The government has distilled hundreds of pages of planning regulations and guidelines into a concise 59 page document.
A key plank of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – ie sensible development should be allowed to go ahead unless there are very good reasons why it shouldn’t.
We welcome the document and the way it will streamline the planning process. We believe that the country desperately needs new homes and that the economy needs to grow. The current planning system can hinder such development; its proposed replacement will encourage it.
Although now welcomed by many, when then draft document was published, there was a tidal wave of opposition from countryside groups, who were concerned that the framework encouraged unhindered development of precious countryside. The final publication of the NPPF has placated many, without losing the strong commitment to securing economic growth and development that was found in the original draft.
The framework perpetuates the existing protection for green belts and a full local authority consideration and approval process. It also allows neighbourhood groups to have a role in the decision making process. However, the authorities and groups must have produced plans for their areas so that any proposed development can be assessed against the provisions of the plans.
Where no approved plans exist, the provisions of the NPPF will apply, with the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The current planning process is excessively cumbersome and can lead to the delaying, and unnecessary refusal, of development proposals. It can also lead to unnecessary expense for applicants and local authorities.
A ‘nimby’ (not in my back yard) attitude exists in many places, blocking much needed development. Many councils do not have approved local plans in place and have not addressed the questions of how much new development is needed in their areas and where it should go. We are pleased that the NPPF encourages those councils without plans to create them.
To help the country dig itself out of its current malaise, the government needs to encourage development. On the residential front, for example, far too few new homes have been built in recent years, turning a general housing shortage into a housing crisis. While there is widespread recognition that the country needs more houses, they have to go somewhere.
As development will not be appropriate everywhere (for example in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty), the NPPF requires adjacent councils to co-operate with each other, so that the local demands for new housing can be met.
We encouraged the government to stand firm as we believed much of the criticism of the draft NPPF is unfounded and some is deliberately vexatious. At the same time, we recognised that it was not a perfect document. For example, we believe that the previous policy of developing brownfield land before greenfield sites should be continued in the NPPF. We discussed the flaws we saw in the draft with officials, and we are delighted that they have been taken into consideration.
Contrary to some opinion, we were not involved in writing the draft NPPF. Like other organisations, we have responded to the government consultation on behalf of our members, and suggested ways we felt it could provide some of the safeguards the anti-lobby sought without prejudicing its support for growth.
The NPPF has swept away swathes of guidance that has been put in place over many years. One of the challenge is now is to create new guidance for the areas in which it is required. We have supported the review of guidance led by Lord Matthew Taylor and will comment on the publication of any guidance to ensure that the NPPF can work to full effect.