Dont Diss it – 200 homes around Norfolk Town described as ‘Mega Megopolis’

The Well Known Megamegopolis of Diss here seen overunn with Traffic

Sometimes the silliness of opposition to very modest proposals in small towns makes me laugh.  Diss – population 6,700, in South Norfolk, a town of this size would normally expect 200-300 houses over 10 years to keep up with household growth – all things being equal.  The core strategy proposes 200 including 10-20 homes each in several villages around Diss.

So what is the local reaction?

Diss resident Dr Barbara Thomas, of Walcott Green, described the proposed development areas, including agricultural land on the outskirts, as a “tourniquet” squeezing the life out of the town.

She disputed whether the town had the transport infrastructure to support the development and felt the plans aimed more to make money for construction firms and the council rather than improve the quality of life in the town.

“I just feel that the sheer level of residential development will bring so many people into this area and the local road infrastructure is totally and utterly inadequate.

“This is going to make Diss follow all the mistakes that were made with Wymondham, we will be building a mini megalopolis. These plans have been suggested by landowners to fulfil landowners’ greed. Everyone is looking to build homes for their own profit,” Dr Thomas added.

Goodness whatever you do don’t follow the mistakes of Wymondham, a town do developed Bill Bryson lives there in a former vicarage.

Of course Diss is so far from anywhere housing is most likely to attract local already likely to be driving on roads, watching tele consuming electricity and drinking water

Lord Rogers #NPPF speech ‘the only sustainable form of development is the compact, polycentric city’

 

Lord Rogers of Riverside: My Lords, I declare an interest in Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners and as a director of the River Café, Hammersmith. I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Rooker on introducing this timely debate. I will discuss the effect that this national planning policy framework is likely to have on our cities and our countryside, which are two sides of the same coin. In fact, cities need to be contained by a belt—green or other—to optimise the benefits of both rather than letting the city sprawl.

I am a practising architect with considerable experience of planning systems around the world. I have advised presidents and mayors in the UK and abroad and retain strong views on planning for the future. Planning systems exist for the benefit and protection of the public good, and I believe that our existing planning system is one of the very best. However, it needs rationalisation. Economics drive the city, but culture is its heart. The urban renaissance is fragile, and if we are not to return to the failing cities of the 1980s, cities need careful love and attention. The proposed national planning policy framework does not recognise the nature and culture of cities. This is the age of cities. More than half the world’s population lives in cities. It was 10 per cent 100 years ago and is expected to be 80 per cent in 30 years’ time.

People move to cities to find jobs, to be creative and to mix. There is a correlation between prosperity and urbanisation. There continue to be strong economic and social arguments for prioritising the intensification of existing settlements over greenfield or otherwise remote development. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the use of brownfield or derelict land in the national framework, even though there is no shortage of brownfield sites. The Department for Communities and Local Government’s own figures show that despite substantial reuse, there remains virtually the same quantity of available brownfield land as there was 10 years ago, when I chaired its urban task force.

I believe the only sustainable form of development is the compact, polycentric city, which is well-connected and encourages walking and the use of public transport, where public spaces and buildings are well-designed and the poor and rich can live in close proximity. The intensification of existing settlements is economically efficient because it optimises the use of existing infrastructure and the embedded energy within schools, hospitals, roads and homes. Cities such as Vancouver, Portland, New York, especially Manhattan, and compact European cities are more than five times as energy efficient as sprawling cities such as Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The success of retrofitting cities and neighbourhoods has created an urban renaissance that has come about through relatively tight controls on out-of-town retail and commercial development and residential buildings. Over the past decade, the empty gaps in eroded cities and neighbourhoods have been filled in as people moved back into cities. This brings vitality, wealth and security to these cities, but this is a very selective and delicate situation.

Let us take the examples of some areas of Manchester, Liverpool and London. In 1990, there were 90 people living in the heart of Manchester; today there are 20,000. Over the same period, the population of central Liverpool increased fourfold, and London had three-quarters of a million people added to its population, all housed on brownfield land.

