by Jane Stevenson

The new National Planning Policy Framework is currently out for consultation.

Closing date: 17 October 2011

The government estimates that currently there is over a 1,000 pages of national planning policy and a further 6,000 pages+ of supporting guidance and advice within more than 200 documents. There are very few, if any people who have read it all. The government feels that this has overloaded the planning system and doesn’t think it helps communities to shape development in their areas. It is also possible that there could be some inconsistencies within it all. As a result they have boiled it down to one 58-page document – a draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is now out for consultation.

The deadline for comments is Monday 17 October 2011 and it can be viewed at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/draftframeworkconsultation

Along with the Localism Bill and the review of use classes [of building use], this is a key part of the government’s reforms to the planning system, with the aim of making it less complex and more accessible, and to promote sustainable growth.

When launching the consultation in July 2011, Planning Minister Greg Clark said: “Clarity in planning has become lost in translation. National planning policy and central government guidance has become so bloated that it now contains more words than the complete works of Shakespeare, making it impenetrable to ordinary people.

We need a simpler, swifter system that is easier to understand and where you don’t need to pay for a lawyer to navigate your way around. That’s why we promised reform to make planning easier to understand and easier to use for everyone. Today’s proposals set out national planning policy more concisely, and in doing so make clearer the importance of planning to safeguarding our extraordinary environment and meeting the needs of communities, now and in the future.

We now want to hear the thoughts of councils, communities and businesses on the draft Framework and work together to get the planning system right for generations to come.”

The NNPF maintains the Government’s commitment to protecting the green belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest; facilitates a new generation of renewable energy projects; re-affirms protections for our nation’s historic and cultural heritage, and for our wildlife and bio-diversity, including new protection for peat bogs; and helps tackle the light pollution affecting the beauty of the night sky. It delivers on the Government’s commitment to allow communities to earmark important local green spaces for special protection – whether its value is in its natural beauty, its historical resonances, its recreational value, its tranquillity or its richness in wildlife.

The draft Framework also underlines the need for councils to work closely with communities and businesses and actively seek opportunities for sustainable growth to rebuild the economy; helping to deliver the homes, jobs, and infrastructure needed for a growing population whilst protecting the environment.

The key principle at the heart of the NPPF is the presumption in favour of sustainable development, particularly where the local plan is out of date, silent or absent. As Business Secretary Vince Cable put it:

“Strong, sustainable growth is the Government’s top priority. The new proposals published today, a key element of the plan for growth, set out plans that are responsive to business whilst protecting the concerns of communities and their environment.

Along with the powerful presumption for sustainable development, the new approach to planning will be a significant step forward in creating the right conditions for businesses to start up, invest, grow and create jobs.”

This has generally welcomed by the development industry, while groups such as the National Trust and the CPRE have taken the opposite view. It really depends on what is meant by ‘sustainable development’ and whether economic growth will be seen to trump social and environmental concerns, rather than ensuring that development that delivers economic and social and environmental benefits.

Like many strategies, what it doesn’t say is often more important than what it says. So there are no car parking standards or affordable housing targets. This is left to local areas to decide. The concern being that there could be a race to the bottom as authorities compete with each other in trying to attract development. There is no reference to housing space standards, so it looks like we will continue to have the smallest houses in Europe.

The NPPF has no spatial dimension, so it doesn’t recognise any differences across England in terms of geography, economy or development pressure. So the same policies will apply in central London as in rural Somerset, in Bristol as in Barnsley. It also isn’t clear how the NPPF relates to policies for airports, ports, High Speed trains, energy, waste or marine planning.

In terms of the food agenda, on the positive side it specifically refers to local planning authorities assessing the needs of the food-production industry. However, in terms of agricultural land, local planning authorities have only to ‘take into account’ the benefits of the best and most versatile agricultural land (grades 1, 2 & 3A), rather than to protect it. Although the NPPF refers to green infrastructure, it isn’t included with the hard infrastructure such as transport, utilities and flood defences.

Planning policies should promote the vitality and viability of town centres, rather than their diversity and character. The impact of large retail developments should be looked over ten years from the application.

So it is well worth a read. Any comments by 17 October 2011. Respond on-line: www.surveymonkey.com/s/KZKH35Z or by e-mail to: planningframework@communities.gsi.gov.uk or by post to:

Alan C Scott
National Planning Policy Framework
Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planningsystem/planningpolicy/planningpolicyframework/