This is the final part of our NPPF Response – on the impact Assessment
QA1 Is the impact assessment a fair and reasonable representation of the costs, benefits and impacts of introducing the Framework?
No. The recent Institute of Government report on Policy Formulation ‘Making Better Policy summed it up
The quality of impact assessments is frequently poor, while policy makers argue that the specific impact tests simply rationalise decisions already taken, creating a major bureaucratic burden in the process
See also National Audit Office, Assessing the Impact of Proposed New Policies, 2010, p.5; and Regulatory Policy Committee, Challenging Regulation, 2011.
The impact assessment does not assess the impact of major key changes, uses spurious and misleading evidence and does not stand up to the smallest scrutiny. It appears to be solely a post hoc rationalisation rather than an objective assessment contributing to policy debate.
Lets start with the issue of transition costs – page 7. It is unrealistic to state that these will only occur at year 1. More likely they will be ‘confusion costs’ and will be ongoing and growing year on year. That is because many of the problems with the NPPF arise because there is no consensus or agreement on many of the key ideas and terms in the NPPF because of the loose way they are phrased. No two planning lawyers will agree. Therefore there is likely to be increased litigation and appeals – not accounted for. Many planning lawyers have predicted this. Secondly many more cases are likely to go to appeal as the NPPF undermines many reasonable grounds for objections (such as weakening deign control) and as such developers may feel emboldened to submit poor schemes with a higher risk of appeal.
Poorer schemes going to appeal may also have negative impacts to society as a whole if permitted, which the NPPF makes very difficult to refuse. Such as from added traffic congestion, additional infrastructure maintenance and servicing costs, added carbon emissions etc. These are not accounted for in the impact assessment even though this is the main economic argument for smart growth as opposed to sprawl from decreased urban concentration, the main policy thrust of the NPPF. Because these are not accounted for the impact assessment cannot be considered to even pass first base as an accurate or reliable assessment of the costs and benefits of the NPPF. It is waste of carbon even printing the impact assessment.
The government has much quoted (including on page 10 of the impact statement) the work of Ball 2010 – The Impact of Planning Control Processing Times on Housing Supply in England that
‘Development control costs local authorities, statutory agencies and applicants together around £3billion a year. A substantial proportion of this will be on major housing developments’
But to quote this figure as a ‘cost’ that would be ‘saved’ by the NPPF is to assume that development control would be abolished by the NPPF. It would not, indeed (as we shall see) it is likely that the costs increased, especially to the taxpayer, would far outweigh the modest savings from having to assess schemes against less national policy.
Looking at the Ball report it is clear that much of the costs depend on delays in reporting schemes. But this is evidence of a shortage of frontline planners able to process schemes swiftly, as the regression analysis finds, something made far worse by cuts and the failure of government to raise planning fees to fully cover costs. It is evidence of underesourcing. The study was not an efficiency or time and motion study. It did not differentiate between costs from poor businesses processes and costs from being stuck in the queue because of staff shortages. The study is worthless as evidence for planning reform, certainly about planning policy reform because the NPPF is a policy reform and not a process reform.
It is better to consider the optimum time for determining large schemes and basing costs from above that point. The optimum time (which could be the statutory 13 weeks) would not have a ‘cost’ as the opportunity cost would be the cost of not having a planning system at all, a cost which would run into the 100s of billions from environmental degradation and wasted duplicated infrastructure.
The costs could then be split between the delay costs, which would in large part be not as Osbourne and Pickles contend the cost of planning but the cost of not planning through underesourcing development management, and separate the cost of unnecessary planning policy, likely to be very small. Indeed the impact assessment should examine the willingness to pay of developers to determine the costs of not planning, and the Westminster voluntary fees of £21,000 per major application give a reasonable estimate of the benefit of planning as perceived by developers.
Therefore the mentioning of the Ball report on page 10 is entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand and should be deleted.
B1 – The reference to Baker, M., Hincks, S. and Sherriff, G. (2009) is also irrelevant as all plan strategies presented as options will need to be realistic, and it would be wrong to present a ‘no development’ option even though this is a source of local concern. This will not change at all with the NPPF which makes it clear that objectively assessed development requirements must be met. In this regard national planning policy has not changed.
