the built environment, which demonstrated the diverse application of craft and the techniques and skills offered by the crafts professional.

16) Historic Environment

This policy provides the right level of protection for heritage assets.

The Crafts Council supports requirements set out in the Framework that the planning system should ensure the conservation of heritage assets and the historic environment (paragraph 176). Whilst some cultural assets are also heritage sites, the cultural sector has distinct needs and priorities, and we are extremely concerned that the Framework does not distinguish culture as an independent policy priority. We strongly encourage the inclusion of specific, robust policies for culture in the planning system as the best means to ensure that the important economic, social and environmental benefits of culture in local contexts are harnessed. As above, Local Authorities should be required to set out their specific vision for culture, in addition to good design and heritage, in Local Plans. These should include the protection and development of existing cultural facilities and future provision.

See also