Is the National Planning Policy Framework Still Pro-Growth? Our Property Team Explore the issue.

WHAT?

The final draft of the national planning policy framework (NPPF) was published on 27 March 2012

WHEN?

Taking immediate effect.

WHY WAS IT AMENDED?

The final NPPF has addressed some of the criticism it attracted from conservation bodies and now includes a revised definition of sustainable development. Increased emphasis on environmental considerations inevitably renders the NPPF less ‘pro-growth’ than it was in its draft form. It aims to reduce bureaucracy in the planning system by improving clarity, to give developers better outcomes through greater certainty, reducing costs and burdens, improving efficiency for businesses and promoting sustainable economic growth, and handing power back to local communities

HOW?

The NPPF makes significant changes to the planning system in England, by replacing 1,300 pages of planning policy statements, circulars and guidance documents with a ‘single and accessible’ document of 50 pages.

PROBLEMS?

Claims that the NPPF will lead to greater certainty could be misleading. The streamlined, less-detailed version of the NPPF could create uncertainty for developers, as the local planning authorities (LPA’s) have more discretion in interpreting and implementing the policy in their local development plan documents. It may also prompt the need for more detailed development plans or pressure to make planning policy through Ministerial Statements.

 

 KEY CONCEPT – ‘SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT’

The new presumption in favor of sustainable development states that LPA’s should plan positively for new development, and ‘approve all individual proposals wherever possible’. The presumption comes into effect where the neighborhood and/or local plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date. Any proposal which can be shown to comply with the definition of sustainable development contained within the draft NPPF is eligible for consent.

 This is a ‘pro-growth’ presumption, speeding-up planning application decisions and encouraging LPA’s to have up-to-date plans in place. However, there are fears that the presumption could result in LPA’s consenting to low quality development, particularly where there is pressure from budget cuts to capture funds.

There are three main aims of the concept.  An economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time etc.  A social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing, services, etc.  An environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment.

Campaign groups previously warned that the wording of the draft presumption in favor of sustainable development would open up the floodgates to development that was harmful to the environment, placing economic growth as the driver and undermining the principles of sustainable development.   This has let to the final form of the definition being revised and now refers to the five principles contained in the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

Feedback from planning campaigning bodies such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that they are generally reassured by its compromises from the draft form.

CONCLUSION?

“The thousands of pages of planning policy may have been replaced with 50 or so but there are inevitably some pretty vague concepts that have replaced the detail.   This could lead to uncertainty with different LPA’s interpreting the legislation in very different ways with very different results.  Is not surprising that Developers and Campaigners seem equally unsure as to whether to be happy or unhappy with the legislation at this stage.  Time will tell but the changes are likely to have have a dramatic impact on us all.”  If you need advice on this planning issue or any other property matter please contact any of our experienced property lawyers at Broomhead and Saul.