Select committee warns Cameron that NPPF is 'contradictory and confusing'

An influential group of MPs have written to the Prime Minister to warn him that the national planning policy framework (NPPF) is 'contradictory and confusing'.

Prime minister David Cameron
Prime minister David Cameron

In a letter to David Cameron, the House of Commons environmental audit committee argued that the government’s vision of sustainable development should be "articulated more clearly…because it will be used as a material consideration in planning decisions and might have to be tested in the courts".

The letter concluded that the NPPF should stress the importance of the social and environmental – as well as economic – aspects of sustainable development.

The NPPF should "ensure that there is no potential for confusion about the equal importance of all three aspects of sustainable development", the letter said.

"While local authorities ultimately have to consider what constitutes sustainable development in their area, they need a NPPF which does not push them to regard the economic dimension as predominant," it added.

The letter, signed by committee chair Joan Walley MP, also recommended that the NPPF should:

-  be more specific about how local authorities should address "regional" and "larger than local" sustainable development factors – including for example food resilience, energy, climate change and some waste management functions – as well as how the aims of the natural environment White Paper for designating green spaces, Local Improvement Areas and wildlife corridors would be progressed.

 - specify how a duty-to-cooperate on such issues, as well as on developments on the boundaries between local authorities, would operate and be enforced.

The committee also said that the NPPF was "unsatisfactory" because it presents different messages to different audiences about what the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which could see development which is in line with national policy approved where local plans are not properly in place, actually means in practice.

"That uncertainty, unless rectified in the final version, places a premium on having local plans in place at the earliest opportunity, to clarify a local authority’s view of the sorts of sustainable development it will approve," the letter said.

"There should be transitional arrangements which would provide a realistic timeframe for authorities to put plans in place, and the government should establish what resources local authorities will need to adapt their systems for the new regime."

The letter added that during the transition, when plans are being formulated and approved, local authorities should be able to judge planning applications on the basis of any existing plans "potentially rendered out of date by the NPPF" and by the relevant legacy policies in the revoked regional strategies.

The letter to the prime minister can be read here.

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