The report, by the Communities and Local Government Committee, welcomes the government’s aspiration to make the planning system simpler and more accessible by reducing the amount of planning legislation to a single document.
However, it says the document, as currently drafted, contains a weighting towards economic growth that risks allowing unsustainable development.
The report says the default answer of ‘yes’ to development should be removed from the NPPF along with the phrase ‘significantly and demonstrably’ from the presumption that all planning applications should be approved unless the adverse effects ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweigh the benefits.
"The exhortation to adopt a ‘default yes’ to development proposals, the way the concept of viability is framed, and the ‘significantly and demonstrably’ test for evidence against development, all seek to tip the balance of decision making too obviously towards development that may be unsustainable", it says.
The Committee also warns that the NPPF defines the phrase ‘sustainable development’ inadequately and often conflates it with ‘sustainable economic growth’. It calls for any new definition of sustainable development to contain clear and identifiable use of the well-known Brundtland definition, the restating of the five guiding principles from the 2005 sustainable development strategy; and "an explicit statement of the need to address and to seek to achieve all of the aspects of sustainable development, and not to start by assuming that one aspect can be traded off against another".
The committee makes a string of other recommendations including:
- The NPPF should unambiguously reflect the statutory supremacy of Local Plans, in accordance with the 2004 Planning Act. MPs call for the NPPF to require local planning decisions to be taken in accordance with the presumption in favour of sustainable development consistent with the Local Plan.
- The relationship between the NPPF, Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans needs to be set out clearly within the body of the NPPF, including the way which strategic and local priorities are to be taken into account, especially when these priorities conflict.
- Clarity within the NPPF has suffered in the pursuit of brevity. Left unchanged, inconsistent drafting could create gaps in planning policy or guidance that MPs predict will lead to a huge expansion in the size of Local Plans - as local authorities attempt to plug those gaps.
- There should be a sensible transition period between the old and new regimes with a clear and realistic timetable. This should give local authorities time to put Local Plans in place where they have not already done so. Transition arrangements must also reassure local authorities, communities and developers on the status of Local Plans that are in place, close to adoption, or have recently been completed.
- The government should consider as a matter of urgency whether the resources of the Planning Inspectorate are sufficient to prevent a bottleneck of unapproved plans building up, particularly given the scope for a short term increase in challenge to Development Control decisions.
- The NPPF should reflect the existing 'Town Centre First' policy and include a provision to allow communities, in certain exceptional circumstances, to adopt an absolute protection of a town centre from out-of-town retail development.
Committee chair Clive Betts said: "The published, final NPPF will be a significant document, with far-reaching consequences. It must be balanced, comprehensive and adequately linked to other relevant central and local Government policy documents.
"Now is the opportunity to take on board the suggested changes we are recommending, based on the evidence we have received, to produce a well crafted, effective document, used to inform planning decisions made locally across England that will address social, environmental and economic demands on land supply on an equal basis".
Responding to the report planning minister Greg Clark said: "I warmly welcome the DCLG select committee's constructive recommendations to the draft Framework consultation. I invited the Committee to make specific suggestions to the draft framework and am grateful for the practical and measured way they have approached the exercise.
"The Government will consider carefully each of the suggestions that have been made, along with all responses to the consultation. We are determined that the National Planning Policy Framework will put power into the hands of local people, through a simpler, clearer system, which safeguards our natural and historic environment while allowing the jobs and homes to be created that our country needs."
The report can be read in full here.
Follow all the reaction to the committee report here