Comments on the new NPPG

March 10, 2014

The recent ministerial Written Statement presented to Parliament on Local Planning by Nick Boles of the DCLG, on 6th March 2014 and referring to the government policy on “Making the planning system work more efficiently and effectively.” The full statement is worth a read and the NPPF and the specific guidance are available on a dedicated website with an easy to use seach facility.

This statement contains 13 (mostly positive) bullet points the minister wishes to draw to public attention in the run up to next year’s election and we should not under-estimate the sensitivity of the moment, as parties begin to formulate next year’s election manifestos.
This particular ministerial statement is important because it refers not to the NPPF itself, which is shortly to be reviewed by a select committee, but to the official guidance issued by DCLG to local authority planning departments and developers putting together their planning applications. It is based on feedback from representations on the draft practice guidelines and from Honourable Members and Noble Peers.

Nick Boles’ most outrageously unbelievable bullet point is this:

  • “Stressing the importance of bringing brownfield land into use and made clear that authorities do not have to allocate sites on the basis of providing the maximum possible return for land owners and developers.”

Hopefully we would all agree on the first part of this bullet point, but the second part would seem to indicate that some local planning authorities are being bullied by developers into the view that it is the planners’ job to maximise developers’ profits, presumably by rubber-stamping cheaper green field sites rather than more expensive brown field developments.
No, it’s actually worse than that. If specific government guidance has had to be issued, then it means that the point has been accepted by some planning authorities and acted upon, i.e. some planning departments are now subsidiaries of the large scale house building companies, alongside their legal, sales and advertising departments !
In full, the Minister’s bullet points were that in its guidance, the government was

  • issuing robust guidance on flood risk, making it crystal clear that councils need to consider the strict tests set out in national policy, and where these are not met, new development on flood risk sites should not be allowed
  • re-affirming Green Belt protection, noting that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green Belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development
  • making clear that local plans can pass the test of soundness where authorities have not been able to identify land for growth in years 11 to 15 of their local plan, which often can be the most challenging part for a local authority
  • making clear that windfalls can be counted over the whole local plan period
  • explaining how student housing, housing for older people and the re-use of empty homes can be included when assessing housing need
  • ensuring that infrastructure is provided to support new development, and noting how infrastructure constraints should be considered when assessing suitability of sites
  • stressing the importance of bringing brownfield land into use and made clear that authorities do not have to allocate sites on the basis of providing the maximum possible return for landowners and developers
  • noting that councils should also be able to consider the delivery record (or lack of) of developers or landowners, including a history of unimplemented permissions; this will also serve to encourage developers to deliver on their planning permissions
  • incorporating the guidance on renewable energy (including heritage and amenity) published during last summer and making it clearer in relation to solar farms, that visual impact is a particular factor for consideration
  • allowing past over-supply of housing to be taken into account when assessing housing needs
  • on the 5 year supply of sites, confirming that assessments are not automatically outdated by new household projections
  • clarifying when councils can consider refusing permission on the grounds of prematurity in relation to draft plans
  • encouraging joint working between local authorities, but clarifying that the duty to co-operate is not a duty to accept; we have considered and rejected the proposals of HM opposition to allow councils to undermine green Belt protection and dump development on their neighbour’s  doorstep

I have included these points in full so that local campaign groups can use them, quoting the requisite parliamentary reference, in three particular circumstances:

  • When formulating a written objection to an individual planning application.
  • When submitting comments on draft Core Strategies.
  • As a basis for asking your constituency MP to ask the minister a question on your behalf, or rather as a basis for a range of activists to ask your local MP to ask the minister a range of individual & different questions.

Happy parliamentary questioning !
Ron Morton
Shortwood Green Belt Campaign

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