Page 11 o0f the impact assessment makes the naive and unsupported assumption that development will be any less controversial if proposed in a local plan than a regional plan. 60 years of experience of the uk planning system shows that it is just as controversial however and wherever it is proposed. The Ipsos MORI (2010) is not giood evidence as the question was leading (it asked a motherhood and apple pie question) and related to a hypothetical rather than an actual scheme.
Page 12 considers two options – The National Planning Policy Framework –as is, or nothing. This is an entirely false choice. The other choices, of précising national policy without watering down key environmental protections, as in Scotland and Wales, were not considered, despite clear examples being before the government. The other option that could have been considered was to take the opportunity of the framework to embed the principles of sustainable planning and smart growth using international examples of bext practice in planning including zero carbon planning.
Again the costs do not include ongoing ‘confusion costs’ resulting from the poor drafting, omissions, litigation, case law, differing interpretations and the inevitable letters and appeals clarifying the policy vacuums created.
Page 13 refers to the NPPF reducing appeals. However the near universal view of the planning and legal professions is that the NPPF will lead to far more appeal led planning as very similar reforms did in the 1980s. The impact statement appears to have no sense of history. The NPPF appears to encourage appeals in many ways, in particular by making plans out of date and then removing almost all reasons to reject schemes when they are. This may lead to planning authorities refusing poor schemes in frustration at the narrowness of national policy and to developers chancing their arms at appeal on schemes that previously would have been refused out of hand. Indeed it is not unreasonable to assume that the appeal rate would rise from 4% currently to over 6%, 34,000 extra appeals a year, similar to the 30,000 extra appeals a year brought about by the downgrading of developments plans in 1987. On this point the impact statement calculations are false because they do not include these extra costs. Indeed because appeals are free these are costs to the taxpayer and the whole of society. As well as the costs of a rising PINS budget (or creation of a massive appeals backlog to the cost of business) there is also the costs to local planning authorities of diverting staff from development management or having to hire short term staff at high marginal cost (through agencies) to fight appeals, and the costs to businesses themselves of fighting appeals and the indirect costs of having to wait longer for decisions because of local planning authority staff diverted towards appeals from development management.
Adding all of these costs together, and the Ball data and the ongoing CIPFA benchmarking work on development management costs it would be easy to estimate the costs of the appeal rate rising from 3-5%. It would be a surprise if the cost to society of the NPPF from this assessment did not run into tens of millions of pounds per annum. Indeed if the assessment of an additional 1,000 major cases a year were correct and 20% of these ended at enquiry the cost would be from PINS data £6.1 Million/annum.
The familiarisation costs on page 13 are underestimates by factor of 4 or 5 as they neglect the costs of having to read and compare the practitioners draft, the leaked draft, the final consultation draft and prepare and analyse these against current policy and prepare consultation responses and briefings to members. The true first year costs of this is as a result likely to be over £20 million. The methodology from assessment savings is broadly accepted however this omits the costs of taking legal advice on the many areas where the NPPF policy is unclear and the additional costs of appeals. Considered overall then with net disbenefits of over £20 million /annum and benefits of less than £20 million, even without considering the confusion costs and additional costs of appeal there is no business case for the NPPF as drafted.
These calculations are transformed if you assess the Welsh/Scottish option of an NPPF which doesn’t water down protections and induce anh entirely developer biased appeal led system. This would not have confusion and appeal costs, would be easier and familiar to users lessening familiarisation costs and would lessen legal costs. Only such an NPPF can demonstrate a positive business case.
The assessment of the behavioural assessment of policy changes on page 17 and wider benefits on page 18 adds nothing to the assessment as it includes no calculations of reduced costs. The second paragraph is meaningless as the Ball study looked solely at process costs not returns to landowners or the likelihood of gaining consent.
