Draft National Planning Policy Framework announced

At the outset of its Report, the Select Committee makes itclear that it has chosen to concentrate on the content of the draft NPPF,rather than the rationale for its production. The Report makes 35recommendations for changes to be incorporated in the final NPPF.

Presumption in favour of sustainable development - no longera developer’s charter?

The presumption in favour of sustainable developmentcontained in the draft NPPF has been the subject of considerable debate andmedia attention over the past few months. Overall, the Report is relatively criticalof the emphasis on economic development and the recommendations seek to balanceeconomic factors with environmental and social ones to ensure planning balance.The Report recommends:

Definition of sustainable development

A new definition be included in the NPPF containing thefollowing elements: (1) wording from the 1987 Brundtland report (“developmentthat meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of futuregeneration to meet their own needs”) (2) the principles in DEFRA’s 2005 UKSustainable Development Strategy (“living within environmental limits, ensuringa strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promotinggood governance, and using sound science responsibly”) and (3) an explicitstatement that all three aspects of sustainable development (economic,environmental and social) should be achieved without assuming that one aspectcan be traded off against another. The Report also states that the definitionshould encourage local authorities to apply the definition to their own localcircumstances and allow them the scope to do so. The primacy of the local planis emphasised throughout the Report.

Presumption in favour of sustainable development retained

The Report recommends that a presumption in favour ofsustainable development consistent with the local plan should be included inthe NPPF. The Report also recommends that the “presumption should apply unlessto do so would cause significant harm to the objective, principle and policiesset out in this National Planning Policy Framework” (rather than adverseeffects having to “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh the benefits of adevelopment proceeding as was contained in the draft NPPF).

Default “yes” to development deleted

The default “yes” to development is not supported on thebasis that it is weighted too far towards a single interest (being economicdevelopment).

Viability test

The definition of ‘viability’ in the draft NPPF caused manypeople to conclude that unsustainable development could go ahead if measures tomake the development sustainable would also make it unviable for the developer.The Report recommends that the NPPF be made clear that calculations ofviability presuppose requirements to provide infrastructure and other necessarymeasures so that calculation of viability is not interpreted as simply “returnsdeemed acceptable to the developer”.

The need for clarity

Another feature of the Select Committee’s recommendations isthe need for clarity in the final NPPF to avoid debate and legal challenge andto make the transition to the new policy as smooth as possible. On this issuethe Report states “...we consider that the NPPF does not achieve clarity by itsbrevity; critical wording has been lost and what remains is often unhelpfullyvague”. Recommended changes include that:

Need for narrative

The NPPF should include a narrative at its beginning statingwhere policy has stayed the same, where new policy has been introduced, wherecurrent policy has been changed or removed, and the relationship of the NPPF toother national policy documents.

Status of existing guidance

The continuing relevance and force of the body of currentplanning guidance needs to be clarified and secured through the NPPF at leastuntil new guidance is produced.

Transitional clarity

A timetable for transition be prepared by the Government inconsultation with local government to clarify for local authorities anddevelopers alike, the status of existing arrangements for development controlduring the transition period.

Specific policy recommendations

The Report recommends a number of detailed changes tospecific key policies:

Development on brownfield land

Much of the media attention in respect of the NPPF hasfocussed on a perceived fear that the draft NPPF would open the way fordevelopment on the greenbelt by removing the brownfield target and brownfieldfirst policy in PPS3. The Report proposes to address this by reinstating theprinciple and requiring local authorities to set their own targets for the useof brownfield land.

Supply of sites for housing

The draft NPPF includes a requirement that local authoritiesshould identify and maintain a rolling supply of specific deliverable sitessufficient to provide five years’ of housing supply with an additionalallowance of at least 20% to ensure competition in the market. The requirementto effectively provide a 6 year land supply carries the risk that it willinevitably include a greater proportion of greenfield sites and the Reportrecommends that local authorities that adopt a local target for the use ofbrownfield land be able to prioritise brownfield land within their 6 yearsupply. The Report also recommends that windfall sites be included in theirland supply where local authorities can demonstrate a track record of suchsites coming forward for development.

Town Centre First policy

The brevity of the draft NPPF created a number of concernsabout the application of the well understood PPS4 principles. The Reportrecommends that the NPPF should reflect the existing policy by bringing officesback within its ambit and also that Government should clarify the policyposition on arts, culture and tourism uses to ensure that these are includedtoo. In respect of out of centre development, the Report recommends a return toPPS4 policy by requiring the application of the sequential test for developmentrather than expressing the policy as a preference. It also recommends theinclusion of a provision to allow communities, in certain exceptional circumstances,to adopt an absolute protection of a town centre from out-of-town retaildevelopment.

What next?

The Department for Communities and Local Government’s targetdate for having the NPPF finalised and published was initially April 2012. Itremains to be seen, given the range and breadth of recommended changes, whetherthis will be achieved. The Select Committee has also recommended that a furthershort consultation take place to allow comments on the technical aspects of therevised NPPF (once it is published).

Given the wide-ranging impact of the NPPF, landlords,occupiers and developers alike will need to ensure they pay careful attentionto the revised NPPF when it is published next year.

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