This section compares the NPPS draft with PPS7 Sustainable Development in Rural Areas 2006, and rural specific sections of other PPSs especially PPS3.
The NPPF practitioners draft completely lacks a section on the countryside. The only mention of ‘agriculture’ are in relations to being an appropriate use in green belt band minerals aftercare. Other than green belts there is only one mention of villages, and that is in relation to housing. There is no mention of rural services.
Current policy, relating to the principle of development in the countryside, is as follows:
the creation and maintenance of sustainable rural communities in market towns and villages (mentioned several times in PPS3)
The need to provide housing in rural areas, not only in market towns and local service centres but also in villages in order to enhance or maintain their sustainability. (PPS3 para 39)
PPS3 Affordable Housing Rural Exceptions Policy – wont attempt to summarise.
Away from larger urban areas, planning authorities should focus most new development in or near to local service centres where employment, housing (including affordable housing), services and other facilities can be provided close together. This should help to ensure these facilities are served by public transport and provide improved opportunities for access by walking and cycling. These centres (which might be a country town, a single large village or a group of villages) should be identified in the development plan as the preferred location for such development.
Planning authorities should set out in LDDs their policies for allowing some limited development in, or next to, rural settlements that are not designated as local service centres, in order to meet local business and community needs and to maintain the vitality of these communities. In particular, authorities should be supportive of small-scale development of this nature where it provides the most sustainable option in villages that are remote from, and have poor public transport links with, service centres. (PPS7 paras 3 & 4)
To promote more sustainable patterns of development and make better use of previously developed land, the focus for most additional housing in rural areas should be on existing towns and identified service centres. But it will also be necessary to provide for some new housing to meet identified local need in other villages.(PPS7 para 8 )
local planning authorities should apply the policies in PPG3. They should: (PPS7 para. 9 )
(i) have particular regard to PPG3 guidance on the provision of housing in villages and should make sufficient land available, either within or adjoining existing villages, to meet the needs of local people; and
(ii) strictly control new house building (including single dwellings) in the countryside, away from established settlements or from areas allocated for housing in development plans.
New building development in the open countryside away from existing settlements, or outside areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly
controlled; the Government’s overall aim is to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty, the diversity of its landscapes, heritage and wildlife, the wealth of its natural resources and so it may be enjoyed by all (PPS7 para 1(iv))
Isolated new houses in the countryside will require special justification for planning permission to be granted. Where the special justification for an isolated new house relates to the essential need for a worker to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside, planning authorities should follow the advice in Annex A to PPS7. (PPS7 para 9.)
Special policy on new country houses (PPS7 para 11)
Planning policies should provide a positive framework for facilitating sustainable development that supports traditional land-based activities and makes the most of new leisure and recreational opportunities that require a countryside location. Planning authorities should continue to ensure that the quality and character of the wider countryside is protected and, where possible, enhanced. They should have particular regard to any areas that have been statutorily designated for their landscape, wildlife or historic qualities where greater priority should be given to restraint of potentially damaging development. (PPS7 para 15)
When preparing policies for LDDs and determining planning applications for development in the countryside, local planning authorities should: (PPS7 para 16)
(i) support development that delivers diverse and sustainable farming enterprises;
(ii) support other countryside-based enterprises and activities which contribute to rural economies, and/or promote recreation in and the enjoyment of the countryside;
(iii) take account of the need to protect natural resources;
(iv) provide for the sensitive exploitation of renewable energy sources in accordance with the policies set out in PPS22; and
(v) conserve specific features and sites of landscape, wildlife and historic or architectural value, in accordance with statutory designations.
The Government’s policy is to support the re-use of appropriately located and suitably constructed existing buildings in the countryside where this would meet sustainable development objectives.
The Government is also supportive of the replacement of suitably located, existing buildings of permanent design and construction in the countryside for economic
Wheras all the NPPF draft says about the general principle of development in the countryside is:
In rural areas, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and allow housing development and the growth of villages to reflect local requirements for market and affordable housing.
Ill deal with the specific issue of isolated rural housing in a moment.