The assessment of the impact on getting plans up to date on pages 23-24 will have little leverage on those authorities where it will be impossible to get there plans up to date by April 2012 leading to a dangerous policy vacuum and more importantly the likelihood of more appeals before then, knowing that the SOS has applied a new policy on ‘prematurity’ at recovered appeals at Sandbach and Winchester which means that local planning authorities may feel they have little to lose by refusing cases. Indeed this section seems to bear no relation to current practice of ministers on appeal or the statements they have made on policy and the need for transition arrangements in recent weeks. Therefore we conclude this section of the impact statement is assessment a policy which has been dropped by ministers as impractical and therefore there is little point in commenting on it.
The description of option 2 on page 25 is misleading as current policy requires development requirements to be met, the NPPF represents no policy change in this regard.
The reference to regional strategies on page 35-26 is disturbing:
local council targets with reference to infrastructure and environmental Opportunities and constraints, as well as their individual level of need. As a result, the provision for some councils fell well below their needs, whereas some councils may have accommodated more growth than their indigenous needs required.
The implication is that even where planning constraints are high and opportunities limited all need should be met locally. Should areas such as the New Forest or the Peak District meet all needs locally despite environmental constraints? The implication is that these should be overridden. The purpose of ‘larger than local’ planning was to redistribute these requirements to areas which were less constrained. In reality such areas wont accommodate all requirements, but with no mechanism to redistribute the shortfall this is likely to lead to a substantial shortfall, in housing and employment allocations harmful to economic growth.
This is why we consider that supporters of the NPPF need to visit their local job centres to explain why they are in favour of such counterproductive policies at a time of national crisis.
The section on improved speed of decision making on page 28 contains no evidence or calculations as to savings or justification as to why or how the NPPF would increase the 8/13 rates. It is worthless and non-evidentiary.
B2 – on the town centre-first issue with relation to offices it states that
Government considers that this requirement places undue burdens on office … This burden has contributed to high rent costs for office space compared to other countries: a square foot of prime office space costs £80 per yea in London’s West End, whilst it was £62.61 In Paris Ile-de-France, £43.41 in Milan and £38.07 in Frankfurt am Main.
This however is not comparing like with like it only compares part of London, where policy on office space has been restricted for conservation and mixed community reasons with the whole of Paris and the whole of Frankfurt.
Looking at the Q2 EU office rents report from CR Richard Eillis it shows that the City prime office rental is £655 /sqm /annum whilst for Paris it is £830 /sqm/annum and Frankfurt £456 /sqm /annum and Milan £520 /sqm/annum. London is cheaper than Paris and slightly more so than Frankfurt and Milan, the difference explained by London being an international financial centre. The deliberate inclusion of west end rents as opposed to City rents appears to be a deliberately selective use of evidence that discredits the veracity and independence of the impact statement.
It is the case that Birmingham is more expensive than Hamburg, Brussels and but this is due to local geographical factors, Birmingham City Centre is small and hemmed in by ring roads, the masterplan is to double the size of the city centre by breaking this collar. This should solve this problem.
The impact statement states that there would still be ‘the policy requirement that development generating significant people movement should to be located in accessible locations where sustainable transport modes can be maximised’
However this is not the policy the NPPF says
Planning policies and decisions should ensure developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised. However this needs to take account of policies set out elsewhere in this Framework, particularly in rural areas.
The implication being that the priority to be given to growth and the policies promoting growth in rural areas could see scattered car-dependent office development in rural areas.
It would not be an issue if the NPPF allowed local plans to decide where the best places for offices are, either in town centres or in other highly accessible locations chosen locally. Many local and other plans do this. For example Canary Wharf in London or Cambridge Science park on the guided bus way. The loose wording of the NPPF doesn’t do this. It is a central dictat allowing offices to disperse with the considerable social and economic costs through increased carbon emissions and increased energy use that this entails, which is not accounted for in the impact statement.
On parking standards the impact statement is illogical and inaccurate
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);
However current national policy in PPS4 and PPG12 specially allows local authorities to have stricter standards if they wish.
The impact statement correctly states that that an oversupply of parking can result in more car use, lower site density, higher land use consumption, lower land values and less use of alternative travel modes’ so why encourage more parking through removing the requirement for maximum parking standards and setting national benchmarks which discourage local authorities from competing with each by offering more parking? Indeed why not cost these additional factors into the impact statement, is this not what an impact statement is for?
