The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was released today and comes into force immediately. However, it contains very few surprises since the original draft consultation document.
In a ministerial statement this afternoon, Planning Minister, Greg Clark said a "decade of regional spatial strategies, top-down targets and national planning policy guidance that has swelled beyond reason to over 1,000 pages across 44 documents, has led to communities seeing planning as something done to them, rather than by them. And as the planning system has become more complex, it has ground ever slower. In 2004 Parliament required every council to have a plan – eight years on, only around a half have been able to adopt one".
The NPPF, which is 52 pages long, replaces most of the existing planning policy documents. A full list of the policies that have been replaced can be found at Annex 3 of the NPPF.
Clark stated that the NPPF tackles the challenges faced by the
planning system by:
- enshrining the local plan, which is to be produced by local people as the keystone of the planning system
- establishing a presumption in favour of sustainable development that means that development is not held up unless to approve it would be against the public interest; and
- guaranteeing robust protections for the natural and historic environment.
Some of the most important issues arising from the NPPF are:
Presumption in favour of sustainable development
There was a large amount of opposition to the proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development in the draft NPPF that was published for consultation in July 2011. In particular, conservation groups were concerned that this would signal a developers' charter and that widespread development would proceed unchecked as the principle had not been clearly defined.
The presumption remains in the NPPF and the Ministerial Foreword states that “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”.
The presumption is still not clearly defined but it is based on economic, social and environment principles; how it will be applied remains to be seen.
The NPPF makes it clear that applications must still be determined in accordance with the development plan as has always been the case - but this is not straightforward because currently only half of councils have adopted a local plan within the Local Development Framework. Clark made it clear in his statement, however, that councils would have a transitional period of 12 months in which to finalise their local plans so that they are in conformity with the NPPF. This is important as the original version of the Framework stated that councils without adopted plans would in effect lack any policy basis on which to resist inappropriate developments. Those councils who have an emerging local plan will not be disadvantaged as weight can be given in the planning process to emerging plans and the 12 month transitional period will allow such councils to finalise their plans.
Protections for the natural and historic environment
Despite the presumption in favour of sustainable development, the Minister stated that the NPPF makes it clear that policies such as those protecting the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and other areas, cannot be overridden by the presumption. He further stated that the NPPF makes explicit what was always implicit: that councils' policies must encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use. The revised National Planning Policy Framework includes an explicit reference to prioritising brownfield land for development provided it is not of ‘high environmental value’.
Responses to the NPPF are mixed but generally the development industry seems to be in favour of the changes, partly because policy on housing is now prefaced with the overarching requirement to ‘significantly’ boost the supply of housing which is very much welcomed.
It is clear that planning authorities will need to engage positively in planning to support growth with quicker and more responsive plans but at a time where many planning departments are experiencing severe under-resourcing this could be difficult to achieve. It is also clear that many conservation groups are still yet to be convinced that the countryside and heritage assets will be properly protected.
A more detailed briefing note will follow shortly.