The NPPF was finally published on 27th March and is effective immediately. It reduces 1,300 pages of national planning policy guidance to just 59. It is intended to simplify the planning system and kick-start more house building and other physical developments that will create jobs. But will it?
It is important to note:
- the NPPF is required to be taken into account by local planning authorities immediately
- until March 2013 planning committees may continue to give weight to policies adopted in their old Local Plans going back to 2004, but only if any degree of conflict with the NPPF is “limited”.
- beyond that date existing and emerging local Core Strategies [called the City Plan in Brighton & Hove] have to fully conform with the NPPF
- the NPPF reflects the law ‘post implementation of the Localism Act 2011’ so some policies will apply only when all parts of the Act have come into force
- a number of documents will be replaced by the NPPF i.e. existing Planning Policy Guidance [PPG] and Planning Policy Statements [PPS]
Presumably in an effort to satisfy the demands of different government departments together with supporters and opponents of the draft, the document itself appears at times to be contradictory and has departed significantly in tone and some detail from the original.
While the Government is keen to emphasise the important new planning role for communities, there is an inherent tension between the need for growth through development and a community's desire to control that growth.
On one hand it promotes the power and influence of local people to shape their communities including:
- the creation of sustainable communities that are “strong vibrant and healthy”
- the involvement of local communities in preparing neighbourhood plans in order to ‘shape’ the development in their area
- new powers for communities to identify and protect “green spaces” in their area that are of “particular importance to them” [could that include Toads Hole Valley?]
- the importance of early engagement with the local community via pre-application discussions
- a stipulation that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield sites and town centres before out-of-town locations
- the recognition of the “intrinsic value and beauty” of the wider countryside and a specific ban on “garden grabbing” and protection for playing fields.
On the other hand it contains provisions that actively encourage growth and economic development including:-
- a new ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ [although to add weight to the protection of the countryside and heritage assets, the inflammatory statement ‘the default answer to development proposals is yes’, which appeared in the draft version has been removed from the final version]
- a commitment to ‘sustainable economic growth’. The NPPF confirms “significant weight” should be placed on the need to support the economy through the planning system
- a new requirement for local authorities to identify a five year supply of land to meet their housing requirements plus an additional 5% contingency to better deliver choice and competition in the market; or five years plus a 20% contingency where there has been a ‘persistent’ record of under delivery by the local authority. There is no definition of ‘persistent’ in this context.
- reference to a more friendly sounding “development management” rather than development control
- an emphasis on the need for “viability assessments” to enable delivery of development, presumably to ensure that potential housing land is not ‘land banked’ due to potential financial barriers to development.
- the 'town centres come first' principle keeps a central emphasis and has been expanded to include offices and other defined town centre uses.
One of the most controversial elements of the draft was the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” – the so-called “golden thread” running through the Framework. The final draft fails to give a robust definition of “sustainable” development choosing instead to refer to the broad principles outlined in a resolution from the United Nations General Assembly [although the resolution quoted in the document is in fact an error!].
The definition in the document refers to five principles:
- the environment
- social justice
- good governance
- sound science
Confusingly, the Framework then goes on to cite the three ‘dimensions to sustainable development’ being economic, environmental and social. How the five principles will be melded with the three dimensions and then applied to individual planning applications is generally agreed to be something that will be decided by legal precedent.
This could also raise potential difficulties in applying the “presumption” where there is an overriding statutory requirement to protect the character of an area; for example conservation areas. Brighton & Hove has more conservation areas than any other city in the south east; how will the presumption be applied?
Also the definition of “local community” is not defined which could lead to confusion in urban areas made up of a number of disparate groups all of whom consider themselves to be the legitimate community to the exclusion of others. How does the "business community" fit in with the "residential community" for instance, let alone "communities of interest" like the LGBT community.
An area of concern is the treatment of applications in areas where there is no adopted Core Strategy. Only about 35% of local authorities have them and this could provide a genuine window of opportunity for developers to push projects forward outside the development plan process. However, some weight will be afforded to Core Strategies that have been ‘significantly progressed’, like Brighton & Hove's, but are not yet finalised.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has already questioned whether councils will be able to prepare robust Core Strategies at a time when deep cuts to council budgets have robbed many of the resources and expertise they need. In Brighton & Hove the Core Strategy [City Plan] is well advanced and goes out to formal consultation in late spring and is expected to go to examination in public and adoption in 2013.
Many commentators have pointed out that a change in planning policy cannot solve the country's chronic housing shortage or other economic concerns on its own. Fewer than 115,000 new homes were registered with the National House Builders Council last year - a fall of more than 40% since the height of the market in 2007 when 200,700 homes were built.
At current levels, the industry is building less than half the number of new homes needed to meet the challenge of household growth in the UK. While the NPPF advocates a simpler planning system, achieving the Government’s aspirations for economic growth will still require early release of much more land for development, and accessibility to appropriate and affordable levels of finance. The release of land is controversial because it is estimated that ‘land banks’ belonging to major construction companies and held deliberately off the market by the owners could accommodate 350,000 new homes.
Read related items on:
National Planning Policy Framework
Toads Hole Valley