The impact statement also states that development in rural areas may require more parking. However current standards have a carefully designed threshold which exempts development of a scale suitable for rural areas. If the intent ion is to allow large car dependent development in rural areas it confirm the worst fears that the policy change is designed to encourage more dispersed and car dependent development.
The impact statement needs to account for the extra carbon emissions and energy use from the dispersed and car dependent development patterns it encourages and the agglomeration and productivity gains from Smart growth and urban containment. There is a vast literature on this which the author of the impact statement should familiarise themselves with.
In particular they should examine
Understanding Smart Growth Savings – What We Know About Public Infrastructure and Service Cost Savings, And How They are Misrepresented By Critics 17 June 2011 Todd Littman
The costs of sprawl revisited FTA 1998
Paying the Costs of Sprawl – Snyder and Bird 1998
Characteristics, Causes, and Effects of Sprawl: A Literature Review Reid H. Ewing Urban Ecology 2008
Analysis of environmental costs of mobility due to urban sprawl a modelling study on italian cities Travisi et al. 2006
Traffic, Urban Growth and Suburban Sprawl Batty et al. 2003
Galster, G., Hanson, R., Ratcliffe, M. R., Wolman, H., Coleman, S., and Freihage, J. (2001) Wrestling Sprawl to the Ground: Defining and Measuring an Elusive Concept, Housing Policy Debate, 12, 681-717
Transportation Costs and the American Dream
Jonathan Ford (2009), Smart Growth & Conventional Suburban Development: Which Costs More? U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence, Island Press, Washington DC, 1999. Newman P and Kenworthy J, ISBN 1-55963-660-2.
Transport Energy Use and Greenhouse Gases in Urban Passenger Transport Systems: A Study of 84 Global Cities.
The department should also be aware of the research on the costs and congestion caused by providing excessive free parking in town centres. In the report ‘The High Costs of Free Parking’ by Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles,
Big parking lots hike building costs and get passed through to the consumer, sometimes through higher rents in their apartment buildings or bigger costs at their grocery stores. Every place we drive and park free, we really pay for that parking as something other than as a driver
The impact assessment does not account for these additional land rent costs and the opportunity costs they cause through reduced employment and housing density .
Shoups research has also found that
Minimum parking requirements have severed the link between the cost of providing parking and the price that motorists pay for it. The cost of providing parking has ceased to influence most decisions about whether to own or use a car. Because motorists pay nothing for parking, they own and use cars as if parking costs nothing, and traffic congestion results.
His research has shown that 25% of congestion in town centres is induced by drivers searching for free car parking spaces.
The impact assessment also underestimates the problems of the policy gap that would be created for those local planning authorities relying on national maximums. In the interim developers could provide what they liked contradictory to the sustainable policy goals of the NPPF.
B3 – The opening paragraphs are a complete distortion of the evidence. Housebuilding was rising before the 2008 recession, as was the number of adopted plans, the majority would have been up to date by now were it not for the foolish letter of the then shadow Secretary of State to local authorities asking them to reduce housing and slow down plan making. Also the impact assessment does not consider the mass of evidence collected by the DCLG Select Committee and subsequently on the dramatic failure of the governments localist policies which has led to a precipitous fall in the amount of land planned for housing (estimated at an average fall of 20.6% per authority by BNP Paribas) which is now feeding through to falls in completions and starts data from Q2 20011 onwards as you would expect.
New Homes Bonus has been in place a year now. It has not worked, housebuilding has fallen not risen.
The section on the brownfield priority and target is a distortion. Local Planning Authorities have rarely felt constrained by the national target rather they have adopted local targets according to local circumstances. What is much more important is the brownfield first approach.
The impact assessment is quite simply wrong when it says
A rigid focus on brownfield development over other sites has contributed to a rise in land prices by focussing development on previously developed sites even where more sustainable options may be available.
As PPS quite expressly contains a proviso – that the Brownfield first rule does not apply when it is not the most sustainable option! The impact assessment is assessing the impact of a policy that does not and has not ever existed.