The new policy framework favours sustainable development, which I applaud, but it fails to articulate what it is beyond putting economic growth first. I believe that sustainability means social well-being, design excellence and environmental responsibility within a viable economic and legislative framework. Sustainability is about long-term thinking and ambitions. My noble friend Lord Hart clearly defined sustainability in his speech, and I agree with his other points.

The compact city is the only form of sustainable development where poor and rich can live side by side. By cutting over 1,000 pages of proposed legislation to just over 50 pages, careful, detailed advice has been abandoned in favour of generalities. There is a risk that the courts will decide planning applications rather than communities. For example, granting planning on the basis that local plans are absent or incomplete is totally unacceptable and certainly not environmentally sustainable. More houses need to be built, but there is no proof whatever that the fall in the number of dwellings over the past years has anything at all to do with the lack of buildable land. Currently there are 66,000 hectares of brownfield land in England, and this increases every year. Some 330,000 planning permissions for dwellings have not yet been built, and 750,000 homes are lying empty—well enough to meet all our housing needs. Dereliction and the fragmentation of towns where buildings stand empty create no-go areas, which is why we have to start building and retrofitting in these places.

The Government’s attempt to give local councils and communities independence is attractive. However, it needs careful studying and long-term planning, as there will be a need for more decision-making bodies, which in turn will require well-trained specialists who even now are in very short supply. Even in London only a handful of boroughs are actually capable of performing planning tasks.

The good design of public spaces and buildings is critical to improve the quality of life. Bad design impoverishes and brutalises. Much of what we build today will last for hundreds of years. If the framework is not greatly improved, it will lead to the breakdown and fragmentation of cities and neighbourhoods and the erosion of the countryside. To conclude, retrofitting an existing city brings life back to that city, minimises the cost and allows the countryside to be used for pleasure.

 

Extract from Lord Greave’s ‘Sloppy Wording’ #NPPF Speech

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am a member of a local planning authority and the local development control committee in Colne, which is the Colne and District Committee. Perhaps I should think about retiring.

My initial reaction when I read this draft national planning policy framework was that a lot of the language is wrong. It does not fit neatly into a planning framework; it is written more like a manifesto and there is quite a lot of sloppy wording. Sloppy wording is something that must be avoided here; otherwise it is a recipe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, said, for lots of appeals, judicial review and lots of money for rich lawyers. My second thought was that a lot of it is internally inconsistent and it needs sorting out. Whatever message the Government want to give in this document, it has to be consistent. My third problem is what it misses out and that is inevitable when all the PPSs are being condensed into a shorter document. I hope that the Government will not get hung up on 50 pages, but if they do, I would say that it needs increasing a bit and perhaps they will have to use a smaller typeface. Nevertheless, I understand the purpose of the document. My final concern is: what does it really mean? This leads us on to the meaning of “sustainable development”.

 

Last night, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out that the Government are often in a state of confusion between the meaning of the word “development” and the phrase “sustainable development”. They are not the same thing, but they seem to be being used interchangeably. The absolute minimum, from our point of view, is that a definition of “sustainable development”—an explanation, if they do not want a definition in this document—must recognise that it consists of three pillars; economic, social and environmental. That is absolutely fundamental. Planning decisions and planning policy-making has to involve a balance between those. A reading of this document suggests that the balance is not there. If the Government wish to set a great premium on growth—and I understand why they may—it must be within the context of those three pillars and the balance between them. In particular, it must be set within clear environmental limits.

The noble Lord, Lord Hart, has already referred to paragraph 14, which has caused a lot of the problems. It reads:

“At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

That is fine.

“Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development”.

That is fine, but then it says,

“and approve all individual proposals wherever possible”.

At the very best that is such sloppy wording that it cannot be allowed to remain. All things are possible. Then it says,

approve development proposals that accord with statutory plans without delay”.

