Written evidence from the Campaign to Protect Rural England
- The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) believes that the current draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is not fit for purpose. We support the Government’s aims to promote localism and consolidate national planning policy. In our view, however, the draft NPPF is deeply flawed and puts ordinary, undesignated countryside at risk from inappropriate development by weakening existing policies.
- We believe the document needs substantial revisions. In making recommendations to the Government about the NPPF we propose that the Committee considers the following specific points:
- The presumption in favour of sustainable development should be re-drafted to make clearer when planning permission can justifiably be refused. To provide such clarification the document should include a definition of sustainable development based on the five principles set out in the Government’s UK Sustainable Development Strategy.
- The NPPF should recognise the importance of the countryside as a whole for its intrinsic value, and not just those areas that are nationally designated.
- The existing ‘brownfield first’ policy should be retained so that land is used efficiently by ensuring previously developed land is used to meet development needs before greenfield sites.
- The transport section should be revised to make it consistent with the core transport principle stated in paragraph 19 of the draft. It should recognise that addressing transport impacts is often critical in securing sustainable development rather than making them irrelevant unless shown to be ‘severe’.
3. CPRE welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). As a leading environmental charity, we have worked to promote and protect the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England by encouraging the sustainable use of land and other natural resources since our formation in 1926. We are one of the country’s leading voluntary sector participants in the planning system, with branches in every English county and local groups in most current local authority districts.
A brief general assessment of the fitness for purpose of the draft Framework as a whole
- We believe that national planning policy is a critical element in ensuring sustainable use of land. CPRE supports the Government’s stated objectives of making national planning policy more localist, proportionate and user-friendly. We also recognise the need to promote sustainable economic development. We feel strongly, however, that the draft policy runs contrary to a number of Government pledges on the environment and will not deliver development that is truly sustainable.
- Overall, we do not think that the consultation draft NPPF is fit for purpose as a statement of national planning policy. There are a number of fundamental issues which the Government needs to address before this is achieved. We set out the detail of these concerns in the rest of this submission.
Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?
- We are concerned that the draft NPPF does not give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities to ensure that future development will be truly sustainable. While we recognise the need for national planning policy to be consolidated, we are concerned that the Government’s aspirations for brevity mean that important details, that would help guide local planning authorities in their policy and decision-making, have been lost.
- An illustration of this is that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is not linked to explicit criteria on how development might be shown to be either sustainable or unsustainable. The introduction of standards alongside the presumption was promised in the Conservative Green Paper Open Source Planning. Currently, Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1) explains sustainable development principles, and how they can be planned for and achieved, in a clear and succinct manner (over just 15 pages). By contrast the draft NPPF requires readers to read the document as a whole (over 50 pages) to divine what sustainable development constitutes in practice (draft NPPF paragraph 12).
- There is also a need for further guidance on transitional arrangements for the preparation of local plans, including in relation to the proposed ‘certificate of conformity’ (paragraph 26). Our understanding of the current legal situation (subject to the opinion of CPRE’s Standing Counsel) is that local plans are only required to have regard to (in distinction to being in general conformity with) national policy. Particularly for those plans produced after the NPPF was adopted, we feel that the reference to, and availability of, a ‘certificate of conformity’ could pressure local authorities into producing plans that go beyond what the law requires them to do, and is contrary to the goal of localism.
Are the ‘core planning principles’ clearly and appropriately expressed?
- CPRE welcomes aspects of the core planning principles expressed in paragraph 19, in particular those on local plans, mixed use development, transport, well-being and amenity, respectively. For the document to be a self-contained expression of the Government’s approach to sustainable development, however, CPRE recommends that the key principles of the 2005 UK Strategy should be reiterated at this point. This could be achieved by integrating them with the core planning principles.
- Other draft core principles are also, we believe, likely to need alteration. In particular, the second principle on development should state clearly that only responsible, sustainable development that has benefited from a level of public involvement proportionate to the public interest in the application, and also provided that no relevant local or national policies are not compromised, should be approved. Additionally, the intrinsic value of land, including all countryside, should also be recognised. Land should be used efficiently as well as effectively, and along with other non-renewable resources its use should be managed, and where appropriate restricted, through development planning.
- The principle under the sixth bullet point should be amended to ensure that, in making effective use of land, planning policies and decisions seeks to re-use land that has been previously developed.
Is the definition of ‘sustainable development’ contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?
