National Planning Policy Framework Forensics #35 Creating Sustainable Communities

We covered most housing topics earlier in the series but there are a couple of outstanding areas.

The draft contains a section on creating sustainable communities, it would replace several sections of PPS3 as well as the supplement to PPS on Ecotowns.

To create sustainable and inclusive communities, local planning authorities should:
• create a shared vision with local communities of the types of residential environment they wish to see;
• plan positively for the integration of community infrastructure and other services to enhance the sustainability of residential environments;
• ensure that housing is developed in suitable locations which offer a range of community facilities and good access to key services and infrastructure; and
• where large scale development is proposed in less sustainable locations, planning authorities should require investment to improve the sustainability of the site.

The section concerns soley the actions of the LPA. It is unlear if they are intended as general tests for assessment of new residential communities.

The bullet on shared vision is taken from PPS3 para. 14 but is much shorter:

Local Planning Authorities should develop a shared vision with their local communities of the type(s) of residential environments they wish to see and develop design policies that set out the quality of development that will be expected for the local area, aimed at:
– Creating places, streets and spaces which meet the needs of people, are visually attractive, safe, accessible, functional, inclusive, have their own distinctive identity and maintain and improve local character.
– Promoting designs and layouts which make efficient and effective use of land, including encouraging innovative approaches to help deliver high quality outcomes.

Although there is a need to avoid duplication with the design section one of the key concerns of communities which oppose housing is that the housing proposed will be of poor quality – the NPPF needs to more clearly signal that an expansion in housing will require a step change in design.

The last bullet does not set a bottom line, how accessible does a site have to become? Does this now open the gates to large inaccessible airbases, such as Upper Hayford, becoming whole towns? We raised concerns in the transport section about the changes to policy on remoter sites, there is a risk of duplication with the transport section and it is better if this was a rare but necessary case of the need for a simple cross-reference.

The issues here break down into two categories, firstly the key public concerns over the form (rather than the principal of location) of development, uncertainties over which can lead local communities to oppose the location of development.Communities will typically ask:

  • There isn’t enough infrastructure
  • It will be dominated by car use (especially for the peripheral locations of urban extensions and new settlements)
  • The houses will eat up energy and water resources and this wont be sustainable
  • The houses will be poor quality ‘little boxes’
  • The houses wont meet local need
  • The houses wont form a real community with the facilities and long term management that needs

The NPPF needs to tackle these issues head on.  The failure to tackle these will fail to acheive the step change we need, whether locally determined or not.

The second issue is that large scale developments, whether inner urban, urban extensions, or eco-towns/new country towns (however ministers want to describe them) present real opportunities for joined up planning to create sustainable communities, as the recent JRF report recognises.

I would therefore suggest the following wording, which attempts to distill this, and extract from the Ecotowns supplement the essential features of large scale sustinable developments (whether new settlements or not):

The Government’s aim is not just to raise housebuilding but to enable local planning authorities, developers and neighbourhoods to work together to create sustainable and inclusive communities.  To plan for neighbourhoods both old and enhanced, and new and exemplar, which are a proud legacy for future generations. To this end:
Local Planning Authorities should:

  • develop a shared vision with their local communities of the type(s) of residential environments, and those valued features of local character’ they wish to see  and develop simple design policies (which can be enhanced in design guides and neighbourhood plans) to deliver this;
  • plan positively for the integration of community infrastructure and other services to enhance the sustainability of residential environments;

The Decision Maker should:

  • ensure that housing is developed in suitable locations which offer a range of community facilities and has good access to key services, sustainable transport and infrastructure.  In rural areas this will mean focussing development on local service centres unless small scale development is necessary to meet an identified local need.

The government’s other key policy tests for new housing, which the decision maker should follow, are:

  • It is supported by adequate infrastructure (up to date development plans will secure this, the decision maker should ensure that the development is linked and phased to infrastructure where appropriate)
  • The housing is sustainable, making prudent use of resources to meet the new national standard for sustainable buildings.  As well as buildings schemes should be designed as a whole enhance sustainability;
  • The scheme takes opportunities to enhance the area in line with national policy on design (see…)
  • The scheme meets the national standard on room sizes and inclusive design [based on the London standard which works very well, developers don’t want a confusing mix of local standards, they want to design internal layouts they can use everywhere]
  • It meets national policy and local development plan policy on affordable housing, where this applies.

Larger scale developments offer real potential for securing sustainable and inclusive communities.  Whether urban villages, sustainable urban extensions, or new country towns (whichever is chosen as the best local & strategic option) they should:

  •  Have a clear master-plan and strategy for delivery and maintenance & governance over the long term;
  • Include mechanisms to ensure that the phases of the masterplan can be delivered quickly with minimum planning delay (this can include a design code backed by a local development order);
  • Are expemplars for sustainability, including energy and water use and waste, exceeding national minimum standards where appropriate;
  • Either link closely to existing services or are of sufficient scale to offer a degree of self-containment, in order to reduce unnecessary trips and the length of trips.  They should be genuine mixed-use communities;
  • Have local services and frequent public transport within an easy 10 minute walk of all homes;  
  • Include substantial green infrastructure and demonstrate a net gain in local biodiversity.

This approach is very much in the spirit of David Willets permissive approach to localism, as inspired by Disraeli, rather than the  american, let it rip lassez-faire approach promoted in some quarters.

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