 

Again, it is sloppy wording. Of course there should be no inefficiency, no unnecessary delay, but as a member of a planning committee for very many years and the former chairman of one, I know that planning applications very often require negotiation, discussion and attempts to reach consensus. Simply because a proposal, whether it is small, medium-sized or big, is in accord with the plan does not mean that there are not lots of details that require sorting out—things such as access and the implications on the local highway network; whether it requires changes to and support for local bus services; the detailed design of proposals. These are absolutely crucial and yet do not necessarily follow automatically from what is in the plan. All those things and a lot more require time. It is better to spend some time getting it right because, for people who live in or visit an area, what is done very often will last for many years—perhaps for hundreds of years. Spending a bit more time getting it right is absolutely vital. Planning is for the lifetime of people who live in an area. Developers looking at the wording of parts of this document may well feel that Christmas has arrived. They may think that it is wonderful—but planning is for life, not just for Christmas. haps I should think about retiring.

Lord Hart’s #NPPF Speech

Lord Hart of Chilton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this debate and for enabling us to make representations direct to the Minister without having to fill in a consultation form.

It is not surprising that the draft national policy framework has caused controversy. Planning decisions necessarily involve balancing competing objectives—policy and politics, legal issues, public and private interests and above all the making of choices which can directly affect villages, towns, cities, the countryside and those who live in them.

Such decisions are often controversial. They frequently attract passionate opposition, from professional and lay or local opinion, quite apart from organisations representing sectional interests. They are sometimes regarded as unfair or just plain wrong. In a relatively small country with finite land resources, the third highest population density in the world and the population rising fast, it could scarcely be otherwise.

Those who approach the subject, therefore, should do so carefully and in a consensual mood; not as some have done recently in an intemperate manner because that only creates antagonism and leads to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with the planning system is the people who operate it. I am not complacent, but there is no substantial body of evidence to substantiate the claim that the planning system is broken, or that it can legitimately be made a scapegoat for a lack of economic growth.

For example, in my own local area there is at least one extant permission for a large housing development in suspense; not because of problems in the planning system, but because of the financial problems of the developer. I am quite sure that this is replicated by many other examples across the country and the statistics seem to indicate that. I am not opposed in principle to the framework. I want to make it better, but today I wish to draw attention to three issues that I fear will give rise to potential legal difficulties. I must declare an interest as one who, for many happy years, used to practise in this area.

First is the framework itself. Any reduction of policy guidance from 1,300 pages of statements, guidance and correspondence down to 52 pages comes with a risk of challenge by way of judicial review. I say that because simplicity of language does not necessarily make things simple. Sometimes it is quite the opposite because quarrels over interpretation and nuance inevitably lead to delay at the very time that the human resource in each local planning authority required to give effect to this policy is at a low ebb, with cutbacks making things worse.

Policy guidance is, of course, a matter for the Secretary of State. It is a material consideration in deciding planning applications. However, like all material considerations, it is also a matter for the courts to construe if invited to do so. Of course, the weight to be placed upon each material consideration is for the decision-maker, but it is not possible to avoid the courts construing whether or not something is a material consideration.

In several respects, the framework lacks clarity. I am rather on my own here, but I very much regret the cancellation of a number of the planning policy statements, some of which were published recently, and in practice I found them exceedingly helpful. I do not believe that short, summarising sentences will adequately replace the detail contained in, say, planning policy statement 5, dealing with the historic environment and the setting of listed buildings. There are others, too. I am not saying that there is no room for cutting out repetition and out-of-date material, but much of the recent guidance has been extremely useful and I will be sorry to see it go.

In future, practitioners will refer back to the cancelled statements and track the wording. Where the wording of the new framework is unclear or open to more than one interpretation, battle and consequent delay will commence; leading, if the stakes are high, either to more and more planning appeals or more and more litigation by way of judicial review. So I believe the framework should be rescrutinised and, where necessary, added to or provided with supplementary guidance.

My second point relates to the term sustainability and the presumption in favour of sustainable development. It cannot be the Government’s intention to leave a policy vacuum while developers leap to take advantage, but I fear that it might happen. The concept of sustainability has been around since at least 1994 with the parliamentary Command Paper Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy and has given rise to considerable debate. The framework does not contain a full definition in the glossary of terms and it should. I believe that the current definition is inadequate because it contains insufficient environmental balance and concentrates on the short term.