In no other area of the draft NPPF is there such a fundamental shift in policy, much more so even than the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
- No longer the overall policy objective, which has stood for over 60 years, of protecting the countryside per-se, now the shift is to ‘allow housing development…to reflect local requirements for market and affordable housing‘ – as price signals are considered an indicator of market housing in the NPPF in attractive rural areas where house prices are high the implication is to permit more housing. The only general protective power is against ‘isolated’ housing, so significant estates next to villages in rural areas would need to be permitted, and, as drafted, whether or not this a site in a development plan. The only fall back to LPAs would be having a 5 year housing supply, however where this has been rolled forward from pre-RSS days developers will be claim the plan is out of date. We should expect a rash of appeals. We should also expect an outcry from the CPRE and the shires.
- The lack of recognition of the importance of land based activities. Many rural Tories will consider this curious, a metropolitan liberal elite bias?
- No mention of local service centres, until now this has supressed appeals for new housing in other locations
- No mention of villages as anything other as a place for new housing, their local services or character.
- No mention of access to the countryside for recreation.
- No indication of how to mediate local strategy with localism at the neighbourhood scale. Cleanly and rightly there wont be a ‘parish veto’ but it needs to set out how this issue will be resolved.
The likes of Thomas Adam or Patrick Abercrombie would be spinning in their graves at this. Indeed were they alive today we would expect them to immediately start campaigns to change the governments minds.
Part of the problem has been that planning has been so biased against development in the countryside, with those with high property values sitting on planning committees seeking to defend those values by excluding development and trying to reduce the targets for new housing, the purpose of which are to drive house prices down. This risk has always been that the pressures would mount so much some government would open the floodgates. Tony Blair was tempted to do it in the manifesto for his second term, and now the coalition plans to.
It is possible to signal a more proactive approach without opening the floodgates to an appeal-led disaster. It just requires the right balance to be struck in policy. I would suggest the following wording.
The Government’s overall aim is to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character, beauty, landscape, biodiversity and land based resources, as well as to secure sustainable rural communities in market towns and villages
The focus for most additional housing outside larger towns will be in or adjoining smaller/market towns and the villages with the best services (local service centres)– as identified in development plans. It will also be necessary to provide for some new housing to meet identified local need in other villages (see also para X on housing meeting local rural needs).
Finding the right distribution between urban and rural areas, and between rural settlements is matter for local choice given testing for sustainability Each rural settlement will need to meet its share of development within the locally chosen strategy. How and where this is delivered will increasingly be through neighbourhood plans driven by local people themselves.
New building development in the open countryside away from existing settlements, or outside areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly controlled, and restricted to development requiring a countryside location.
Planning policies, and planning decisions, should facilitate sustainable development that requires a countryside location. This includes:
- Diverse and sustainable land-based enterprises including farming, horticulture and farm based tourism and enterprise, as well as farm shops & horticulture sales;
- Equine-related activities (subject to local policies)
- Development facilitating open air recreation and access to the countryside;
- Sensitively designed and located transport and energy networks and water infrastructure;
- Sensitive exploitation of renewable energy (see section x);
- Development facilitating the enhancement and protection of the natural environment;
- The re-use or redevelopment of existing permanent buildings (in line with criteria set in local plan policy);
- Minerals extraction and waste disposal/recycling (where in line with policy on these matters);
- Housing for agricultural, forestry and other essential rural workers (see below);
- The extension of existing dwellings to provide self contained accommodation for elderly or disabled members of the same family;
- Other countryside-based enterprises genuinely requiring a rural location (& if justified in local policies – ancillary associated and small scale low impact housing).
All rural development is subject to appropriate statutory undertakings being in place or capable of being provided (conditions for off network development should be set in local policies), and meeting other polices, including on nature conservation and landscape protection. The expectation is that all development should bring a net benefit to the countryside.
Planning authorities should adopt a positive approach to planning proposals designed to improve the viability, accessibility or community value of existing services and facilities, e.g. village shops and post offices, rural petrol stations, village and church halls and rural public houses, that play an important role in sustaining village communities. Local planning authorities may set out policies to retain these services and encourage their local provision.
The wording here is quite careful and has tried to keep up with the caselaw (for example on the difference between agriculture and horticulture, how horse based activities are not agriculture etc.)
A constant issue in rural areas is the desirability of providing granny annexes (the recent Wealden disabled solider issue was another example of why policy should be changed) and some housing and work spaces and homes for rural based employment. Some other jurisdictions are slightly more relaxed about this – such as the Welsh rules on low impact dwellings. I have tried to keep a balance between having a general national protection policy, to avoid another concrete and cream teas incident, and allowing refinement to local circumstances.
I deal with rural workers dwellings and new country houses in the next section.