Please find attached a briefing note summarising the National Planning Policy Framework published today. We will, of course, be discussing the implications of the new policy with members over the coming weeks and this note is intended as a factual summary rather than a critique of the changes from the consultation draft or our immediate thoughts on the Framework.
The Government published its long awaited National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) on Tuesday 27 March 2012.
The Planning Minister, Greg Clark, presented the Framework to the House of Commons and his full speech can be found here:
The final version of the Framework contains a number of amendments from the consultation draft document published in July 2011.
Many of the changes are understood to be directed at making the document legally sound, particularly where policies conflict with the legislative background of the various Planning Acts, including the Localism Act 2011.
Other changes have, to a greater or lesser degree, responded to the myriad of comments received in the 16,000+ responses to the consultation process from developers, local authorities, politicians and anti-development groups.
It is interesting to note that the Ministerial introduction to the document remains unchanged from the consultation document, suggesting that the full thrust of government planning policy requirements remain the same. However, that is not to say that the approach for achieving these overarching objectives has stayed the same.
ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The Framework includes a reference to various international and national bodies’ views on the meaning of the term “sustainable development”, including the five “guiding principles” set out in the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy. These are: 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.
While this definition has caused us considerable concern the inclusion of the reference in a drop out box rather than as a numbered paragraph in the Framework itself is curious. The status of such a box is unclear, however, it may mean that the definition cannot be relied upon when making plans or decisions on applications. It is, presumably, a “guiding principle” rather than a rule to be followed.
Sustainable development is referred to as meeting an economic, social and environmental role and paragraph 8 reiterates the integration of these three objectives. The fact that sustainable development may emphasise different elements of the definition in different places is stressed in paragraph 10.
THE PRESUMPTION IN FAVOUR OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The framework retains the presumption in favour of sustainable development albeit that it makes it very clear that the statutory requirement is for decisions to be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise (para 11).
The presumption is explained in paragraph 14 and stresses the need for development plans to take account of the framework and to meet objectively assessed needs of an area. In decision making, those areas with an up to date development plan should approve applications in accordance with the plan “without delay”. Where the plan “is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of date” planning permission should be granted “unless adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.
CORE PLANNING PRINCIPLES
The core planning principles are set out in paragraph 17. These stress that planning should be a positive tool, proactive and meet identified needs. Plans should take account of market signals and allocate sufficient land to accommodate development in their area. Plans should recognise “the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside” and allocations of land should “prefer land of lesser environmental value”. Planning should “encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value”. It should be noted that the first of these points is not a return to protecting the countryside for it’s own sake and that the latter is not a national “brownfield first” policy or sequential approach to land allocation or release.
DELIVERY OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The delivery of sustainable development is explained in greater detail under the categories of:
Building a strong, competitive economy;
Ensuring the vitality of town centres (including setting a sequential test for main town centre uses);
Supporting a prosperous rural economy;
Promoting sustainable transport;
Supporting high quality communications infrastructure;
Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes;
Requiring good design;
Promoting healthy communities;
Protecting Green Belt land;
Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change;
Conserving and enhancing the natural environment;
Conserving and enhancing the historic environment; and
Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals.
DELIVERING A WIDER CHOICE OF HIGH QUALITY HOMES
Under the heading of delivering a wide choice of high quality homes the government wants to “boost significantly the supply of housing”. Local authorities should use a robust evidence base to meet “the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing”. In doing so they must “identify a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five year’s worth of housing against their housing requirements with an additional buffer of 5% to ensure choice and competition in the market for land. Where there has been a record of persistent under delivery of housing, local authorities should increase the buffer to 20%”.
Paragraph 48 allows local planning authorities to “make an allowance for windfall sites in the five-year supply if they have compelling evidence that such sites will continue to provide a reliable source of supply”. This should not include residential gardens. Relevant policies for the supply of housing “should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites”.
Local planning authorities should “plan for a mix of housing based on demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community” including older people (para 50). Where they have identified that affordable housing is needed, local authorities should set policies for meeting this need. Such policies “should be sufficiently flexible to take account of changing market conditions over time.”
Paragraph 52 suggests that new homes might best be achieved through planning for large scale development such as new settlements or extensions to existing urban areas “that follow the principles of Garden Cities.
REQUIRING GOOD DESIGN
In the pursuit of good design, the framework suggests that local authorities should have design review arrangements in place and paragraph 62 states that “local planning authorities should have regard to the recommendations from the design review panel”.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, FLOODING AND COASTAL CHANGE
To meet the challenge of climate change paragraph 96 states that, in determining planning applications, LPAs should expect new development to “comply with adopted Local Plan policies on local requirements for decentralised energy unless it can be demonstrated ... that this is not feasible or viable”. However, when setting any local requirement for a building’s sustainability, LPAS should do so “in a way consistent with the Government’s zero carbon buildings policy and adopt nationally described standards” (para 95).
CONSERVING AND ENHANCING THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
With regard to conserving and enhancing the natural environment in preparing plans to meet development needs “plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value” (para 110). Policies and decisions should “encourage” the re-using of land that has been previously developed. Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land (para 111).
The importance of local plans and their production is stressed in paragraphs 150-185. Plans should be consistent with the framework and should include the presumption in favour of sustainable development (para 151).
LPAs should prepare a strategic housing market assessment to assess their full housing needs and prepare a strategic housing land availability assessment to establish realistic assumptions about the availability, suitability and the likely economic viability of land to meet the identified need foir housing over the plan period (para 159).
Plans should be deliverable and viable. Costs of any requirements applied to development “should, when taking account of the normal cost of development and mitigation, provide competitive returns to a willing land owner and willing developer to enable the development to be deliverable” (para 173).
LPAs should set out their policy on local standards in the Local Plan, including requirements for affordable housing. The cumulative impact of these standards and policies “should not put the implementation of the plan at serious risk” (para 174).
As regards the duty to co-operate paragraph 181 expects LPAs to “demonstrate evidence of having effectively cooperated to plan for issues with cross boundary impact when their local plans are submitted for examination”.
The soundness of local plans will be considered against the criteria set out in paragraph 182, namely that the plan is: positively prepared; justified; effective and consistent with national policy.
Paragraphs 203-206 set out the expected approach with regard to planning conditions and planning obligations. It should be noted that Circular 05/2005 regarding planning obligations has been officially withdrawn.
IMPLEMENTATION (TRANSITION ARRANGEMENTS)
Annex 1 to the Framework deals specifically with Implementation.
Paragraph 208 explicitly states that the policies in the Framework “apply fro the day of publication” (ie: 27th March 2012).
Where local authorities have adopted a plan since 2004 (in accordance with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004) their plan will not be considered out of date merely because it was adopted prior to the publication of the Framework. For 12 months decision makers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies “even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the Framework” (para 214).
In the case of authorities with emerging plans weight given to such plans will depend on the stage of preparation, the extent to which there are unresolved objections to the relevant policies and the degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the emerging plan to the policies of the Framework (para 216).
Advice will be available from the Local Government Association, the Planning Inspectorate and the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Annex 2 of the Framework contains a glossary.
Annex 3 sets out a list of documents replaced by the Framework. This includes all of the Planning Policy Statements (PPSs), remaining Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs) and Mineral Guidance Notes (MPGs). As previously mentioned it also withdraws Circular 05/2005: planning obligations and a number of Chief Planning Officer letters which explained previous policy statements.
Interestingly the Annex does not withdraw any of the associated guidance such as that on Strategic Housing Market Assessment and Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment.
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