This was the one to watch, the issue that opponents rallied around, criticising the framework for having a default ‘yes’ answer to development. Putting aside the arguments about how far this already existed in planning guidance, the big news is that it survives to the final framework:
14. At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking
Another area of widespread criticism was the lack of a definition for sustainable development. Here the government has responded, the definition has been strengthened to include the ‘Brundtland’ definition of a three dimensional approach; economic, social and environmental.
The guidance also refers to the five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development from the UK Sustainable Development Strategy – Securing the Future:
There was much concern that local authorities would face a wave of applications as developers ‘slammed in’ planning applications (as The Telegraph put it this morning) in a bid to take advantage of new guidance which would override Local Plans. But today Greg Clark went out of his way to stress that Local Plans will stay at the centre of planning. Local authorities with a post-2004 local plan that is broadly in line with the NPPF will be able to use those policies for 12 months.
However, notably, for those local authorities who have failed to come up with an up-to-date plan, the NPPF will come in to force today
Despite reassurances from ministers that previously developed land would be promoted, there was widespread criticism of the government’s move away from the explicit ‘Brownfield first’ policy adopted by the previous Labour administration. The final framework sees an explicit return to this principle of clearly prioritising the use of previously developed land.
Core Planning Principles
- encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value
Though the government has stopped short of setting the national targets demanded by many, preferring instead to encourage local policy: “Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land.”
Groups such as the National Trust, CPRE and The Telegraph (who have been running a ‘Hands Off Our Land’ campaign) will welcome the return of this protection for ‘general countryside’, which is not allocated as Green Belt, after it was removed from the first draft:
Core Planning Principles
- take account of the different roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas, protecting the Green Belts around them, recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it.
Despite campaigners lobbying the against the allocation of more land for housing, the government has stuck by its demand that councils that have a record of "persistent under delivery on housing" must earmark a five-year supply plus 20 per cent (Local Authorities with a good track record at allocating land for housing must earmark a five-year supply plus 5%).
Whilst the framework does relax the stance a little on ‘windfall’ sites being included in these assessments of land supply, local authorities will have to display compelling evidence that such sites "consistently become available" and will be a "reliable source of supply".
Building on the work of the review by Mary Portas the ‘town centre first’ policy has been strengthened to ensure the vitality of town centres:
24. Local planning authorities should apply a sequential test to planning applications for main town centre uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan. They should require applications for main town centre uses to be located in town centres, then in edge of centre locations and only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered...
27. Where an application fails to satisfy the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on one or more of the above factors, it should be refused.
Notably, an exception has been introduced for small scale rural offices or other small scale rural development.
There are a plethora of other changes to the framework with policies introduced ranging from preventing extensions to peat extraction, to increasing town centre parking, and giving regard to the recommendations from the design review panel.
Undoubtedly as developers, local authorities and other interest groups study the final framework document many more potential impacts will be indentified. Whether 1000 pages long or ‘just’ 59 pages, as always with planning guidance ‘the devil will be in the detail’.
With the framework coming into immediate effect we await the first planning decisions to see if the new NPPF will drive the sustainable growth that the government hopes.