The Government, of course, argue that if you read the document as a whole, the balance is there, but the tone is otherwise. It is almost as though one can hear the dog whistle from the Treasury. Some have said that there has been sufficient controversy—I believe this—about the current attempt at definition to make one believe that it is absolutely necessary for the draftsmen to go back to the drawing board.

Paragraph 14 of the statement raises concern because it requires planning approval to be granted in accordance with the framework “without delay” and,

“where the plan is absent, silent,

indeterminate or where relevant policies

are out of date”,
and applies,

“unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the

policy

objectives in the National
Planning Policy

Framework taken as a whole”.
There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That needs clarification in the context of other material considerations and statutory obligations imposing duties on the Secretary of State and the local planning authority which may be inconsistent with the new presumption, quite apart from the separate obligations to produce environmental impact assessments and to comply with European directives.

To a lawyer, presumptions and statutory duties, and each and all of the phrases that I have mentioned, carry with them issues of interpretation and require greater clarity and guidance to avoid litigation. For example, what is “indeterminate” or “out of date”? What is “significantly and demonstrably”, which is a new planning concept?

On the text itself, where is the presumption in favour of using brownfield land before greenfield land so that developers are prevented from seeking cheaper land in the interests of growth? Why have office developments and cultural activities disappeared from the sequential test in the section on town centres? What will be the implications of that and where does one find a long-term strategic view for the future? How can it be right when almost all major developments involve significant traffic issues? Should it be said that there should be no refusal unless the impact is severe?

Thirdly, I turn to the development plan, which I link to the presumption. Since 1947—strengthened in 1990—it has been the position that planning permission should be granted for development which is in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The plan itself has undergone serial major changes which continue under the Localism Bill. This is not the first time that the development plan has been subject to complaints of being responsible for delay and harming the economic well-being of the country. It has been a recurrent theme over the past 30 years, as has the desire to involve the public in the planning system.

Currently, however a large number of local planning authorities are consulting the public on core strategy draft documents, which constitute part one of the new local plan. In my own area, consultation lasts until 2 December this year. To maintain confidence, public involvement is of critical importance. It is, therefore, extremely alarming to see the draft statement refer to a default position whereby, in the absence of a plan or where relevant policies are said to be out of date, the presumption will be in favour of development. That cannot possibly be the right way to go because, although plans are in the process of formulation, they should be allowed to continue to a conclusion and there should be no framework presumption until that has happened. To do otherwise will undermine public confidence in the plan-making process. In any event, the plan must conform to the policy framework. As a result, further time and delay will be taken up in achieving this and, of course, no community order can come into play until it conforms to a local plan and hence the framework. In this respect localism will be in suspense.

Although I understand the natural desire to encourage economic growth and speed up the planning process, I do not believe that any action should be taken that brings the risk of increased litigation or an increase in the number of planning appeals, which is the very opposite of the coalition’s intention. So much more work is needed and it almost makes me want to go back into practice.

John Hobson QC legal advice to CPRE on #NPPF in full

 ADVICE

1. I have been asked to advise on a number of matters that arise from the consultation draft of the proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

2. The first point concerns the emphasis given in the NPPF to the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. This is stated by the Minister in his foreword as “the basis for every plan, and every decision”. The NPPF itself, at paragraph 14, refers to it as “a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking”.

3. The reference to a presumption in favour development is not novel. It was set out in Circular 14/85 and carried into PPG1, published in 1988. However this presumption was displaced by the enactment of section 54A in the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, which effectively introduced a presumption in favour of the development plan. Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 currently provides the statutory underpinning for the plan-led system of development control.

4. Although the NPPF does state that “planning should be genuinely plan-led (paragraph 19), there does seem to me to be the potential for confusion arising from the approach granted where the plan is “absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date”. The NPPF goes on in paragraph 19 to say that “decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is “yes”.” Permission should only be refused when “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” (paragraph 14), or would “compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in this framework” (paragraph 19).

