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NPPF verdict: Less local control, more greenfield development.

18 March 2013

The NPPF has opened the way for greenfield sprawl The NPPF has opened the way for greenfield sprawl © Shutterstock

Campaign to Protect Rural England has published a major analysis of how the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is being implemented during its first year.  The emerging evidence raises significant concerns about whether the reformed planning system is capable of securing development the country needs and preventing damaging schemes in the wrong locations. 

The new report Countryside Promises, Planning Realities highlights that the views of local communities are being overruled time and again, with major new housing development being allowed to sprawl across precious countryside.  A summary is available here

Launching the report, CPRE Chief Executive Shaun Spiers said:

‘CPRE has closely observed how the NPPF is being implemented on the ground and what we have seen is deeply disturbing.  Despite the rhetoric of localism, it now seems that local communities are increasingly powerless to prevent damaging development even in the most sensitive locations.

‘The country badly needs more housing, including affordable housing in rural areas.  But we will not get housing on the scale we need without popular consent, and there will be no popular consent unless local communities believe that that they are being listened to and that the planning system is minimising the loss of much-loved green fields.

Our evidence suggests that the NPPF is being used to impose unnecessary greenfield developments in the teeth of local opposition. Brownfield sites are being overlooked in favour of building on green fields that are easier for developers.  At the same time, developers are providing less and less affordable housing to meet local needs.’

The findings of the report include:

  • Across England, 20 major housing schemes, one as large as 2,000 houses, have been allowed, despite being either previously refused by the local authority or not being in line with local plans for the area. This contradicts Ministers’ commitments, made when launching the NPPF, to ‘put unprecedented power in the hands of communities to shape the places in which they live’.
  • Valuable countryside is being lost despite Government commitments to maintain its protection. All of the schemes examined are in open countryside. In addition, local plans, are meanwhile calling for up to 80,000 new houses on land currently designated as Green Belt.
  • Local authorities are being expected to allow more development on greenfield sites because it is argued that reuse of brownfield sites is no longer economically viable. Planning Inspectors have said there is no longer a policy requiring the use of brownfield sites before greenfield, contrary to Ministers’ assurances that policies must encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use. Ministers have also accepted that pressure on local authorities to renegotiate planning agreements is expected to result in 10,000 fewer new affordable homes than were originally agreed.
  • Local authorities that are producing plans are coming under pressure to allocate more greenfield sites than originally intended. And over half (52%) of local authorities do not have up to date adopted local plans in place.  As a result, they will come under increased pressure to approve any application for housing development in line with policies in the NPPF, rather than with local views. In other areas, little or no time is being given to develop neighbourhood plans before schemes are approved.

Shaun Spiers concluded:

‘When the Government introduced its planning reforms last year it promised that the local plan would be the keystone of the planning system, and that the intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside would be recognised. Instead, we are seeing that applications for new housing are being approved regardless of their impact on local areas including developments in some of our most treasured countryside such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

‘We know that Planning Minister Nick Boles wants good quality, beautiful development, but his policies are not delivering.  There can be no sustainable solution to this country’s housing problems unless there is a renewed focus on improving quality, increasing local control and minimising the loss of countryside.  The NPPF is not currently delivering that mix.  The Government urgently needs to rethink its approach.’


Case examples that particularly well illustrate CPRE’s concerns include:

GLOUCESTERSHIRE: In February 2013 a planning inspector decided to allow two planning appeals for housing development on greenfield sites on the edge of the town of Tetbury and in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), involving nearly 300 houses in total. The cases are typical of those that CPRE has come across since the NPPF came into force. The primary factor in decision making has been that the local planning authority, Cotswold District Council, has not been able to show that it has a five year supply of housing land sites that are considered ‘deliverable’; brownfield sites within Tetbury that have become available for development were not considered sufficiently ‘deliverable’. It was also judged that the need for housing overruled any negative impact on a nationally important landscape and therefore the council’s decision to refuse permission was overruled.

HAMPSHIRE: Following attempts by East Hampshire District Council and the South Downs National Park Authority to get a new plan in place in anticipation of the revocation of the South East Plan, the East Hampshire Core Strategy examination was suspended in January 2013. The main reason was that the Planning Inspectorate saw the South East Plan figures as a minimum requirement and that local assessment must look at higher figures.  This is in an area heavily constrained by the South Downs National Park. The local authorities are now anticipating having to allocate greenfield land for new housing in other areas, particularly around Petersfield, due to lower than expected housebuilding rates at the Bordon-Whitehill ecotown site which is largely brownfield.

GREATER MANCHESTER: An Inspector’s recommended dismissal of a large development by Peel Holdings of 350 houses at Worsley, in open countryside on the edge of Salford and initially refused by the Metropolitan Borough Council, was overruled by the Secretary of State in July 2012. This was despite the Planning Inspector finding that there was enough brownfield land available in Salford to accommodate over 19,000 new houses. Both regional and local policies calling for the reuse of brownfield land in sequence before greenfield sites were overruled by the Secretary of State, who said that ‘the sequential approach to location of housing development is not reflected in the [NPPF].’ So once again the economic interests of developers were judged to be more important than the need to protect greenfield land and regenerate brownfield sites.

NORFOLK: South Norfolk District Council voted to grant planning permission in December 2012 for 180 houses on the edge of the village of Mulbarton, while a public consultation on the preferred local sites for new housing development was  taking place. The parish council strongly objected to the proposal because it did not believe that the site was the best one in the village for new development, and that it wanted to develop a neighbourhood plan to promote development on a more locally acceptable site.

NORTH EAST: The former North East Regional Plan sought to focus most housing development on brownfield sites within the region. Since the Government announced its attention to abolish regional plans, however, Durham County Council has (in autumn 2012) consulted on ‘preferred options’ to build a much higher overall amount of new housing than was apportioned to the county within the regional plan, and involving 3,550 new dwellings and 27 hectares of employment-related development on Green Belt land around Durham City. The council plans to submit a final version of the plan for examination by the Planning Inspectorate later in 2013. Meanwhile, in Newcastle and Gateshead, the local authorities consulted up until September 2012 on plans to release land from the Green Belt for 3,000 houses and a link road.

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE: Rushcliffe Borough Council, covering an area to the south of Nottingham with large areas of Green Belt, has (in December 2012) come under pressure from Planning Inspectors to increase the amount of land allocated for new housing from the council’s proposed 627 houses a year to nearer 750 houses a year, the target in the Regional Strategy. The strategy has yet to be revoked despite Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ commitment to revoke all Regional Strategies which ‘worst of all threatened the destruction of the Green Belt’. If the target is to be met then it is likely to require the council to allocate more Green Belt sites for development.

WARWICKSHIRE: In October 2012 the Secretary of State granted planning permission for up to 800 houses on largely greenfield land on the edge of Stratford–on-Avon, reversing the District Council’s decision to refuse. The local MP, Nadhim Zahawi, commented: ‘the decision destroys in a single stroke belief in the government’s localism agenda’.  The decision came despite Eric Pickles noting that ‘considerable work has been undertaken on the neighbourhood plan process in Stratford-on-Avon.’ [see footnote 3 below for more on neighbourhood plans] The land affected adjoins Shottery Conservation Area including the Grade 1 Listed Anne Hathaway’s cottage.


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