After eight months and two days since the publication of the consultation draft in July 2011, we now have the live version of the National Planning Policy Framework in force.
So what has changed? The difference is a more nuanced document that provides a series of concessions to a wide range of those who responded to the consultation. In a demonstration of consensus building since the rocky start to the NPPF last summer, there are amendments to address concerns raised by backbench Coalition members of parliament, local government leaders and some of the calls from the national countryside pressure groups regarding green belt protection. It also acknowledges and responds to the recommendations of the December 2011 Communities and Local Government select committee report, responding to 30 of the 35 recommendations if the Minister of State, Greg Clark MP, is to be believed.
The finalised NPPF reads even more in the familiar tones of a civil service document than the radical outsourced blue skies re-write where it started. However, despite this there should be no mistaking that this is a radical revision to planning policy. The clock is ticking on a radical re-orientation in the way local planning policy has to come up to scratch or land local councils in deep trouble with their electorates. Fewer words of national policy – just 49 core pages – amplify the task that faces local authorities in complying with the requirement to identify and allocate land for housing to meet a rolling 5 year delivery target.
In terms of the political concessions announced in parliament, a new annex to the NPPF covering transitional arrangements sets out that the 12-month transition period offered to local authorities to get their plans in order only applies to plans adopted since 2004. That will be quite a shock to the many authorities with older plans. These will, with immediate effect, have only limited weight according to the degree of consistency with the new version of the NPPF published today and now in force.
But the previous language about the default answer to development being ‘yes’ where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date, has been scrapped. The new version which applies from today says:
Where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out‑of‑date, granting permission unless:
––any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole
––specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted.
There is a marked reduction in the original pro-growth aspiration that 5-year housing land supply ‘should include an additional allowance of at least 20 per cent to ensure choice and competition in the market for land.’ This is now set at an additional buffer of 5% except where there is ‘a record of persistent under delivery’ where the buffer should increase to 20% ‘by moving forward delivery from later in the plan period’.
In a revised section on ‘decision-taking’ by local authorities, Paragraph 189 includes the recommendation that local authorities ‘should’, where they think this would be beneficial, encourage any applicants not already required to do so by law, to engage with the local community before submitting their application’. This is a further strengthening of the national guidance on pre-application consultation for schemes below the statutory consultation thresholds set out in the Localism Act.
Overall, the development sector should see this as a landmark moment which closes the door on the 2004 Planning & Compulsory Planning Act which never quite got there to achieve the delivery of the complex Local Development Frameworks. There is a great deal more chance of seeing a nation-wide set of up to date Local Plans within 12 to 18 months from now than there was with years of waiting under the previous regime.
To read the Rt. Hon Greg Clark’s statement on the Government’s publishing of the National Planning Policy Framework and its response to the DCLG Select Committee Report from December 2011 in full click here.
To download the full NPPF pdf – click here
Written by Nick Sutcliffe