In Context - NPPF: planning without a plan?

Sir Peter Hall: 'Something very odd is happening to our planning system. You might argue that it's taking us way back - to before the 1947 Act, to a time no one can remember'.

Others might counter that this is true, but that it's a necessary kill-or-cure operation that is the only thing that can save the patient.

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) reports that, since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came fully into effect at the end of March, the Planning Inspectorate is getting very tough on two key questions: are housing allocations backed by up-to-date estimates of housing need? And can the local planning authority demonstrate that it is effectively working with neighbouring authorities under the duty to cooperate?

The LGiU looks at 80 plans submitted to the Planning Inspectorate between April 2012, when the NPPF was introduced, and September 2013. They haven't fared well. Five have been withdrawn and, although 27 were found sound, 12 of these are subject to early review because they had not met the duty to cooperate or housing need requirements (but had been examined before the NPPF had come fully into effect). A further 48 have examinations pending.

Huw Edwards at Barton Willmore comments: "Many authorities that have not complied with the duty or carried out a review of housing need will now be extremely concerned." His verdict confirms earlier research conducted by Savills in March, which commented that "a number of local authorities without a five-year supply are losing appeals".

David Lock, writing in the October edition of Town and Country Planning, provides details. The key NPPF features - an "objectively assessed" study of needs for market and affordable housing, a five-year supply of deliverable sites, and an up-to-date local plan - have overwhelmingly been enforced, over the last 12 months, in decisions by inspectors and the secretary of state - and, finally, in the courts. "Out-of-date development plan policies seeking to protect areas of countryside outside established development limits", he writes, "have consistently been found out-of-date and set aside" - even in areas of natural beauty and green belts.

Lock's title is Chickens come home to roost. They certainly have - through decisions that effectively mean planning without a plan. Maybe, as a result, we get a better planning system. Let's all devoutly hope so.

Sir Peter Hall is Bartlett professor of planning and regeneration, University College London


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