12. The current draft of the presumption is, in CPRE’s view, little more than a presumption in favour of development, with minimal or no regard as to whether the development is genuinely sustainable in environmental terms. There is no clear definition of sustainable development within the draft NPPF and readers are expected to read across the whole document to understand what it means in practice (see above). The Brundtland Commission definition of sustainable development is set out, as it already is in PPS1, but this is insufficient. We believe it is crucial, if the NPPF is intended to be the Government’s future definitive statement on planning and sustainable development, that it should reiterate the five core principles of the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy..
13. We are also concerned that the presumption in favour, as presently drafted, could turn back the clock in planning policy terms to the late 1980s, where a presumption in favour of granting planning permission was set in Government policy.
14. In particular, we believe that there is a grave risk of developers resorting to the planning appeals process to a significantly greater degree than has been the case since the introduction of the plan-led system of development control in 1991. If this took place it would be the exact antithesis of localism and of the Minister’s desire for ‘fewer appeals to the Planning Inspectorate and more decided locally’ (House of Commons Hansard 17 May 2011). It would also contradict the Government’s stated desire for a fast, efficient and more certain planning system. The risk of the presumption leading to more appeals has been noted in the Government impact assessment for the NPPF, but it stated that ‘it is difficult to quantify the scale of this risk’.
15. The head of planning at British Land (a company which has openly supported the reform) has recently noted that in the 1980s, when there had previously been a policy presumption in favour of development, the number of appeals had risen to 30,000 a year (compared to around 16,500 appeals being submitted in 2010/11). He stated that ‘it (the NPPF as drafted) will often provide a basis for applicants to appeal because they believe it offers a route to the approvals they want’ (quoted at planningresource.co.uk, article dated 6 September 2011).
16. From CPRE analysis of the Government’s development control statistics (see Annex, table 1) from the late 1980s, when the general presumption in favour of development was most recently in force, we have concluded that the proposed presumption would be likely to lead to a considerable increase in the number of appeals against refusals of planning permission. If the economy recovers as the Government intends, and no additional resources are provided to ensure comprehensive local plan coverage, a potential return to the 32,000 mark last seen in 1989/90 is a likely scenario. This would represent a near doubling of the number of appeals submitted in 2010/11.
17. We are also concerned that developers are likely to use the planning appeals system as a means to pressure local authorities into granting planning permission, even where an appeal is not taken through to a final decision. A particular characteristic of planning in the late 1980s was the high figure of appeals that were withdrawn (between 5 and 9 times more than in 2010/11). Alongside this it should be remembered that in the 1980s, as now, the vast majority of planning applications (at least 80% in each year) have been approved.
18. Not only would such an outcome frustrate the achievement of local objectives for development – the reverse of localism – it could also significantly add to the current cost of the appeals system (£29 million in the year 2009/10). There are also further costs for local authorities and community groups resulting from an increased need to respond to planning appeals, which are often likely to frustrate attempts to prepare an up-to-date plan. This is of particular concern given the fact that a majority of local authorities do not have a sound or adopted plan (as noted on pp.20-22 of the Government’s Impact Assessment which accompanies the draft NPPF).
19. We are not convinced that, in the short term at least, the Government’s proposed neighbourhood plans will plug the policy gap in order to prevent a greater resort to planning appeals. It is therefore vital from CPRE’s point of view that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is completely redrafted. The Government should also give greater positive support, both financially and through the NPPF, for area-wide local planning.
20. The main issues that we believe need addressing are:
- For the presumption to be clearly in favour of sustainable development, CPRE believes that there should be a requirement for developers to demonstrate that their proposal is genuinely sustainable, not merely that the proposal does not have an adverse impact on the policies in the NPPF.
- The policy should recognise cases where a local authority has made significant progress towards adopting a plan, and that delays to planning decisions can often be caused primarily by the actions of developers rather than local authorities. The draft wording could be taken to suggest that a local authority would be generally required to grant permission unless a plan had actually been adopted, or even in cases where delay had been caused by developer intransigence.
- It should be specific about why a plan might have been superseded, rather than using the term ‘out of date’ which is particularly likely to result in greater resort to appealing or a raft of litigation, not only in relation to individual applications but potentially also to the adoption of plans.