5. In my opinion this approach will make it relatively easy to side line the development plan and thus effectively weaken the plan-led system. There is likely to be a considerable hiatus between the promulgation of the NPPF and the adoption of approved plans. During this period, when the plan is “absent” planning authorities are required to grant permission. Moreover, even when a plan has been adopted it may well be possible to establish that it is “silent, indeterminate or … out of date”, simply because the proposals under consideration were not considered at the time the plan was drawn up, or because circumstances have altered, e.g. in relation to the housing figures. In such a case the NPPF makes it clear that a presumption in favour of development applies: the default answer is “yes”, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in the framework.

6. The problem with this is that the “key sustainable development principles” are not easy to identify or extract from the text of the NPPF. The NPPF does not provide a clear definition of what it means by sustainable development, or indeed any clear section headed “delivering sustainable development” it includes a reference to the well-known definition produced by the Brundtland commission. The three subheadings in paragraph 10: planning for prosperity, people and places, which emphasised the need for growth as well as the protection of the environment, do not provide a coherent set of sustainable development “principles”. Consequently there is an ambiguity which permeates the NPPF, and which is likely to lead to uncertainty in its application, with a consequent increase in the number of appeals. One area which illustrates the potential for confusion is in relation to transport policy. At paragraph 82 it is explained that “transport policies have an important role to play in facilitating development but also in contributing to wider sustainability and health objectives.” At paragraph 86 the NPPF states that, among other factors, decisions should consider whether

“Improvements can be undertaken within the transport network that cost effectively limit the significant impacts of the development. Subject to those considerations, development should not be prevented or refused on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe, and the need to encourage increased delivery of homes and sustainable economic development should be taken into account.”

7. Although this guidance is perhaps somewhat ambiguous, it does appear to indicate that, even where there are transport problems that need to be overcome, permission should nevertheless be granted, unless the local planning authority can establish that the problems are “severe”. In such circumstances the presumption will be difficult to displace, with permission being granted for development that involves unsatisfactory, unresolved and potentially dangerous transport issues that nevertheless fall short of being judged “severe”.

8. In relation to the Green Belt the NPPF states in paragraph 133 that the Government attaches “great importance to Green Belts”. Current policy in relation to Green Belts is contained in PPG2 which provides at paragraph 31: “There is … a general presumption against inappropriate development within them.” The NPPF at paragraph 142 expresses the guidance somewhat differently: “Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in various special circumstances”. The presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt, which applies now, will not therefore be applicable once the NPPF is promulgated. In my opinion this is a significant change which may weaken the protection that applies to Green Belts.

9. At the time when, in accordance with Circular 14/85 and PPG1, the presumption in favour of development applied, difficulty was experienced in reconciling that presumption with the general presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt. In two cases it was held that the fact the site was in the Green Belt did not of itself disapply the presumption in favour of development, nor provide a sound and clear-cut reason for refusal. This difficulty was eventually resolved by the Court of Appeal in R v. Secretary of State for the Environment ex parte Pehrsson [1991] 61 P&CR 266, which held that the combined effect of the two presumptions was that if the proposed development was in the Green Belt and was of a nature which was inappropriate, it was one which by definition caused demonstrable harm to an interest of acknowledged importance, and it thus became incumbent on the applicant to show that the advantages of the particular development in the particular circumstances outweighed the harm.

1 Cranford Hall Parking Limited v. Secretary of State for the Environment [1989] JPL 169 and Barnet Meeting Room Trust v. Secretary of State for the Environment [1989] EGCS 141.

2 The concern in relation to the NPPF is that the removal of the presumption against inappropriate development puts the situation back in a pre-Pehrsson position. There will be no countervailing presumption to weigh against the presumption in favour of development. It is by no means clear therefore, as it is at the moment in accordance with the existing presumption against inappropriate development, that the burden is upon the applicant to demonstrate that very special circumstances exist which justify the grant of planning permission, notwithstanding the site’s Green Belt status.

