Operation of the National Planning Policy Framework

A Communities and Local Government Committee report says that the National Planning Policy Framework needs to do more to protect against unsustainable development in England and ensure communities aren't subject to unwanted housing development.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has been in operation for two and a half years and the Committee welcomes the simplification it has brought to the planning system, but states that it needs more time to bed in. The Government needs to collect more data, before a full assessment can be made of its strengths and weaknesses.

The reports however gives a number of emerging concerns: that the NPPF is not preventing unsustainable development in some places; that inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications; and that town centres are being given insufficient protection against the threat of out of town development.

Of particular concern regarding ‘speculative’ applications is that communities are at risk of unsustainable development due to the granting of planning permission to substantial housing development on the edge of towns and villages. This was particularly acute when a local plan or five year supply of housing land was not in place. In these cases, developers take advantage of the absence of the plan or five year supply to seek planning permission in areas that local communities do not consider suitable for development.

These concerns point to the need to strengthen, rather than withdraw, the NPPF. A number of suggestions are made regarding the NPPF itself and to the way it is applied:

• Steps must be taken to ensure that the planning system delivers the sustainable development promised in the NPPF. These include ensuring that the same weight is given to the environmental and social dimensions as to economics; that permission is only given to development if accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; and that the planning system places due emphasis on the natural environment.

• All councils must move much more quickly to get an adopted plan in place: this will give communities increased protection against the threat of undesirable development. A statutory requirement should be made for councils to get local plans adopted within three years of legislation being enacted.

• The complex issue of land supply must be addressed. Provisions in the NPPF relating to the viability of housing land are leading to inappropriate development: these loopholes must be closed. There also needs to be clearer guidance about how housing need should be assessed. In addition, local authorities should be encouraged to review their green belts as part of the local planning process.

• Changes should be made to ensure the NPPF gives greater protection to town centres. The internet has changed the way shopping is done; town centre planning policy must therefore evolve too. A call is made for an end to permitted development that allows shops and buildings used for financial and professional services to become homes without planning permission, a policy which is undermining the local planning process.

The Committee agrees with the Government that more homes should be built on brownfield land, but is not convinced the Chancellor’s local development orders policy will do enough to stimulate activity. Since the biggest barrier to more building on brownfield sites is the availability of resources to make the land suitable for development, the Committee calls on the Department for Communities and Local Government to establish a remediation fund for brownfield sites.

Date: 15/12/2014 Date of publication

Author: Communities and Local Government Committee

DCP link: This item updates DCP section 4.012

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