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06 Feb
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Is the National Planning Policy Framework doing its job?

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has hit the headlines of late, with some MPs suggesting it's not currently fit for purpose and in need of a major overhaul. But could such a move be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

In this guide, we'll take a look at how the guidance has performed in the two years since its introduction and offer some suggestions as to how it might be improved.

Effectiveness of the NPPF

A recent report from MPs involved in the Communities & Local Government Commons Select Committee made a number of recommendations for revising the NPPF, primarily in response to the growing number of speculative housing developments being permitted in unsustainable locations. This issue is most acute where local authorities do not have an up-to-date development plan and/or a five-year housing supply. 

The NPPF has promoted Neighbourhood Plans as a means of giving local communities power. In practice, however, the relationship between local plans and neighbourhood plans has been confused, with Neighbourhood Plans being seen as a tool to stop or resist development. In the main, the plans have only been promoted and produced in well-organised and affluent areas.

The introduction of the NPPF has clearly simplified the planning process and reduced guidance to a more manageable level. But, while it's made great strides in providing clarity for the development industry, the planning process is still seen to be expensive, a significant development risk and requiring an excessive volume of information in support of applications.

Sticking Points

  • Only 59% of councils have an adopted local plan. Local authorities that do not have a plan that is up to date and reflective of the NPPF have left themselves 'open to attack' from developers who are seen to have used the NPPF to pursue unsustainable developments in Green Belt, open countryside, green gap and similar kinds of locations. However, councils have only got themselves to blame and by not having an up-to-date plan, are unable to properly influence future development in their area.
  • When it comes to calculating the five-year housing land supply, clearer guidance is required in terms of how the housing need should be assessed.
  • The Select Committee has recommended that all sites with planning permission should be included in the five-year housing land supply. However, not all sites with planning permission come forward and as such, if this suggestion was to be implemented, it would almost certainly lead to an overestimation of housing figures in areas.  
  • Many Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) are now charging for pre-application advice, which often puts developers off going through the process. The quality of pre-application advice received is often poor and simply an echoing back of the planning policy position stated in the development, rather than providing a clear steer on the issues/policy matters to be addressed in pursuing planning permission.
  • Plan preparation is slow and is typically, not made a priority. The Select Committee suggested that Planning should be a ‘front line’ service and LPAs should prioritise plan making. Lack of resources at LPAs is exacerbating the problems with plan making and attached to the development management process (i.e. planning application determination).

LPAs getting it right?

With resources and experience in short supply in the wake of the recession, it's been difficult for many LPAs to get planning right and fully embrace the process. Resources have been slashed and the consequent 'brain drain' has left many LPAs devoid of experienced staff who are equipped to deal with the more complex planning applications/developments.

Some LPAs in the north-west (such as Warrington, Stockport and Bury) are overtly pro-development and seek to embrace and attract major investment and schemes into their areas. Those LPAs which engage and focus on providing concise and thought-through pre-application advice are as a consequence, better placed to deal with planning applications within government targets.  

What Next?

While we can all agree, changes are needed to the government's planning guidance – the form these amendments should take are the subject of much division.

If you've got any thoughts on how to improve the NPPF or want to ask us about any of the specifics, be sure to leave us a comment below or fire us a tweet – we always want to hear what you've got to say.

And if you're looking for advice on how to best navigate planning policy, or how local plans might affect your development strategy – be sure to get in touch today.

Image used courtesy of Alexander Henning Drachmann on Flickr

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