Section 19 (2)(a) of the 2004 Act requires local planning authorities in preparing a local development document to have regard to ‘national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State’.
The word guidance is critical. The NPPF cannot be interpreted in a stricter all or nothing way – as if it were itself a development plan, without the changing of this clause. Because of the word ‘guidance’ the courts have often rejected a ‘railtrack’ interpretation of national policy (as if it led to a predetermined destination without regard to circumstances)
What then is a ‘local plan’ have we gone back in time 10 years? It would be better simply to refer to local development plan. Then us lazy consultants could use the same term in England, Scotland and Wales.
The guiding statement on plans is in the core planning principles
Planning should be genuinely plan-led, with succinct local plans setting out a positive long term vision for an area. These plans should be kept up to date and should provide a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made with a high degree of certainty and efficiency.
What kind of planning? – The concept of spatial planning – as set out in para.30 of PPS1 going ‘ beyond traditional land use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they can function’ is entirely missing.
The only reference to ‘spatial’ in the entire draft is that local plans ‘should address the spatial implications of economic, social and environmental change’ well they are required to do this through the SA/SEA process anyway. Its not the same as spatial planning. Does the government no longer believe in it? Does it believe in an old fashioned ‘pure’ land use planning?
Undoubtedly pages 1-6 of PPS12 could be edited down to a couple of paragraphs – but lets not lose spatial planning.
Current guidance in PPS12 serves a number of functions
1. It sets out the nature of plans – how they link objectives to delivery.
2. It sets out a process from consultation and evidence to examination and adoption, and future monitoring and review.
3. It provides clarity on the form and scope of plans, from content, to timescale, to maps and allocations.
The Nature of Plans
Development plans must aim to achieve the objective of sustainable development. To this end, they must be consistent with the objectives, principles and policies set out in this National Planning Policy Framework.
Given the weak non-definition of sustainable development in the NPPF the second part does not follow.
Local Plans should be aspirational but realistic. They should address the spatial implications of economic, social and environmental change. Local Plans should set out the opportunities for development and clear guidance on what will or will not be permitted and where. Only policies that provide a clear indication of how a decision maker should react to a development proposal should be included in the plan.
Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the development of the area.
I welcome the ‘aspirational but realistic’ bit, and the references to collective vision and priorities (I can’t object as it comes from an article I wrote on the ‘vision thing’ in planning).
The spatial implications of change is also a succinct key message.
The ‘local plans should’ bit is a complete mess. Plans are about policy not guidance. They are not just about opportunities they can also include direct proposals. They are not about the ‘reactions’ of decision makers to development (horror!!) but the rules for decision. The phrase ‘when’ is missing here, what I have termed the ‘three ws’, what, where and when.
I would suggest instead.
‘Development Plans should clearly set out policies for what will and will not be permitted, where – locations and allocations – and when – phasing. Only the minimum number of policies are needed. Those required to set out a necessary and proportionate set, of clear and unambiguous rules, for decision makers should be included’.
The NPPF doesnt say anything more on the nature of plans. This is now all rolled up into two of the four revised soundness tests
Plans should be
positively prepared – the plan should be prepared based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirements, including unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is practical to do so consistently with the presumption in favour of sustainable development;
justified – the plan should be the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence;
Compare with PPS12 on core strategies
Every local planning authority should produce a core strategy which includes:
(1) an overall vision which sets out how the area and the places within it should develop;
(2) strategic objectives for the area focussing on the key issues to be addressed;
(3) a delivery strategy for achieving these objectives. This should set out how much development is intended to happen where, when, and by what means it will be delivered. Locations for strategic development should be indicated on a key diagram; and
(4) clear arrangements for managing and monitoring the delivery of the strategy
Missing is the clarification is that vision refers to the area and places within it – a spatial vision. The last thing we need is a return to those ridiculous ‘anytown’ visions: ‘Middle of Nowhere District will become the best place to live, work and play’.
Gone is reference to objectives relating to the challenges of place – and linking the vision to the strategy and policies.
Gone to is the reference to ‘it is essential that the core strategy makes clear spatial choices about where developments should go in broad terms‘
It is if Stafford and Litchfield never happened. Remember why this phrase was added to PPS12. Because plans ignored the earlier versions of PPS12 which required a clear spatial strategy.
The only reference to strategy is
Local planning authorities should set out a clear strategy for allocating sufficient land which is suitable for development in their area, taking account of the needs of the residential and business community;
No reference to this being a spatial strategy making clear spatial choices, No reference to it being in a statutory plan (under the 2004 act of course all planning policies must form part of an LDF).