The reference to a statistic that 90% of England is not built on leads to a dead link. When found the document contains no such statistic. The statistic seems to have come from the executive summary of the 2010 Land use futures report instead however no source is given either their or in the main report. It is also wrong. It is based on land cover analysis, you cannot accurately use land cover analysis for land use built % assessment. It is really designed for agricultural and natural area coverage assessment. That is because it is based on grid square analysis, in this case probably the NERC national land cover map. This shows the predominant land cover in each 250m square grid and will miss all of the houses, especially in rural areas, that form a minority of the grid square. When DTLR last measures urbanisation in 1990 the figure was 10.6% forecast to rise by around 12% by 2016. This is a slightly more accurate measure as it was based on actual ordnance survey property boundaries not grid squares. The proportion of urbanisation could not have fallen since 1990. However Defra admitted that ‘Neither means of estimation are an accurate indication of the extent of land under urban use in the UK’ The NLUD was designed to do this however it has never been properly funded to examine the distribution and rate of urbanisation in the UK. This is an urgent data gap that needs to be filled.
The qutote that
The average remediation cost of brownfield land is estimated to be around £250,000 per hectare
No this is the average decontamination cost of contaminated land. Most brownfield sites are not contaminated, many Greenfield sites are contaminated (through for example use of sewage as fertiliser). This quote is mixing fish and foul.
The paragraph at the bottom of page 51 suggests that policies of urban containment may prevent the economic advantages of urban agglomeration. This is somewhat farfetched. Surely agglomeration is aided by policies which encourage the growth in density of cities rather than there dispersion, which may dissipate agglomeration economies.
The impact assessment of more Greenfield land development on page 54 asume current low building rates. However the NPPF proposes to increase them. With an increase in housebuilding there is likely to be an increase in Greenfield housebuilding, even if the % on brownfield land actually rose. The figures also not not take into consideration the associated infrastructure land takes, roads schools etc. This can easily double landtake. As a result the figures suggested are preposterously low. They can easily be contrasted with the figures from the land use futures project. For example Bibby 2009
The conversion of greenﬁeld land to developed uses accounts for about 5,000 ha per year, which is about a third of the post-war rates up to 1975. Just over half of this greenﬁeld land is developed for residential uses.
The post war rates prior to 1975 is a more realistic benchmark because then house building rates were higher and because then policies of urban containments were much weaker. Precisely the policy mix the NPPF seeks to reintroduce. This therefore suggests that the additional Greenfield loss per year could rise by 1,000 ha per annum if the policies on Brownfield first and protection of the countryside were abandoned.
The impact statement says that
there is a risk that derelict urban sites could be left undeveloped in favour of Greenfield land, where there are lower remedial costs. However, these sites can be used for other uses such as economic uses including industry and retail, as well as leisure and community uses.
However experience suggests that without high value end uses such as residential the more difficult derelict sites will not be reclaimed at all.
On the 20% additional rule it seems poorly justified. If deceased prices is the abmbition why not 1,200% ? The real reason given for a small increase in the past was to create a buffer for sites coming forward, which can vary radically by authority. If the 5 year supply is tested at examination and all sites found to be deliverable why put that in with those authorities that have untested 5 years supplies including potentially undeliverable ones.
On the issue of the affordable housing threshold it omits to consider those local authorities that currently have no threshold because they rely on national policy. There needs to be a transition arrangements otherwise developers could put in applications with no affordable housing in the interim. It also distort existing policy as this was often varied to fit local circumstances.
On rural exceptions site policy it is acknowledged that allowing some local flexibility could be beneficial, however the policy as drafted could create significant transitional problems. Hope values on sites could rise and exceptions sites could dry up as owners expect full market rates. We suggest a wording which could remove this problem. However as drafted the impact statement should acknowledgment a potential loss of affordable housing.
The Green Belt section does not assess the impact of allowing large scale infill in inaccessible green belt villages, which would now become appropriate development.
The description of policy on decentralised energy on page 87 of the impact statement does not tie in with the policy in para 150 which can clearly be read to state that no local standards should be set rather they should be replaced with forthcoming national standards. If this is not the intent a clearer wording should be used.