The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was discussed today at a British Property Federation (BPF) event hosted by Addleshaw Goddard. The keynote speaker was Greg Clark, Minister for Planning and on the panel with him was Nick Taylor, head of Planning at Carter Jonas’s London office.
The Minister emphasised his pleasure at being able to publish the NPPF which condensed 1,000 pages of policy documents into less than 60, and stressed that this is a work in progress. The Government is already working on the 6,000+ pages of other guidance that sat below the former planning policy documents to see which bits are useful to have. This remains work in progress and it was very much a case of “watch this space”.
The Minister stressed that the NPPF should be used to promote positive planning, it should be implemented locally – hence the omission of national parking or housing density standards from the NPPF – and qualitative considerations will be key to decision-taking. Central to the success of the NPPF and Localism is the need for there to be a culture change in local authorities and amongst communities so that they adopt a positive approach to development, and for developers to be more consultative and collaborative in their approach.
Nick examined whether the NPPF would place too much power in the hands of communities via Neighbourhood Planning and whether implementation of the NPPF would result in a lawyers’ charter.
With a clear emphasis on the achievement of housing development, which given the history of NIMBYism in Britain is perhaps the sector of the development industry which most excited communities, he concluded that the requirement for Neighbour Plans to promote the same amount of development as contained in the Local Plan would ensure that residents could not easily be anti-development. Thame Town Council was cited as an example of a local community positively embracing change and working with South Oxfordshire District Council to meet the housing target to provide an additional 775 dwellings.
On the second point – and partly to the dismay of his legal hosts and other lawyers in the room – Nick felt that there would be some opportunities for lawyers because of vagueness and uncertainty. He identified a total of nine areas on which he felt there could be potential for different interpretations, and hence legal disputes arising, including the definition of sustainable development, who decides where brownfield land is of high environmental value, what are the circumstances in which an authority has persistently under performed on housing delivery and what are the reasonable prospects to be used to assess whether employment land will come forward.
A lively debate followed which allowed the opportunity to quiz the Minister about a raft of “other” planning topics, including the effect of the Community Infrastructure Levy on the viability of development and the high levels being set by some authorities, the wider failure to achieve adequate housing development, the failure to provide positive support for examination of Green Belt land in certain locations and the case, for and against, allowing planning application fees to be set locally to raise revenue to provide planning services.
The event concluded with agreement that the NPPF was a positive step in the right direction to simplify our convoluted and slow planning system.