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National Planning Policy Framework - summary and initial response

Date: 28/3/2012

The Rt.Hon Greg Clark MP, Minister for Cities, Decentralisation and Planning, presented the final version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in a ministerial statement to the House of Commons on 27th March 2012.

Clark's statement described the local plan as the "keystone of the planning edifice" and emphasised the high-level of discretion that local authorities will exercise following the removal of centrally imposed development targets.

The NPPF retains the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development', which is defined by five principles as set out in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy:

  • "living within the planet's environmental limits;
  • ensuring a strong, healthy and just society;
  • achieving a sustainable economy;
  • promoting good governance; and
  • using sound science responsible."

The Government believes that sustainable development can play three critical roles in England:

  • an economic role, contributing to a strong, responsive, competitive economy;
  • a social role, supporting vibrant and healthy communities; and
  • an environmental role, protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment.

John Silvester, Spokesperson for POS, says " in the final draft of the NPPF, the line which stipulated that the default answer to development proposals should be 'yes' has been removed; this is most welcome. The additional clarity regarding the three dimensions of sustainability is also welcomed."

Areas of land designated as part of the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Parks and other protected sites will not be overridden by the presumption.  The revised NPPF contains a provision to recognise the "intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside", whether designated or otherwise.

With this renewed emphasis on local planning and site allocations, Clark has allowed a transitional period of 12 months for those authorities with an existing plan to adapt.  For those authorities without an up-to-date plan, the NPPF takes immediate effect. John Silvester, Spokesperson for POS, says "whilst we had lobbied for a 2 year transitional period, this one year allowance for the implementation of the NPPF is welcomed. LPAs will now need to get their act together quickly in order to get their plans to comply."

The NPPF makes explicit that local plans should encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into effective use, provided that the site is not of high environmental value.  Local authorities can consider setting local targets for the use of brownfield land.

Local authorities must establish a five-year land supply for housing plus 20 per cent.  For those authorities with a strong allocation record, this figure is five per cent. John Silvester, Spokesperson for POS, says "we particularly welcome the change that means an authority may now make an allowance for windfall sites in the five-year supply if they 'have compelling evidence that such sites have consistently become available in the local area and will continue to provide a reliable source of supply'; this has been a bête noire form many authorities."

Town centres are recognised as integral to communities and as such their viability, vitality and competitiveness should be supported.  Local plans should define the extent of town centres and their primary shopping areas and set policies to define which uses will be permitted in such locations.

Local planners should consider expanding town centres in areas where there is an insufficient number of sites to meet the scale and type of retail, leisure, commercial, office, tourism, cultural, community and residential development needed in the town centre.  If town centre sites are not available, edge of centre sites that are "well connected to the town centre" are preferred.  When applications for retail, leisure and office development outside the town centre are not included in an up to date local plan, local authorities should require an impact assessment if the development is "over a proportionate, locally set floorspace threshold".

Emphasising design, the NPPF states that "good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, is indivisible from good planning, and should contribute positively to making places better for people." It encourages local plans to set out policies and consider design codes to set the design expectations of an area based on objectives for its future, including optimising "the potential of the site to accommodate development" and responding to "local character and history".  However, such policies should avoid unnecessary detail or prescription and imposing particular architectural style, allowing innovation in design.

Local plans should set out a strategy for the conservation of the historic environment.  According to the NPPF, plans should require applicants to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected by prospective development in a level of detail "proportionate to the assets' importance".

In response to questions from MPs, Clark confirmed that local authorities could set policies to resist garden development, the occupation of sites by travellers, the installation of onshore windfarms and development on playing fields.

In his statement, Clark said that he had accepted, in whole or in part, 30 of the the 35 recommendations made by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

12 core planning principles

The NPPF sets out 12 core planning principles which "should underpin both plan-making and decision-taking."  These stipulate that planning should:

  • Be led by local plans which set out a vision for the future of the area and provide a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made efficiently;
  • Emphasise enhancing and improving the places in which people live their lives, not scrutiny alone;
  • Drive sustainable development to deliver homes, business and industrial units, infrastructure and support local vitality, objectively identifying local need and setting out a clear strategy for allocating land;
  • Seek to secure a high-quality of design and a good standard of amenity for occupants;
  • Protect the diversity of different areas of England, protecting Green Belts and recognising the "intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside";
  • Support the transition to a low-carbon future, take account of flood risk and coastal change and encourage the reuse of existing and renewable resources;
  • Help conserve and enhance the natural environment and reduce pollution, allocating land of "lesser environmental value";
  • Encourage the re-use of land that has been previously developed (brownfield land);
  • Promote mixed use developments, encouraging multiple benefits from urban and rural land;
  • Conserve heritage assets "in a manner appropriate to their significance";
  • Manage development to make full use of public transport, walking and cycling; and
  • Take account of local strategies to improve health, social, and cultural wellbeing.

Read the letter from Greg Clark, Minister for Decentralisation and Planning, to Mike Holmes, President of POS - letter

Read the LGA's Detailed Briefing Note on the NPPF, prepared by POSE on their behalf - Briefing Note

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