- The requirement for decision makers to demonstrate that ‘the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole’ when refusing planning applications is at best unclear and at worst unreasonably onerous. Although the draft states that planning policies and decisions should be ‘compatible with, and where appropriate further’ the achievement of relevant statutory obligations, the policy would not in our view help with the implementation of many such obligations, for example on Environmental Impact Assessment. Instead, it should be made clear that only policies in the NPPF that are relevant to the application at hand should be weighed into any assessment. This would fit neatly with the existing planning law requirement to decide applications in accordance with the development plan and any material (ie. relevant) considerations.
21. A possible approach may be to reverse the presumption in relation to planning applications that, for example, are clear departures from an adopted plan; which cannot show community support; or which impinge on environmental constraints. As the Encyclopaedia of Planning Law & Practice points out, ‘a presumption in favour of the plan is irreconcilable with a general presumption in favour of development. It is, if anything, a presumption in favour of development that accords with the plan; and a presumption against development that does not’ (original emphasis). This may be an area where CPRE has common ground with the developer interests that strongly support the introduction of the proposed presumption. In a debate on the Guardian website on 31 August, the Chief Executive of the British Property Federation stated that ‘we absolutely agree’ with a CPRE posting that stated: ‘any presumption in favour of sustainable development has to be accompanied by an equally strong presumption against unsustainable development.’
Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?
22. We do not believe that the NPPF integrates national planning policy across Departments. The lack of clear definition of sustainable development, for example, undermines the achievement of the Government’s 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy.
23. CPRE estimates that the countryside outside designated areas covers at least half (52- 58%) of all England’s countryside. The draft NPPF does not refer to protecting the countryside ‘for the sake of its intrinsic character’ (as currently stated in Policy EC6.1 in Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 4: Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth) or to strictly controlling development outside existing settlements (ibid., Policy EC6.2). CPRE believes that these policies need to be restored, otherwise planning protection would be weakened in the English countryside outside nationally designated areas. This appears to be at clear odds with the commitment made in the Government’s June 2011 White Paper The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature to maintain protection and enhancement of the natural environment as objectives for national planning policy, with the ‘natural environment’ encompassing all farm land and forests, or in other words all countryside.
24. We are also particularly interested in the impact of paragraph 13 of the draft NPPF, specifically that ‘significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth through the planning system’ and paragraph 14, which states that ‘All of these policies should apply unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.’ These paragraphs change the meaning of sustainable development and, arguably, trump both the Brundtland definition, included in the NPPF, and the 2005 Strategy.
25. We are very concerned that these paragraphs may represent a fundamental shift in planning policy away from recognition of the need to protect the intrinsic value of the countryside to a position where value has to be justified on the grounds of evidence in each and every case.
26. Another notable sources of inconsistency between the NPPF and other recent Government policy documents can be found in the Treasury Plan for Growth, and the National Policy Statement EN-1 on overarching energy development published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Both of these documents refer to the benefits of using brownfield land before greenfield. It may also be relevant that the draft policy statement on gypsy and traveller development, issued in April 2011 and about a month before the publication of the Practitioner Advisory Group draft NPPF, includes the following points established in current planning policy but not the draft NPPF:
- Previously developed land should be preferred to greenfield for new development.
- Development in the countryside outside existing settlements should be strictly controlled.
- There is a general presumption against inappropriate development in Green Belts.
27. We strongly welcome the fact that the NPPF core principle covering transport reflects PPS1 and seeks ‘to make the fullest use of public transport, walking and cycling, and focus significant development in locations which are or can be made sustainable’. This principle which reflects existing Department for Transport policy is, however, contradicted by the transport section which is considerably weaker. Not only is the principle heavily qualified within this section, including the key test to reduce carbon emissions, but it refers to ‘sustainable transport’, defined as ‘any means of transport with low impact on the environment, including walking and cycling, green or low emission vehicles, car sharing and public transport.’ We believe it should require local authorities to plan to reduce car dependency and promote alternative, sustainable, modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport.
28. Worse still, the transport section uniquely amongst the NPPF’s policy sections has a further test that goes even further than the presumption of sustainable development in enabling unsustainable development. Paragraph 86 states that ‘development should not be prevented or refused on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe.’ This would, for example, make it near impossible to use land use planning as a tool to reduce carbon emissions from transport. The emissions from individual unsustainable planning applications would always be a tiny proportion of national emissions and so could not be held to be ‘severe’. The Committee on Climate Change has stressed the importance of planning to reduce emissions in the longer term, something that would no longer be possible if the NPPF was approved in its current form.
