Out-Law Guide | 22 Aug 2011 | 12:32 pm | 6 min. read
The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has been published as part of the government's programme of reforms to streamline and clarify the planning system and to make it more accessible to the public. The draft NPPF attempts to summarise some 1300 pages of current planning policy into 58 pages of text. It is very widely viewed as being a stimulus to and pro-development. There is, however, some concern about inappropriate development and that long-term aims are being sacrificed to provide short-term solutions to economic troubles.
Once formalised, the draft NPPF will be the point of reference for national planning policy, providing the framework for the preparation and production of land use plans at a local and neighbourhood level as set out in the Localism Bill.
Core planning principles
The draft NPPF summarises a number of core land-use planning principles that are to be taken into account by all those participating in the planning system. These reinforce the plan-led system which is driven by Local Plans - promoting the delivery of growth for housing, business and other development needs.
Local planning policies should take account of local needs and circumstances particularly environmental quality, environmental policies and policies seeking to protect and enhance environmental and heritage assets.
Presumption in favour of 'sustainable development'
The draft NPPF prescribes a presumption in favour of sustainable development in circumstances where a development plan is 'absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date'.
Local plans: local authorities will produce a Local Plan for their area, in line with proposals to scrap the current suite of documents that make up the Local Development Framework. Additional documents should only be used where there is a clear and justified need.
When published, Local Plans should clearly set out what the opportunities for development are in the area and stipulate what will and will not be permitted and where. Preferable development locations should be identified and Plans should adapt to climate change and protect the built and natural environment.
Local Plans should proactively plan for infrastructure over a 15-year period. They should allocate sites that promote flexible development uses and limit the freedom to change the use of buildings and areas that are to be protected from development. Plans should set strategic priorities to facilitate the delivery of housing and economic development, retail and leisure, health security and community facilities.
Local Plans must be up to date. If they are not, the draft NPPF states that planning applications should be decided according to the provisions in the NPPF.
Housing: Strategic Housing Market Assessments must be used to identify housing needs over the plan period and ensure the Local Plans meet the requirement for both affordable and market homes. In addition to this, local authorities should identify and maintain a rolling supply of specified sites that can be used to provide a five year supply of housing, plus an additional allowance of at least 20% to ensure that there is choice and competition in the market.
Authorities will also have to identify a supply of specific development sites in line with this objective for 6-10 years, and 11-15 years if possible. No allowances should be made for 'windfall' sites which unexpectedly come to light in the first five or 10 years of these periods respectively, unless there is compelling evidence that prevents sites from being identified up front.
Relationship with Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs): NSIPs, as prescribed in the Planning Act 2008, are major infrastructure developments in England and Wales and comprise, for example, proposals for new power plants, large renewable energy projects, airports and major road projects. In respect of the relationship with NSIPs, the draft NPPF reiterates the need for local authorities to plan for necessary and nationally significant infrastructure. However, more guidance is required as to how the Local Plan and NSIP regimes will coexist to avoid confusion over the role of the Local Plan process in connection with applications for NSIPs.
Collaboration and joint working: this is actively encouraged for local authorities, particularly with regard to the delivery of strategic objectives and highlighting barriers to investment and growth. Barriers can include a lack of infrastructure, housing or viability. Planning policies should address potential barriers and be flexible enough to accommodate unanticipated economic circumstances.
Authorities should work together to meet forecast infrastructure demands and take account of the need for nationally significant infrastructure. Where an authority cannot accommodate development requirements, authorities should consider producing joint policies on investment and infrastructure plans.
Collaborative working should be used by local authorities across borders. As part of the plan preparation process where an authority cannot accommodate development requirements - for example, due to a lack of physical capacity or where significant harm is likely to objectives, principles and policies of the NPPF - authorities should consider producing joint policies on investment and infrastructure plans.
Viability: policy on local viability standards should be prescribed in the Local Plan, including the requirement to deliver affordable housing. The draft NPPF states that, where practical, Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges should be tested to see how effectively they support and incentivise new development. The CIL, a discretionary levy that local authorities can apply to new developments to fund infrastructure, is promoted as its aim is to incentivise new development.
Local authorities should also avoid planning conditions which will undermine the viability of development proposals.
Town centres: edge of town and out of town sites should only be considered for meeting development requirements where town centre sites are unavailable. A sequential approach should be applied to planning applications for retail and leisure uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with an up to date Local Plan.
Green Belt: the draft NPPF confirms that there is no need to designate new Green Belts – land protected countryside and green space, the main purpose of which is to prevent urban sprawl - other than in exceptional circumstances. Local authorities with Green Belts in their areas should establish boundaries in their Local Plans which set the framework for Green Belt and settlement policy. Once established, these boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances.
If proposed within a Green Belt, many renewable energy projects will be considered inappropriate development. In such situations, developers must be able to demonstrate very special circumstances before a project can proceed. However, these may include wider environmental benefits from increased renewable energy generation according to the draft NPPF.
Natural environment: Local Plans should aim to minimise adverse effects on the local and natural environment. Land should be allocated to meet development requirements with the least environmental or amenity value, taking into account the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Development proposals that will affect wildlife or landscapes will be assessed against criteria-based policies which clarify the distinctions and hierarchy between international, national and local nature conservation designations.
In determining applications for planning permission in accordance with the Local Plan and the presumption in favour of sustainable development, authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity. If significant harm is unavoidable, or cannot be adequately mitigated against or – as a last resort - compensated for, then planning permission should be refused.
Planning permission should also be refused if it would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats.
Community Forums: these will assess the impact of all existing and proposed local standards and requirements.
Neighbourhood Plans: the draft NPPF states that Neighbourhood Plans should generally conform to the Local Plan. They will be able to shape and deliver development in line with the presumption in favour of sustainable development, but will not be able to block development. Once made, a Neighbourhood Plan will take precedence over policies in a Local Plan where there is a conflict.
Neighbourhood Development Orders: in line with the Localism Bil, neighbourhoods will have the right to use Neighbourhood Development Orders to grant planning permission. Where these are in place, no further planning permission will be required.
Natural environment: the draft NPPF provides that communities will be able to earmark important local green spaces for special protection and ring fence important sites. Communities will be able to identify green areas of particular importance for special protection through Local and Neighbourhood Plans and by designating land as 'Local Green Space'. New development will be ruled out other than in very special circumstances.
Development management process
The draft NPPF encourages the 'front loading' of planning applications with pre-application and early discussions between businesses, local communities and the local authority. Authorities should promote their pre-application services, as should statutory consultees, with authorities publishing a list of their information requirements. Developers should consider the suitability of Planning Performance Agreements, particularly for larger projects.
Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans will be the starting point for determining all applications, in conjunction with the new presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The draft NPPF restates that the use of planning obligations and conditions should be curtained. Planning obligations should only be used where it is not possible to address unacceptable impact through the planning process. Planning conditions should only be imposed where necessary, relevant, enforceable, reasonable and precise.