10. In my opinion if the government do indeed wish to carry forward the protection of the Green Belt to the same degree as at present, the express presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt should be reinstated.

11. The NPPF also includes polices in relation to the natural environment. There is one aspect which appears to introduce a departure from previous policy. Policy EC6 in PPS4 states that the countryside should be protected “for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty”. Recognition of the importance of protecting the countryside for its own sake is not included in the NPPF. Paragraph 173 puts it differently and states that “planning policies and decisions should aim to … identify areas of tranquillity which have remained relatively undisturbed by noise and are prized for their recreational and amenity value for this reason” (my emphasis). This implies that justification for protection will rest on the ability to demonstrate in every case that an area has some value which is “prized”, and it will no longer be enough to rely on the area’s own intrinsic character for its protection. This is a departure from previous policy and if it transpires that this is indeed its effect, it will represent a significant weakening of countryside policy.

12. A final point I should add is with reference to the certificate of conformity referred to in paragraph 26. This provides that it will be open to local planning authorities to seek a certificate of conformity with the NPPF. However, it is not clear what the statutory basis for such a certificate would be, who would issue it and also as to its duration. In the absence of more information it is difficult to see what the effect of such a certificate will be.

13. In conclusion, I consider that although the NPPF is intended to provide a framework for the delivery of sustainable development, it does not set out with any clarity what are the “key sustainable development principles” which are intended to govern planning decision-making. Moreover, the operation of this presumption is likely to weaken the plan-led approach to deciding whether or not to approve development. In certain respects, notably in relation to Green Belts and the wider countryside, the level of protection presently accorded to such areas may well be significantly weakened.

2 See Encyclopaedia of Planning Law Volume 2 Note P.70.41.

4-5 Gray’s Inn Square JOHN HOBSON QC Gray’s Inn Square London WC2R 5AH 11 October 2011 

Tunbridge Wells tells Greg Clarke #NPPF is ‘vague and open to interpretation’ – implies housing target increase of 19,900

Telegraph

Now planning minister Greg Clark faces opposition from his own council in Tunbridge Wells

As if life was not hard enough for Government minister Greg Clark trying to defend the Coalition’s controversial planning reforms, now his own council has turned against him.

Conservative-controlled Tunbridge Wells Borough Council this morning voted to accept a report from its own planning officials calling for reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework.

The study will now be sent to Mr Clark, who is MP for Tunbridge Wells, at the Department of Communities and Local Government ahead of the ending of a consultation on the reforms on Monday.

The draft NPPF, which distils 1,300 pages of planning guidance into as few as 52, writes into planning rules a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, without defining clearly what it means.

The council said that it “strongly disagreed” which the Government’s suggestion that the NPPF had the right approach towards “sustainable development” arguing that it was “vague and open to interpretation”.

It also questioned the “Government’s apparent assumption that neighbourhoods are desperate for development”, adding that “this council’s recent experience of public consultation is that most neighbourhoods want very little development”.

The council also “strongly disagreed” that green belt would be protected under the NPPF, and questioned why an objective to “increase significantly the delivery of new homes” in the NPPF “seems to prevail over everything else”.

Mr Clark had not yet commented at the time of going to press.

The cabinet report is here item 10

Quote

Based on evidence provided by a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), Local Plans must meet the full requirements for market and affordable housing in
the market area. Our SHMA, prepared in 2008 with Tonbridge & Malling and Sevenoaks Councils, indicates that 1,005 market and 290 affordable homes are needed
in Tunbridge Wells Borough per annum for the period 2006-2026. This would suggest that the Borough’s housing target would need to increase by 19,900 (from 6,000 to
25,900) unless either Tonbridge & Malling or Sevenoaks could be persuaded to take the short-fall.

So in the absence of a regional plan under the duty to cooperate Tonbridge Wells will ask Tonbridge and Malling – can you take an extra 19,900 houses please?

