We’ve now had time to fully digest a raft of proposed changes to the way planning works in England - proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that will have a far reaching effect on development in your area.
Planning changes: making our views known
Along with local CPRE groups that have already responded, CPRE is about to send its views to the consultation, which is closing on 22 February.
Context is all
We’re responding in the context that Government's whole approach to planning and the country’s housing problem has been to insist that planning gets in the way of development. Their focus is to make it easier for developers to get permission to build housing wherever they want, in the hope that the homes we so desperately need will be built.
But the reality is very different: our research shows that this simply doesn’t work. More land is already allocated for housing in local plans than developers have the will or the physical capacity to build. When builders do build, they are building the homes that will make them the most profit, rather than those that rural communities actually need.
The proposed new policies on affordable housing have also not been ‘rural proofed’. A revised policy that takes account of the specific needs of rural areas for particularly low cost and social rented housing is urgently required.
Precious countryside is being put at risk to meet unattainable housing targets. For example, Cornwall is currently required to build 50,000 new homes (the equivalent of five ‘Truros’) with most homes likely to be inappropriately located on green fields on the outskirts of major towns in the county. Oxfordshire is currently required to build 100,000 houses - doubling previous targets – putting the county’s countryside under enormous pressure, including Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These are just two examples of the unrealistic targets local authorities are having to adopt across England.
Too much development is already being allowed in the Green Belt. CPRE research has shown an almost threefold increase in the amount of housing (from 81,000 houses to 226,000 houses) being planned for on Green Belt sites since 2012. This undermines David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto pledge to protect Green Belt. It also reduces the scope to manage Green Belt land for people and wildlife over the longer-term.
Ministers are now proposing further relaxations to Green Belt policy. One such change would allow more intensive development on brownfield sites in the Green Belt, as well as giving more scope for the development of open parts of such sites, which can include grass airfields and the landscaped grounds of hospitals. Another proposal is to encourage development of Green Belt sites through neighbourhood plans. But neither of these proposals provides sufficient guarantees to safeguard the open qualities of the Green Belt, so important to providing a green lung around our major towns and cities.
So what are we calling for in our response to the consultation?
- Give rural communities the ability to decide the type of homes built to increase the choice of affordable and social homes to rent (question 1 of the consultation).
- Strengthen brownfield policy as proposed (question 7 of the consultation), making brownfield sites in towns and cities the priority for new houses and allowing local councils to refuse proposals on competing greenfield sites.
- Rural communities should have the ability to decide whether small sites on the edge of settlements are developed for starter homes or other types of affordable housing, depending on the needs of the area (question 8 of the consultation). Speculative development proposals (that is, those not included within a local or neighbourhood plan) that would lead to significant growth of a village should be resisted.
- Rather than introduce a housing delivery test that would require local planning authorities to release land for development (question 11 of the consultation), introduce a condition to planning permission that developments must be completed (not just started) within five years or housebuilders face financial penalties. This would encourage them to complete developments within a fixed period. Local authorities should also be allowed to set realistic housing targets based on local need that are likely to be delivered over 20 years - instead of the current approach, which is failing to deliver the housing we need in the right places.
- Ministers should only encourage more development in the Green Belt on brownfield sites and other sites allocated in neighbourhood plans (questions 19 and 20 of the consultation) if the land can be built on without causing urban sprawl or compromising the open qualities of the Green Belt. More widely, the Government should provide a tighter definition of the exceptions that can be used in local plans to justify removing land from the Green Belt.
You too can send in a response to the consultation but do remember that you’ll need to respond to the questions asked – which is why I’ve added numbers in brackets above. Deadline Monday …
Find out more
Shaun Spiers explains the proposed changes to the NPPF - the good, the bad and the shockingly unclear - in More planning reform: what's going on?