There is no reference to plans having a ‘delivery strategy’. The only reference is to plans ‘enabling delivery’. This is a great leap backwards to the ear of undeliverable plans. The delivery strategy was the key concept of PPS12.
Particular attention should be given to the coordination …actions so that they pull together towards achieving the objectives and delivering the vision. The strategy needs to set out as far as practicable when, where and by whom these actions will take place…and have a realistic prospect of
being provided in the life of the strategy. If this is not the case, the strategy will be
This is a key message which should be included.
The ‘positively prepared’ test is highly ambiguous. ‘based on” a strategy does not mean ‘include’. The last thing we need are the return to the kind of plans produced in smoke filled rooms the week before committee where 1,ooos of homes were moved around depending on what would be most expedient and contraty to evidence and officer recommendation. This would appear to undo these advances and the requirement for an explicit strategy in the plan.
The Process of Plan Making
The NPPF needs to say very little on this. Planners have been too process obssessed with development plans for too long. All the NPPF needs is a short reference to plans being finalised as soon as possible, community engagement, plans being based on proportionate evidence, and to future monitoring and review.
There is no general requirement to keep plans under review up to date.
There is no need for the para. on page 9 of the implications of a plan not being up to date. It just duplicates the principles in the section of presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The section on the same page about certificates of conformity is confusing. Im sure those LPAs who have draft plans wont have to go back to the beginning.
It will be open to local authorities to seek a certificate of conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework or to prepare a new or revised plan.
It should state
‘Local Planning Authorities should make a self assessment of whether or not their development plan (either adopted or at post-consultation stage but prior to examination) is in conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework. This assessment will be useful for inspectors on planning appeals and in examining development plans. Certificates of Conformity must be sought from Government prior to submission of plans, and may be sought for adopted plans. Inspectors are free to make their own judgement in the light of the case and evidence before them.’
The concern is that following finalisation of the NPPF their could be many LPAs queued up with cerificates and a huge uncertainty in the meantime. Also with the abolition of regional offices who will assess them? Will Steve Quartermain be taking a few truckloads home at the weekend? It could also open up avenues to challenge the certificates.
There is one paragraph on integrating the evidence base, which is welcome. The new stresses on the evidence being proportionate and integrated are welcome.
The form and scope of plans
Again the NPPF does not lead to say a lot. The strategic priorities list is unnecessary if it simply repeats other sections – the whole of the NPPF is supposed to be about strategic priorities. A reference to infrastructure is of course necessary and ill cover infrastructure and infrastructure planning in a dedicated chapter.
The reference that plans should be ‘drawn up over an appropriate time scale, preferably a 15-year time horizon’ Is weaker than PPS12 – at least 15 years from the date of adoption. We dont want to go back to the days of plans starting 7 years in the past, lasting 10 years and taking 5 years to adopt – leaving you back two years ago.
There is duplication between the ‘local plans should’ planning positively section and the soundness tests section. Putting the soundness tests first makes the point that you start with soundness and avoids the duplication.
On the remaining sections – local plans should
•indicate broad locations for strategic development on a key diagram and land use designations on a proposals map, allocating sites considered central to the plan;
•identify areas where it may be necessary to limit freedom to change the uses of buildings and support such restrictions with a clear explanation;
•identify land which it is genuinely important to protect from development, for instance because of its environmental or historic value; and
•contain a clear strategy for the environmental enhancement of its area
-Proposals maps include policy areas and not just designations for development – i.e. conservation areas, SPAs etc. (pps12 para 8.1 could be summarised better)
-The word ‘freedom’ is ideologically loaded, development rights were taken by the community in 1948, it should be deleted.
-The ‘genuinely important’ clause is critical and will be argued the length and bredth of the land. The only real reference in para 2.6 of PPS12 which refers only to ‘environmental assets’ and designated landscapes’ – so the first thing the wised up parish council would ask then is ‘what is an environmental assett- why this field and not that one?’ Such jargon thankfully out of the way the phrase ‘genuinely important’ is too subjective. I would suggest instead:
identify land which it necessary to protect from harmful development, because of its landscape, environmental and/or historic contributions to the visual character of a place.
This would ensure that it is evidence based – preferably using established landscape/visual assessment (Spon Guide) methods.
Finally 4.32 of PPS12 is rather important, and its loss implies that local plans are nothing but ciphers of national policy.
If it is the intention of the local planning authority simply to apply national and regional policy in its decision making it does not need to reiterate it in DPDs in order to do so; nor reformulate it by devising a similar kind of wording which achieves the same result. However there may be local reasons for having greater detail than national or regional policy provides for, local circumstances which suggest that a local interpretation of higher-level policy is appropriate, Authorities may include such approaches in their plans if they have sound evidence that it is justified by local circumstances