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04 Aug
Uk planning law and weight

Planning policy: Why you need to worry about your weight

Is weight causing you issues? When it comes to planning - it might be harming you more than you realise.

No, we’re not trying to persuade you to sign up to the latest fad diet – but instead offering an insight into the confusing notion of applying ‘weight’ in planning.

When a planning application is determined, it is assessed against:

  • Planning policies that apply to the proposed development
  • A judgement of the impact the proposal will have.
  • Other ‘material’ considerations (e.g. lack of a 5 year housing land supply)

It is a requirement of planning law that all planning decisions are made in accordance with the provisions of the development plan (normally referred to as the ‘Local Plan’), as well as a suite of material considerations such as the National Planning Policy Framework (2012) (NPPF) and its Guidance (National Planning Policy Guidance).

What is Weight?

In paragraph 215 of the NPPF, it’s stated that following the 12-month period after the adoption of the NPPF, we can give due weight to policies of the Development Plan adopted since 2004 dependent on how consistent they are with the NPPF. So, given that somewhat-vague explanation – can it be said that anyone truly understands what due weight actually means?

Weight is referenced 17 times in the NPPF in relation to the degree to which policies and principles contained in the document should be taken into consideration.  

Various classifications of weight contained within the NPPF have been identified and are shown in the following hierarchy of ‘weight’ which is presented in order of importance.

British planning law and weight

For example, paragraph 88 of the NPPF states:

“When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt’.”

Weight in Practice

To see this in action, let’s look at a recent appeal decision. Earlier in the year, plans for 200 dwellings in the Green Belt at Whitechurch, Somerset were dismissed in accordance with these rules. The Secretary of State concluded that despite an acknowledged housing supply shortfall, by itself - this was not determinative and so the substantial weight against development in the Green Belt applied, as it resulted in harm to openness and other harm, such as to the character and appearance of the area.

It can be suggested that these broad classifications of ‘weight’ are used intentionally to allow a subjective perspective in the decision making process. This avoids scenarios where local authorities purely apply minimum or maximum weight in a decision-making situation. Instead, they have to tailor the importance of policies to suit locally-relevant issues; therefore, allowing them to make a choice of what level of weight to apply in each case.

From the perspective of a planning consultancy, it’s therefore crucial to understand and interpret the level of weight likely to be applied to policies contained within the Development Plan when measured against the principles and policies in the NPPF.

This includes policies that may be afforded little weight due to their outdated nature. This enables a thorough and robust case to be established, ensuring the best possible outcome for a development scheme.   

In less straightforward instances, it may necessary to demonstrate the weight afforded to the policies in the NPPF in contrast to outdated local plan policies or evidence base to establish a sound case for a proposal. Varying levels of ‘weight’ can also be afforded to emerging policies in the decision-making process.

Weight Up

In November 2013, NJL successfully won an appeal for outline permission for 140 residential units in Kirkham, Preston [2196027]. One of the main reasons for the decision was the fact that the relevant policies of the Local Plan were deemed to be not up-to-date, because the Council could not demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites and therefore, limited weight was afforded to these policies. The NPPF's paragraph 14 advises that where relevant policies of the development plan are out of date, planning permission should be granted unless any adverse impact of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies of the NPPF.

NJL believes the correct interpretation of weight is a fundamental element in the planning process and getting it right is the difference between success and failure.

If you’ve got any thoughts on the concept of weight in planning or any aspect of the NPPF, be sure to leave us a comment below or give us a shout on Twitter – we love to hear what you have to say.

And if you’ve any queries about how weight could potentially impact your development plans, don’t hesitate to get in touch with NJL.


Image used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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