Ironically Tunbridge Wells could quite easily take this amount extra, it has large areas of strategic reserve land outside the Green Belt and the potential to expand Paddock Wood, on a rail line and outside the Green Belt, to an expanded town, which has long been considered.

RTPI DCLG #NPPF Select Committee Evidence

  • Written evidence from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)
  • Introduction and Summary

1. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has over 23,000 members who work in the public, private, voluntary and education sectors. It is a charity whose purpose is to develop the art and science of town planning for the benefit of the public. The RTPI develops and shapes policy affecting the built environment, works to raise professional standards and supports members through continuous education, practice advice, training and development.

2. We run Planning Aid for England – supporting communities and individuals through a locally‐based network of 1,200 RTPI members who give their time and expertise free of charge – a service at the heart of localism.

3. We support many of the objectives underlying proposals for planning reform, including the principle of a single National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that helps to reduce conflict and duplication, separates the presentation of policy from evidence and practice advice, and renews the drive to ensure that objectively assessed development needs are provided for in a sustainable manner through the planning system.

4. We welcome proposals that reaffirm the importance of planning in enabling communities to develop their own vision for the future of their area, provide the means to decide on priorities for investment, and tackle the challenges of climate change, sustainable economic growth and social inequity. The role of planning is to successfully balance these factors.

5. Within this overall position, we have five main areas of concern with the NPPF:

i. Status: The status of and procedures for producing and reviewing the NPPF need to be embodied in statute to ensure proper public debate of issues and restore democratic accountability, as is the case for National Policy Statements (NPSs) for infrastructure;

ii. Language: Large parts of the NPPF policies are ambiguous, as is evidenced by the different interpretations put on policies by government, conservation bodies and others;

iii. Change management: The changes proposed in the NPPF are significant and cannot practicably be assimilated by councils, developers or communities in the intended timetable without unintended consequences – as with the implementation of the proposals of the Localism Bill, there is a need for careful change management including a transition phase;

Spatial content: The NPPF misses an opportunity to express a vision for the development of the country as a whole, recognising the different impacts policies will have in different parts of the country, which runs counter to government commitments, such as that “prosperity must be shared across all parts of the UK” (Plan for Growth, p.3)

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development: In principle, this is an evolution of the existing presumption in favour of development that accords with a development plan, but contains weaknesses that may result in unintended consequences.

6. These points and other key areas of concern will be addressed in more detail below, in responses to the Inquiry questions or in the commentary that follows. The RTPI also has concerns on matters of detail which cannot be addressed through this evidence, but will be submitted in response to the consultation, and can be provided to the Committee if this would assist.

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?

7. The draft NPPF does not give sufficient guidance as the language used is ambiguous (especially when read in the context of the rhetoric surrounding its publication) and there are internal inconsistencies, particularly with regard to the use of certain terms.

8. This may have arisen in part from the NPPF being drafted to meet two objectives, i.e. (a) being a plain English guide to planning policy in England, and (b) being a precise technical policy document.

9. The ambiguity of policy wording is highlighted by the public debate between conservation/environment groups and government in the national press. If intelligent and informed actors in the system, advised by planning and legal experts, can arrive at such wildly differing interpretations of policy, then there is clearly something wrong, and this will hardly result in the clearer and more effective planning that all parties seek. Particular effort must be given to ensuring that the wording of policies is technically precise to avoid misinterpretation. If the resulting policy is then found to be inaccessible to “lay” readers, then the NPPF should be supported with a non‐technical summary, similar to the “Easier To Read Summary” (although this has weaknesses of its own).

10. One example of inconsistent and unclear language in the NPPF relates to the weight to be accorded to different factors in planning decisions, as follows:

  • “significant weight” applied to supporting economic growth
  • “great weight” to be given to protecting landscape and scenic quality
  • “substantial weight” to apply to green belt harm
  • “considerable importance and weight” to apply to conserving heritage assets.

11. The NPPF gives no indication as to how different investors or decision makers will be expected to balance these different weights in individual cases. However, the rhetoric surrounding the NPPF (e.g. that the alleged default “no” response to applications should become “yes”) is interpreted by some to imply that the “significant weight” to be applied to supporting economic growth is expected to outweigh the weights to be applied the other factors.

