The government's National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] is increasingly mired in acrimony and argument. Just why has it set so many people at odds with each other and what does it mean for Brighton & Hove?
Reaction to the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has provoked strong criticism and robust support in equal measure. Mystifyingly, the government has managed to both signal its ressitance to do a u-turn [see earlier story] and to underline its willingness to change aspects of the draft if necessary.
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July. It will eventually replace existing planning policy guidance (PPG) and planning policy statements (PPS).
The most controversial element of the NPPF has become known simply as “The Presumption” which is a presumption in favour of sustainable development stating:
"Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay – a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision."
Although the passage cited above, goes on to say that “[the NPPF] sets out clearly what could make a proposed plan or development unsustainable" the government has refused to give a legally binding definition of “sustainable development” [see earlier story].
Conservation organisations like the National Trust are opposed to the NPPF in its current form and have branded it a "charter for development of any kind". They are anxious that the framework needs a much clearer definition of what actually constitutes sustainable development, rather than what doesn’t.
At its simplest, this debate has been portrayed as middle class NIMBYs versus the development industry and house builders; however, the reality is more complex. There is broad agreement that planning is an important part of the process of achieving growth, and that the NPPF will encourage more development. But at issue is the type of development, given the generally accepted definition of sustainable development as needing to balance economic, environmental and social issues.
At a time when the UK economy languishes in the doldrums demonstrating zero growth over the past nine months, stimulating growth is obviously important at the moment. But many opponents [and supporters] of the NPPF argue that the quality of growth and the joined-up nature of the [strategic] use of land is just as important. This is certainly the case in Brighton & Hove where the recent sale of land at Patcham Court Farm to a hotel developer was challenged by the Economic Partnership because it was not a good strategic use of the city's scarce development sites [see earlier story].
The concept of sustainable development [or lack of it] set out in the draft NPPF effectively ignores the complexity involved in aligning competing goals and aspirations for a particular site to deliver the best strategic value for a locality.
The NPPF doesn’t ignore localism completely and accepts that localities will have Local Plans, or their replacement Core Strategies, which will guide development but it also makes it clear that:
"Local planning authorities should grant permission where the Plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date."
The interaction between Local Plans and/or Core Strategies and the NPPF is unknown at present but for places without a Core Strategy or up-to-date Local Plan in place, the NPPF would in effect become the default plan for a local area. In Brighton & Hove our Core Strategy was withdrawn in July for further consultation and our Local Plan is six years old so hardly "up-to-date". Hence the urgency to consult on the changes to the Core Strategy and get it adopted by the end of next year [see earlier story].
Core Strategies are a relatively new concept introduced by the last Labour government and only 30 per cent of local planning authorities have one that has been through examination in public by the Planning Inspectorate and then been formally adopted. Even the 30% that are ahead of the game and have an adopted Core Strategy will still need to go back to the Inspectorate to obtain a certificate from the government that confirms the strategy conforms with the NPPF. Getting the certificate may require adjustments to existing strategies to bring them into line with the NPPF.
Despite being apparently at odds with the Localism agenda the government maintains that the NPPF will increase the role of local communities in helping to shape their own places stating:
"Neighbourhood plans give communities direct power to plan the areas in which they live. This provides a powerful set of tools for local people to ensure that they get the right types of development for their community."
The NPPF suggests a new layer of plans called Neighbourhood Plans. These will allow parishes and small neighbourhood groups [including business groups] to develop a vision for their neighbourhood, set planning policies for the development and use of land and give planning permission through Neighbourhood Development Orders [NDOs] and Community Right to Build Orders [CRBOs].
But these Orders will still have to comply with the NPPF and the adopted Core Strategy so they will not deliver the freedoms that many parish councils might be hoping for.
Consultation on the draft NPPF closes on 17 October 2011.
Read related items on:
National Planning Policy Framework
Department for Communities and Local Government