NPPF draft: presumption in favour of sustainable development

The draft National Planning Policy Framework contains (amongst many other things) a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The presumption works to ensure that Local Planning Authorities plan for necessary development. It’s a good thing, as this is what Local Authorities should be doing.

The presumption says that if a LPA has failed to plan for development, then development that comes forwards on its own (if sustainable) should be granted. In other words, plan for development, or whatever comes forwards could be granted. Rather than the current political incentive to refuse development on the basis that no-one likes new houses (and all the extra traffic it would create), the incentive is now to plan for appropriate development. This is exactly the problem the Conservatives identified with the Regional Spatial Strategies.

The CPRE, National Trust and associated Daily Mail / Torygraph lobby are getting very exercised on the basis that the presumption would see ‘concreting over our Green belts’ etc. This is scare mongering. But what the presumption does is force lobby groups like CPRE to stop saying “no” to those of us who would like to own our own home, and properly plan for the housing that the country desperately needs.

Only a small part of England has been built on, and there is plenty of room for new homes. In fact, Lord Rooker put it quite succinctly in response to the Torygraph ‘Hands of our Countryside Campaign’:

SIR – A couple of weeks ago, when the Lords was sitting, I was given written parliamentary answers by the minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, saying that the land area in England designated as National Parks is 9 per cent; areas of outstanding natural beauty are 15 per cent; green belt is 13 per cent and urban is 9 per cent. This makes a grand total of 46 per cent.

To solve all the actual and perceived housing and other development issues, the area of land required, estimated from my time as a minister in the same department, is about 1 per cent.

So what is the problem?

Planning Policy Change in England, UK

I thought it might be interesting to keep track of changes in the planning system as they emerge through the new government from 2010, and identify some of their impacts.  I will update this page as new announcements / policy is made …

February 2010
Open Source Planning published, the Conservatives’ Green Paper on Planning.
Promises that planning decision-making will be moved back to local levels, neighbourhoods,

May 2010
The Coalition government is formed. Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for CLG, Conservative)  writes to local authorities (on 27th) to advise that he intends to abolish regional spatial strategies.

The Pickles letter causes general confusion, and results in many councils calling a halt to their Local Plans, which are based on housing figures that have been set through the regional strategies. This view is subsequently supported by David Morris, the Deputy Director in the Planning Directorate of the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for development plans).

June 2010
Ministers debate the revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies, but warn of the uncertainties created. The British Property Federation warn that it is essential that guidance is provided to local authorities so that the country’s economic recovery is not hindered by a planning policy vacuum.

July 2010
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, revokes regional spatial strategies on 6th July, removing the housing targets imposed by them. Steve Quartermain, chief planning officer provides advice to local authorities.

August 2010
CALA Homes make a legal challenge to the revocation of regional spatial strategies. CALA Homes say that the decision needed primary legislation, and leaves a policy vacuum in its place.

October 2010
The High Court hears the CALA Homes challenge against the revocation of regional spatial strategies.

Research by Tetlow King for the National Housing Federation shows that plans for 85,000 homes have been dropped, likely to rise to 300,000 by October 2011. Huw Morris, Editor of Planning Magazine comments ‘With just 123,000 homes built last year, the folly of abolishing one planning system without putting another in place is obvious … Ministers point to the much-vaunted new homes bonus as the policy that will rescue the country. Yet surely the fact that around 70 councils have halted development plans, slashed housing numbers or postponed local plan inquiries tells another story.’

November 2010
The legal decision on CALA Homes challenge against the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is upheld. Regional Strategies remain part of the statutory development plan until formally abolished once the Localism Bill comes into force i.e. the previous housing ‘handed down’ from the regions are re-confirmed. Eric Pickles states that ‘this changes very little’. CALA challenge this statement.

At a Commons CLG investigation into the abolition of RSSs Eric Pickles states that the National Housing Federation figures that 182,000 homes have been pulled from the pipeline are based on ‘iffy evidence and very unconvincing’.

Figures released by the CLG predict the growth of 232,000 households per year from 2008 to 2033.

When questioned about the need for strategic planning at a greater than local level, and how this might be carried out following the abolition of the RSS, John Howell (author of Open Source Planning) states that Regional Spatial Strategies will be replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework, similar to the system in the Netherlands.

December 2010
Draft ‘Localism Bill’ published.

February 2011
The High Court rules that the CALA challenge against the November statement of Eric Pickles fails.

CLG Parliament publications / evidence

Grant Shapps promises to retain the committment to zero carbon housing by 2016. He also finalises the New Homes Bonus, stating that commencing in April 2011, the Bonus will match fund the additional council tax potential from increases in effective housing stock, with an additional amount for affordable homes, for the following 6 years.

March 2011
The Chancellor takes control of planning through the budget, announcing that “local communities should have a greater say in planning “, accompanied by Greg Clark’s statement (‘Planning for Growth‘, 23 March) that there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development: The Government’s clear expectation is that the answer to development should be “yes”, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles (to be set out in national policy).

In other words, local authorities / neighbourhoods need to plan for development. If they fail to plan, development may be forced on them. This is a major shift in policy, indicating that the treasury priorities for development to lead us out of a recession (together with the pressing planning requirements for new housing) now outweigh the political agenda to put control of development fully back to the local level.

The second report on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies(‘a planning vacuum’) is published. It identifies a concern at the speed of abolition of the RSSs without any replacement, and a lack of understanding of what the RSSs were for. It identifies a lack of any transitional arrangements between the abolition and planning following the new Localism Bill, and the resulting hiatus in planning. It concludes that there is a ‘lack of clarity in how the new planning system will be co-ordinated and how it will work in practice‘ which needs to rectified quick.

May 2011
The Court of Appeal rules that development plans would be unlawful if they were based on the CLG’s proposal to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies.

June 2011
Greg Clark in a speech to the RTPI states that planning has become too defensive and pessimistic, and needs to be about growth, sustainable development, ecological, social, economic and environmental improvements.

The Government’s response to the CLG Committee Report on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies is published. Eric Pickles announces that ‘The Government’s top priority in reforming the planning system is to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs. We made clear in the Growth Review that our top priority in introducing the National Planning Policy Framework will be to support long term sustainable growth, through both development plans and decisions on planning applications.

July 2011
Draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is published, with the intention of reducing the current 1000+ pages of National Planning Policy Guidance and Statements to 52 pages to make it more accessible to the public. The draft NPPF: –

  • has a presumption in favour of sustainable development. The default decision to development should be ‘yes’ where Local Plans are silent, or out of date (nearly half English councils have yet to publish a Local Plan, called a Core Strategy).
  •  plan making should be simplified with the intention of delivering development, and any supplementary documents to the Local Plan should meet this objective.
  • the current requirement for councils to identify a supply of 5 year’s housing land will increase by 20% to provide choice and competition in the market.

August 2011
The National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are in the news headlines over fears over the NPPF causing damage in the countryside of a scale not seen since the 1930s.

September 2011
Pickles and Osborne respond in the Financial Times that ‘planning delays cost the economy £3bn a year. It is twice as expensive to get planning permission in London’s West End as in Paris, and 10 times more than in Brussels‘. How do they know that, someone must have been hard at the research? They add: ‘Through neighbourhood planning, a key new right in the Localism Bill, communities will soon have the chance to say where they want new shops, homes and businesses to go, and what they should look like’. Well, good then?