NPPF becomes reality at last

The Government published the National Planning Policy Framework on Tuesday, after it was delayed from last week's Budget.

Brownfield first, town centres first, local power for local people, presumption in favour of sustainable development were all there as expected but now the work begins to study detailed definitions and grasp how much ambiguity remains in parts where developers and councils could still disagree.

Greg Clark, minister for decentralisation and cities, issued a statement to accompany the new framework , which becomes adopted policy immediately. Clark said: "Our reforms to planning policy have three fundamental objectives: [1] to put unprecedented power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they live; [2] to better support growth to give the next generation the chance that our generation has had to have a decent home, and to allow the jobs to be created on which our prosperity depends; and [3] to ensure that the places we cherish – our countryside, towns and cities – are bequeathed to the next generation in a better condition than they are now."

Local plans drawn up by planning authorities will be the central reference point for priorities and targets in local areas. Councils that don't have a local plan will have 12 months from today to get their houses in order.

On the contentious issues of environmental protection and the use of the phrase 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' Clark said: "Our reforms to the planning system take on each of these challenges:

  • "They enshrine the local plan – produced by local people – as the keystone of the planning system;
  • "They make planning much simpler and more accessible, reducing over 1,000 pages of often impenetrable jargon into around 50 pages of clearly written guidance;
  • "They establish a presumption in favour of sustainable development that means that development is not held up unless to approve it would be against our collective interest;
  • "The Framework guarantees robust protections for our natural and historic environment, and goes further by requiring net improvements to put right some of the neglect that has been visited on us;
  • "It raises the bar on design standards so that we have the most exacting requirement for design that the English planning system has ever contained."

The property industry broadly welcomed the long-awaited framework.

John Quinton-Barber, director of public consultation specialist IPB, has advised on planning applications for phone masts, supermarkets, wind farms and housing schemes. He said: "We know from our own experience that there has been a huge amount of inconsistency in the planning process for a number of years. There is a frustrating divide in how different authorities arrive at decisions on applications.

"A simplified approach is a step in the right direction for everyone involved in the process. Developers and house builders will be encouraged to begin consulting on their plans with the prospect of a clear remit and timely decisions."

Geoff White, RICS Policy Manager North, commented: "RICS supports the government's vision of reforming the guidance to the planning system. However, we would also like to see the government address the serious problems currently affecting the UK housing market, such as the lack of affordable mortgage and development finance. Reforming the planning system in isolation will not deliver the 100,000 extra homes required each year or the jobs needed to breathe life back into the UK's anaemic housing market.

"However, the NPPF provides a robust framework alongside existing national policy statements and we are optimistic that sustainable development can be delivered. Carefully targeted professional guidance and detailed good practice notes will be central in supporting the process and this is a job for RICS and the other professions. The time has come to stop talking and start delivering the development and growth UK Plc so badly needs."

Richard Tamayo, commercial director at National House-Building Council, said: "Our own registration figures reflect the drastic need for more new homes; under 115,000 new homes were registered with NHBC last year – a fall of more than 40% since the height of the market in 2007 (200,700). At current levels, the industry is building less than half the number of new homes needed to meet the challenge of household growth in the UK.

"The new planning framework and recently-announced first time buyers' mortgage initiative are both important steps in empowering the private sector – the current engine of growth for housing numbers – to produce the volume of homes the country urgently needs. However, other challenges still remain, around for example zero carbon homes. NHBC is committed to supporting government and the industry to ensure that the next generation of homes is built to high standards and meet the demands of today's new home buyers."

Bill Davidson, director of Indigo Planning and head of its Manchester office, said: "Despite today's announcement, one area that still needs testing is the treatment of applications in areas where there is no adopted core strategy. Only 25% of the North West's local authorities have a current local plan and this could provide a genuine window of opportunity for developers to push projects forward outside the development plan process. In these locations, proposals that represent 'Sustainable Economic Development' should be approved without delay.

"Transitional arrangements favour local authorities who have made real progress in plan preparation and those who have not, will see non-conforming planning applications flood in. 'Planning by appeal' is likely to become the norm and we anticipate that the DCLG will have little sympathy for those local authorities who have lagged behind in plan preparation."

