The Justification for National Policy Changes – The NPPF Impact Statement

Impact Statements have become an ex-poste exercise in justifying the changes wanted by ministers rather than a rigorous evidence base, and the figures within them often do not stand up to rigorous examination.

To give one example Greg Clark was asked in the day of the NPPF launch what % of LPAs had adopted plans.  He said to the interviewer he did not have the latest figures.  In fact the latest figures were prominently published in the impact assessment with a map and large table.  This indicated to me the impact assessment was not even read by the Planning Minister.  Indeed it could not have been as anyone who had read it would have immediately seen a large error and that the figures do not add (see below).

 

1. Plan Making

It states the problem as:

The presumption is a key tool in addressing the Government’s ambitions for economic recovery. The planning system can be a barrier to growth if:

• Development plans are not in place or not up-to-date, resulting in inadequate land identified for development and uncertainty for developers and investors;

• Plans do not plan adequately for the development which their areas need, with inadequate land made available for housing, business and other uses;

• Individual planning decisions do not respond to development needs and take into account the benefits of growth, especially where plans are not up-to-date or make adequate provision for development.

There is evidence that the planning system is not performing effectively against these tests at present. The table and map below show the number and proportion of local councils with Core Strategies according to the status of those strategies. Around half of local councils do not have a published Core Strategy, and fewer than a third have one adopted.

The table though is all over the place.  

There are about 100 adopted core strategies (though one only count as 1/2 because of LG re-organisation).  There are 338 UK lower tier LPAs for development control purposes (327 local authorities, 10 English National Parks, +1 development corporation).  The corporation has no plan making powers so that leaves 337.  Of the 100 adopted core startegies some are joint. Correct me if im wrong there are currently 3 adopted joint core startegies covering 11 authorities – so that by my calculation leaves around 107 of the 338 DC LPAs with adopted coverage of about 31.6 % , 68.4% non-coverage.

The figures in the table make no sense and dont add up, either in numerical or % terms (even accounting for rounding).  But it is apprarent from the 145 submitted core strategies that the coverage of adopted plans is could double over the next 12 months – though quite a few examinations have become enormously extended because of CALA II and some are likley to be recommended for withdrawl and found unsound.

It expects to see:

Greater efforts by local councils to prepare up-to-date plans, so that they can exert control over development in their areas (as a ‘carrot’ the presumption strengthens the role of plans as a basis for decisions where they are up-to-date; but the ‘stick’ is that if they are not, national policy will be the principal basis for making decisions);

It goes on

we are removing the terms ‘local development framework’, ‘core strategy’ and ‘area action plan’ and referring to Development Plan Documents as a whole as ‘local plans’.

2.  Business

It specifically states as a key policy change ‘Removing office development from ‘Town Centre First’ policy’

Government considers that this requirement places undue burdens on office development and that the policy objective of ensuring development takes place in sustainable and accessible locations can be achieved through other policy mechanisms….

However office development would still need to meet the requirements of local and national policy on the location of major generators of people movement and to locate where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised….Such locations tend to be in urban areas

Well if national policy did actually say this then many of the concerns about this change would have been alleiviated, but it is actively misrepresenting policy.  Para 88 of the NPPF draft talks of movement, not people movement, and adds at the end ‘However this needs to take account of policies set out elsewhere in this Framework, particularly in rural areas.’  read in conjection with para. 74 and 81 of the draft it implies allowing offices in almost all locations in almost all circumstances.  

3.  Transport

It states that the one major change is to remove the maximum non-residential car parking standard for major developments.

A centrally set national maximum parking standard for major non-residential developments may be too high or too low for reasons specific to an individual local council. In some cases, they may wish to lower the maximum (i.e. restrict parking numbers)

This is nonsence, it is a maximum standard and local authorities often have lower standards, expecially in major cities such as London, and this is quite clear in PPG13.  The threshold also means that most development in rural areas is excluded anyway and PPS4 makews it clear that a pragmatic approach should be applied in rural areas.

The impact statement also deliberately ignore the raft of research that shows that after the cost of fuel the availability of trip end work parking is the single biggest influence of communiting mode of choice after fuel costs.  

4.  Housing

It states the main changes are:

  • give local councils the freedom to choose the most suitable locations for development by removing the national target for development of housing on previously developed land;
  •  increase choice and competition in the market for housing land by requiring identification of at least an extra 20 per cent of sites against their housing target in the first five years;
  • give local councils the impetus to optimise the delivery of affordable housing according to 

    local circumstances by removing the national site size threshold for requiring affordable 

    housing to be delivered; and

     

  • introduce greater flexibility for rural local councils to respond to the need for affordable 

    additional affordable housing.