29. CPRE has long promoted the strong relationship between a brownfield first approach, dense mixed use development, town centre first and reducing the need to travel. These ideas can be grouped together within the theories or slogans of Smart Growth or ‘towns of short trips’ („Stadt der kurzen Wege“), which are important in North American and German speaking countries respectively. A similar approach that fits well with economic and nudge theory is to focus on giving sustainable travel modes ‘comparative advantages’ over driving, through better planning that increases accessibility (such as by promoting walkable mixed use higher density developments) and creates quality public spaces not dominated by motor traffic.
Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?
- CPRE believes that the Government has omitted to take into account a number of key areas of evidence necessary to underpin a sound NPPF. In particular, we do not believe that the Government’s claims that the planning system is currently a barrier to growth is sufficiently evidence-based. We are concerned that this claim underpins the development of the draft NPPF and the reforms more widely. Government statistics show that for at least a decade more than 8 in 10 planning applications are granted and the figure for major commercial applications, critical for economic growth, is higher at around 90%. As highlighted above we are concerned that the introduction of the presumption, as currently worded, would lead to greater uncertainty for developers and local authorities.
- In addition to our points above, a further consequence of the omission of a definition of sustainable development, or any reference to the 2005 Strategy, in the draft NPPF, is an apparent omission of a large body of evidence relevant to planning for sustainable development.
- For example, environmental capacity and limits can be seen to be particularly pressing issues in the South East and East of England. A major Government-sponsored study by UK Foresight, published in February 2010, noted the serious levels of water stress in most of the South East and much of the East of England1. This followed a further study by Entec for Defra in 2004 found that a major increase in the supply of housing would have a number of consequences ranging from increased mineral and water extraction to production of waste2.
- Studies carried out by Land Use Consultants for CPRE in 2007 show a similar picture of stress in many English regions in relation to other important indicators of environmental quality, such as visual and noise pollution. That is why we are able to support the reference to the protection of tranquillity in the draft NPPF, though on the basis of our research we believe the definition of ‘tranquillity’ should cover visual intrusion as well as noise pollution.
|TABLE 1: NUMBERS OF PLANNING APPEALS IN 2010/11 COMPARED TO THE LATE 1980s (source: DOE, Development Control Statistics: England, 1995/96 and Planning Inspectorate, Statistical Report: England 2010/11)
|Number of planning applications received (000s)
||Number of appeals received
||Number of appeals decided
||Number of appeals withdrawn
||Number of appeals allowed
||% of appeals allowed as proportion of those decided
1 UK Foresight, Land Use Futures: Making the most of land in the 21st century, Final Project Report February 2010, p.112. 2 Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Study into the Environmental Impacts of Increasing the Supply of Housing in the UK, Final Report by Entec, Hodkinson, and Eftec, April 2004.
- If the Government is serious about promoting genuinely sustainable development then the NPPF needs to advocate appropriate development that minimises its environmental impacts. We fear that the language in the draft about viability, that seeks to ensure that requirements placed on developers do not prevent ‘acceptable returns’ (paragraph 39) will lead to developers arguing that they should not be required to adhere to high environmental standards or deliver as much affordable housing as they might otherwise have been expected to.
- We are greatly concerned about the lack of any reference in the draft NPPF to a preference for the redevelopment of previously developed land before greenfield development, and the proposed new, more onerous requirements for local authorities to identify five years’ worth of developable land for new housing, with an additional allowance of 20%. The latter requirement is in addition to the draft NPPF discouraging the use of ‘windfall’ allowances in local plan site allocations (i.e. for brownfield sites which are not allocated in a plan but subsequently become available for development).
- Moreover, CPRE does not think that an additional 20% requirement is justified, either in terms of its effect on adopted local plans or in terms of providing more housing. The introduction of the requirement is likely to force local authorities into conducting more controversial and expensive consultation exercises on housing land supply than under present requirements; and a number of councils with an adopted plan would be required to revisit their housing policies in order to meet it, or be forced to approve applications that went against local policies.
- We are also concerned that the more land local authorities have to allocate, especially as it is proposed that in general they will not be allowed to take windfall sites into consideration, the greater pressure there will be to allocate greenfield and potentially Green Belt land for housing. Such allocations would, in many cases, also undermine aspirations for urban regeneration as developers are likely to ‘cherry pick’ greenfield sites as they are generally easier to development and more profitable.
CPRE September 2011