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Six key questions hanging over the final NPPF

Monday, 26 March 2012 13:03

Six key questions hanging over the final NPPF Photo: © CPRE

The key document central to the Governments planning reforms, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), will be published on Tuesday 27 March. The Framework will be a major influence on decisions over new development for years to come and is likely to have a profound effect on the future of our countryside, villages, towns and cities for years to come.  The Campaign to Protect Rural England sets out some critical questions we will be looking to the Government to address:

1) Ministers have been keen to state that protection for designated landscapes, like National Park or AONBs, will remain unchanged, but how will the NPPF affect protection of the ordinary countryside that makes up over half of England’s rural landscape?

The draft NPPF omitted existing national planning policies, set out in Planning Policy Statement 4, that recognise the importance of protecting the wider countryside for its intrinsic value or ‘for its own sake’. CPRE believes strongly that such policies should be included in the final NPPF. This would be in line with the Government’s June 2011 White Paper The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature, which refers to protection of the countryside as a whole, not just the ‘valued landscape’ mentioned in the draft NPPF. English countryside outside designated areas covers over half the country, including much of our natural environment and many historic landscapes.

2) Critical to the final NPPF will be the definition of sustainable development used in the controversial proposal for a ‘default yes to development’. In particular, does the definition include the principles set out in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy (2005), as recommended by two Commons Select Committees?

Ministers have relied heavily on making references to a vague notion of ‘sustainable development’ in order to convince critics that the NPPF will not weaken environmental protection. Yet the draft NPPF failed to make any reference to the five key principles of sustainable development, which are set out in the current UK Sustainable Development Strategy (2005). Rather the draft only refers to the older, more high-level Brundtland definition which does not provide an adequate basis for planning decisions.

3) Ministers claim the protection for the Green Belt would remain strong in the new NPPF but a legal opinion obtained by the CPRE suggested it could be unintentionally weakened by proposed policies in the draft NPPF. Has the Government done anything to address these concerns?

A legal opinion issued in October 2011 by John Hobson Q.C., one of the country’s leading planning lawyers, raised concerns that Green Belt policy would be undermined by the sustainable development presumption together with the expectation that applications should be approved unless there are adverse impacts to policies in the NPPF as a whole. To prevent a weakening of protection given to Green Belt land CPRE wants to see the current presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt stated explicitly in the NPPF. Policies on nationally protected areas such as National Parks should also be consistent with established policy.

4) The draft NPPF appeared to propose removing the ‘brownfield first’ policy which requires housing developers to use previously developed sites before greenfield land. Has the Government taken account of cross-sector advice and made it an explicit requirement in the final NPPF for local planning authorities to prioritise the use brownfield land first and follow the principles of ‘smart growth’?

In January the RTPI, CPRE, British Property Federation, National Trust, Planning Officers Society, Civic Voice, Construction Industry Council and the National Farmers’ Union together submitted to Ministers an agreed wording on ‘brownfield first’ policy.

The final NPPF should include specific wording requiring previously developed land to be used for development, where available and suitable, before greenfield sites. Evidence shows there is sufficient suitable brownfield land for 1.5 million new homes.  The NPPF should also promote the benefits of ‘smart growth’ to make more efficient use of land, reduce the need to travel, promote a sense of community and make local services more viable.

5) What support will the Government give local authorities to produce local plans? Have the Local Government Association and professional planning bodies signed up to transitional arrangements which allow local planning authorities adequate time to get their plans in place?

The day the NPPF is launched all local plans could effectively be out of date and that the ‘default yes’ will result in a development ‘free for all’. CPRE fears it could lead to a near doubling of the current number of planning appeals against local refusals to the 32,000 mark last seen in the 1980s. The Government needs to clarify if transitional arrangements will be set out to prevent local plans from being undermined.

6) What do Ministers think the phrase ‘acceptable returns’ for developers really means, and do they think the NPPF does enough to ensure we get more genuinely affordable housing rather than profitable ‘executive housing’ beyond the reach of most of those in housing need?

The draft NPPF stated that the cost of any requirements applied to development should ensure that ‘acceptable returns’ are still available for the land owner and developer. ‘Acceptable returns’ has not been defined and CPRE has raised concerns that it would undermine negotiations on section 106 agreements requiring the delivery of affordable housing by developers. While the final NPPF should recognise the need for development and sites to be viable, it should not promote economic considerations above all others. The NPPF should also state more clearly the need for a robust housing needs assessments to underpin all local plans.

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