It states

There are strong environmental grounds for seeking to re-use previously developed land for the provision of new housing where possible locally; however, a nationally set target to achieve this is a blunt tool.

Agreed.  But why then remove the national policy preference for doing so?

the amount of brownfield land available is dwindling. Internal analysis gives an illustration that, under plausible assumptions, the brownfield land target would cease to be sustainable in the (highdemand) southern regions by 2015-16. Therefore, keeping the target beyond that point would result in a reduction in the overall level of development in these areas.

Quite correct, but surely it is suatinable to have a preference in national policy where there are viable brownfield sites, which in some parts of the country will last many years?  The impact assessment decries the rise in densities on brownfield sites as a bad thing, when surely it is a good thing?

By removing the national priority for brownfield development, local councils will not be constrained by the 60 per cent target. They will have greater flexibility in allocating and bringing forward land.

But the true benefit will be to developers on appeal who will not have to argue whether there are alternative brownfield sites, even if there are far more preferable sites available.  

On the 5 year supply issue it states:

The current provision of a five-year land supply in some cases has not been as ambitious as it could have been in bringing forward enough land that delivers housing on the ground. It has provided insufficient choice and competition in the land market. Furthermore, research indicates that some local councils’ assessments of sites have not been fully robust; and some are failing to identify five year’s worth of land that is actually available, suitable and viable for development.

On the removal of exceptions sites policy it states

currently, the rigid requirement for sites to be only for affordable housing limits local councils’ options for meeting the full range of housing needs, that local councils should have greater flexibility to decide the best approach to delivering housing, particularly affordable housing, in rural areas,…For example, Cornwall’s innovative draft affordable housing policy is an example of an emerging policy that takes a more flexible approach to rural housing than would normally be considered compliant with the rigid Rural Exception Sites policy. It states the Council will consider proposals to include an element of market housing on exception sites if it was satisfied that that the development had community support and reflected local need in terms of scale, dwelling type and tenure mix. The applicant would need to demonstrate to the Council’s satisfaction that a mixed tenure scheme was essential to the delivery of the development. The majority of the development would need to be provided as affordable housing with value generated from open market sales cross subsidising the delivery of the affordable housing, removing the need for public subsidy and ensuring affordable homes for sale were delivered at the lowest possible price.

This is a sensible change, however there is a risk of a drying up of land coming forward from exceptions sites until adiopted local plans are in place.

5.  Community Facilities

 

The impact assessment stresses 

the proposed policy strengthens the current policy by asking local councils to consider the availability and viability of community facilities as part of the plan making process and to develop policies to safeguard against their unnecessary loss. This policy is applied to all community facilities and not just those within defined local centres and villages.

This policy will help communities prevent the loss existing buildings and developments, which are used by locally important, valued and viable community facilities and services, to alternative higher value developments such as private housing and business. Planning policies could identify specific buildings or developments and/or set out criteria for assessing planning applications. Criteria could require applicants demonstrating the current building or development is no longer required or viable for use by a community facility of service.

This was an area where national policy was limited but where development plans frequently have such policies.  Para 126 of the draft NPPG though does not mention viability.  There is also great confusion between the term community assett, valued service and community use.  They are not the same.

6. Green Belt

Four changes to Green Belt policy are identified:

I. Development on previously-developed Green Belt land is already permissible if the site is identified in the local plan as a major developed site – it is proposed to extend this policy to similar sites not already identified in a local plan;

ii. Park and Ride schemes are already permissible – it is proposed to extend this to a wider range of local transport infrastructure;

iii. Community Right to Build schemes will be permissible if backed by the local community;

iv. The alteration or replacement of dwellings is already permissible – it is proposed to extend this to include all buildings.

It omits though assessment of the major change.  The deletion of infill only villages allowing infill on all green belt villages however inaccessible.  

On community right to build it states

these are envisaged to be small-scale, approximately 5 to 10 units per scheme. Without a specific policy in Green Belt, these schemes are likely to be considered inappropriate development.

Why not then restrict this to small scale developments only?

7. Local Greenspace

It States

Current policy discourages the use of local designations to protect locally important landscapes, and this has fuelled a growing concern that local people cannot adequately protect those green spaces that are cherished by their communities for landscape but also other reasons. The only available route is to try to register land as a town or village green.

8. Decentralised Energy Targets

It States

The Government expects local councils to continue to support decentralised energy but does not need to require local councils through national planning policy to set council wide decentralised energy targets.

 

Strikingly low the document does not consider at all the impacts of the major changes in policy, which the government has not wished to draw too much attention to, for example the removal of protection of the countryside for its own sake, the removal of the strict protection of the undeveloped coast, the removal of protection of viable employment land. 

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on July 31, 2011, in National Planning Policy Framework, urban planning. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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