John Cooper, director of Drivers Jonas Deloitte: "The final NPPF makes a number of concessions to counterbalance the 'significant weight' afforded to economic growth and the promotion of housing growth with checks and balances that refer to the consideration of environmental factors and the need to protect our natural and man made assets.

"In line with a desire to enforce its belief in the protection of the countryside, the final NPPF omits the provision that the default response to sustainable development will be 'yes'. Whilst a presumption in favour of sustainable development remains, that is provided with a clearer definition of how that is defined. In line with this approach, the idea of balancing environmental, social and economic considerations to reach decisions in the interest of local communities has always been at the heart of planning and still is.

"There has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of national planning policy documentation in order to make the development process more user friendly and get schemes back on site. Previously, national policy regarding retail sites was contained in a document running to 50 pages long, while in the NPPF the issue now occupies a minimum amount of space. In terms of retail, the 'town centres come first' idea keeps a central emphasis, and has been expanded to include offices and other defined town centre uses.

"The document emphasises the importance of locally prepared policy in decision making and advises on transitional arrangements for LPAs. Those with adopted plans have 12 months when they can use policies which are not consistent with the NPPF. In addition, weight will continue to be afforded to plans that have been significantly progressed but not yet finalised. It is fair to say that this will focus LPA's minds to get plans in place."

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: "Future generations will be thankful that the Government has held its nerve on this. Having a presumption in favour of sustainable development gets the balance right between supporting jobs and growth, and serving the interests of the environment and society.

"The new framework hands the responsibility back to local communities to decide where new homes, businesses and infrastructure to support them should be built. So the onus is on local authorities to work with people and businesses in their area to develop suitable plans as quickly as possible.

"Let's be clear, this is not an invitation to concrete over Britain, as some would have us believe. For too long, our planning regime acted as a drag on growth, and this framework lets people decide the future for themselves."

Ian Tant, senior partner at planning consultancy Barton Willmore, said: "The Government has stuck by the main principles of the draft NPPF of July 2011 maintaining the presumption in favour of sustainable development and maintaining its emphasis on balancing economic growth with environmental considerations in plan making and decision taking.

"However, the clarity of the pro-growth message that was in the Draft NPPF and, before that, in the March 2011 Planning for Growth statement, has been lost in the endeavour to ensure that the NPPF sits within the plan-led system with a careful range of checks and balances. The language of the NPPF is much more conciliatory than its draft – but there is a danger that in making this change, the Government will lose at least some of the imperative behind securing growth through the planning system.

"Local planning authorities continue to be given the responsibility to plan for the full social and economic needs in their area by meeting their household, population and business projections. But the NPPF balances the meeting of needs with the environmental aims, such that there is significantly less emphasis on driving delivery. The force behind the continued need to meet the five-year supply of housing – with additional margins – risks being undermined by allowing for windfall sites – those that haven't even been identified – to contribute to supply. That said, where LPAs cannot demonstrate a five-year supply, the NPPF will still bite in terms of driving development – provided it's sustainable.

"This simplified statement of Government planning policy will require careful interpretation at the local level, in bringing forward development proposals, in plan making, and in appeals. There may be much less text than in the predecessor PPGs and PPSs – but there is no shortage of room for argument about its implementation."

Richard Walters, head of planning at Knight Frank in Manchester: "Great that the waiting is over and we now have the final document issued which removes all the uncertainty and speculation which has prevailed since the early consultation. The framework makes it clear that the local plan is the focus of planning policy and that protection for the natural and historic environment is maintained but should be approached in a positive manner to facilitate sustainable growth and development. It is now essential that local authorities press ahead with their local plans to provide comfort to developers during the 12 month period of transition to conform to the new framework.

"There will be areas open to challenge across various authorities around housing delivery and in particular use of windfall sites in housing supply targets. A key message is that for landowners / developers it will be important that they understand the local issues rather than reliance on national standards, if they have national portfolios and interests."

Alastair Crowdy, national head of planning at GL Hearn: "This is unashamedly a plan to help secure economic growth through a positive approach to the planning process. But we should not be mistaken by thinking this is a fight between good and evil. The checks and balances are there to ensure that appropriate interests are protected. The overall approach of simplicity and more clarity is one to be applauded."

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