Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Government publish new planning framework

The long-awaited National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is published today.  Although there have been some significant concessions to countryside campaigners, ministers are still claiming that its policy is ‘unashamedly pro-growth’.

The Government should also be congratulated for replacing 1,000 pages of ‘impenetrable jargon’ with a concise and readable document that is comprehensible to the general public.  Let’s hope local councils follow suit when preparing their local plans.

The NPPF will not lead to a development free for all – it was never going to.  But it should prevent local authorities retreating to the automatic ‘planning says no’ nimbyism that the localism agenda threatened to usher in. 

Over the last two years, many Councils have ripped up their development plans and reduced housing targets.  No more.  The NPPF will still allow Councils to turn down developments they do not want, but to do so they will need a credible local plan that allows for an adequate amount of alternative development sites to come forward to support economic growth.

Although the introduction of the NPPF has been broadly welcomed by the property industry, there remain a number of uncertainties in how planning will evolve over the coming years.  Some of the key factors will be:

Political interpretation – how will the Secretary of State use the new framework in his judgements on future planning appeals? 

Legal interpretation – the brevity of the new regime is also a weakness, and will open up future planning decisions to legal challenge. 

Loopholes – all new policies create unintended consequences that the entrepreneurial can exploit.  The NPPF will be no different.

Policy creep – The wholesale review of the planning policy has generated a concise and relatively consistent policy framework.  The problem now is that future Secretaries of State will go back to amending it on a piecemeal basis.

Public opinion – the Government has emphasised that it wants public support to play an increasing role in planning decisions but how will this be reconciled on schemes which are policy compliant but bitterly opposed by local people?

Political change – It will take a few years for the new regime to settle down, by which time there will probably be a new Secretary of State and possibly a change of administration.  How long will this current regime last before there are demands for further planning reform?

Key announcements

The NPPF was presented to Parliament by Planning Minister, Greg Clark MP.  A copy of the NPPF can be found here.  Some of the key features in today’s announcment include:

The NPPF retains a presumption in favour of sustainable development but the assumption that the default answer to a development proposal is "yes", except where this would compromise key sustainable development principles, has been removed.

Transitional arrangements – Local authorities with a post-2004 local plan that is broadly in line with the NPPF will be able to use those policies for 12 months. For local authorities with no up to date plan, the NPPF will come in to force today.

The definition of sustainable development has been strengthened.

The Brownfield first policy has been strengthened to prioritise more clearly the use of previously developed land.

Five-year land supply – Local Authorities with a good track record at allocating land for housing must earmark a five-year supply plus 5%.  Others must earmark a five-year supply plus 20%

The intrinsic value of countryside has been included in the NPPF following its removal from the first draft.

The town centre first policy has been strengthened.

There is support for Garden Cities - so urban extensions and new settlements are back on the agenda.


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