Planning reforms ‘contain major rural concessions’

Publication of the new National Planning Policy Framework represented a major U-turn by the Government, writes Michael Wellock, director of Kirkwells planning consultancy in Burnley.

Criticised by the National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, and other environmental groups, that the proposed NPPF would lead to the destruction of the English countryside the Government has backtracked in major areas, including:

The presumption in favour of sustainable development. No longer will this give pre-eminence to economic matters. Economic considerations will now be considered "jointly and simultaneously" with social and environmental issues.

Countryside. Missing from the draft was any countryside protection. The final NPPF now recognises the "distinctive character and value of the countryside".

Brownfield first, or the development of previously developed land, also missing from the draft, is reinserted. Councils should encourage the re-use of such land and can set local targets for achieving this.

The draft's automatic granting of planning permission where a Local Plan is "silent, indeterminate or out of date" has been dropped. Now permission should be granted unless "any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits".

Local Plans. The final key concession grants breathing space, in terms of significant transitional arrangements, for local councils to use their existing and emerging local plans, in conjunction with the NPPF, for decision-making.

Although the Government has performed a significant U-Turn, with all the associated short-term political costs, the long-term benefit will be felt across the country. The NPPF will simplify the planning system and will make things easier to understand. Hopefully, projects stalled whilst we waited on the outcome of the consultation process will now get a shot in the arm. The great shame is we had to go through almost 12 months of wrangles and uncertainty to get here.

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