John Holmes

Policy changes but will the planners?

Key to achieving the Government's aim of economic growth through the National Planning Policy Framework will be the changes in mindset and culture of those working within the system, writes John Holmes head of planning at Hill Dickinson.

The Government have taken most of the consultation responses on board and produced a better final version than the draft document published last year which came in for heavy criticism.

Local plans are seen as the key to delivering sustainable development. Presumption in favour of sustainable development was retained and the definition has been strengthened from the first draft.

Local plan makers are expected to positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area. Local plans will have sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change unless the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against policies in the NPPF as a whole or specific policies in the NPPF indicate development should be restricted

Decision makers should approve development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay. Where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, decision makers should grant permission unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits or specific policies in the NPPF indicate development should be restricted.

Implementation. The policies in the NPPF apply from today. For 12 months from publication of the NPPF decision makers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the NPPF. In other cases and following the 12 month period due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their "degree of consistency" with the NPPF.

The new 12-month transition period for local authorities to get their local plans in order will provide some challenges.

Policies in emerging plans may be given weight according to the stage of preparation of the emerging plan, the extent to which there are unresolved objections, and the degree of consistency of relevant policies in the emerging plan to the policies in the NPPF.

Protection for the Green Belt is preserved but there are some relaxations for example facilities for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation need not be "essential" anymore just "appropriate" development under Community Right to Build Orders.

A Brownfield test has been introduced: policies and decisions should encourage effective use of previously developed land, provided that it is not of high environmental value. Local authorities are allowed a discretion to "consider" setting a locally appropriate target for the use of previously developed land.

Homes and housing: Local authorities should be identifying and updating annually a supply of deliverable sites sufficient for five years of housing against housing requirements with an additional buffer of 5%. However, for those authorities where there has been a record of "persistent under delivery" of housing the buffer increases to 20%.

Town centres first policy with sequential test for retail development was restored, with the sequential approach to be exempt for small rural office or other small scale rural development.

The simplified statement of Government planning policy requires careful consideration and interpretation.

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