12. The government asserts that this is not intended to be the case, but the policy does not give a clear direction in favour of conservation should the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” apply as a result of the lack of an up‐to‐date policy, even if there are alternative sites that could deliver the same benefits with less or no harm. Such circumstances are the root of the environment/conservation lobby’s concerns.

13. Concerns relating to interpretation are intensified by the different emphasis given in the main body of the framework and the foreword and introduction. The main part of the draft is, on the whole, more balanced than the introductory parts. It may be argued that the foreword and introduction are not part of the policy framework, and should not be taken into account in decision‐making. However, they do form part of the context for the NPPF, and where the framework is ambiguous, they will be used to justify certain positions.

14. Another example relates to the section in the foreword which talks about improvements to natural and historic aspects of the environment, but does not mention their conservation at all. This creates a context within which development of part of an asset is considered desirable – and even preferable to conservation – in order to allow the “improvement” of another part. While “enabling development” can be desirable to secure conservation objectives, improvements are not always either necessary or wanted.

15. The popular concern that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is all about pushing unwanted schemes through the system is not helped by the government’s stated expectation of ‘a system where the default answer to development is “yes”.’ However, as the government has stated publicly that while good, sustainable development should be approved and harmful, unsustainable development should not, this sentiment should be clearly reflected in the NPPF, and with reference to local policy as well as to the national policies of the Framework.

16. A common thread that should run throughout the NPPF is that more positive planning will result from local authorities, communities and local authorities raising their game by working together to deliver shared objectives: creating and supporting good schemes and eschewing those that are bad.

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?

Definition

17. The RTPI is pleased to see the retention of the Bruntland definition of sustainable development, and the three pillars of sustainability. Their translation into economic, social and environmental “roles” that subsequently structure the framework helps to make the document accessible.

18. The conflation of “sustainable development” with “sustainable economic growth” is unfortunate: “sustainable economic growth” relates to growth than can be maintained from an economic perspective, but it does not have the same values attached to it as “sustainable development”. Problems with this are emphasised by the assertion in the foreword that “development means growth”. The two words are not synonymous: a change of use is development and can have impacts both positive and negative, but does not necessarily lead to any growth; conversely, economic growth can result from using property more effectively even without physical development or a change of use.

19. The clarity of the Bruntland definition is, however, not assisted by reinterpretations such as that “Simply stated” at the end of paragraph 9 (especially with the use of the nebulous concept of “quality of life”) and in the “Easier to Read Summary”.

Presumption

20. “The Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development” is an evolution of the existing presumption in favour of development that accords with a development plan. Along with aspects of the Localism Bill, this retains the general primacy of development plans in decision‐making, which is welcomed.

21. However, the application of the presumption is not fully thought through, and its implications – particularly in terms of the impact on the validity of local plans – will have unintended consequences without either a thorough re‐think or careful transitional arrangements.

22. We will in our main consultation response examine:

  • how local plans can meet development needs when there is not the physical capacity to do so (recognising the “duty to co‐operate”);
  • the need for policies to provide “sufficient flexibility”, when section 38(6) of the 2004 Act provides for this by default; and
  • the meaning of “rapid shifts in demand or other economic changes”, and whether it is sustainable for evidence‐based, community‐supported, long‐term plans to be set aside to meet short‐term demands the consequences of which may be irreversible.

23. The key concerns with the presumption relate to the third bullet point and concluding sub­paragraph.

24. In particular the terms “absent”, “silent”, “indeterminate” and “out‐of‐date” require definition, as does the application of “plan” and “relevant policies” to these qualifications. The risk of a plan being set aside because it is “silent” may lead to unintended consequences:

  • The revocation of regional strategies and the slimming down of national policy could put those councils who have diligently avoided repeating national/regional policy in their local plans in a more difficult situation than those who have either not produced modern‐style plans or disregarded advice and produced lengthy, cumbersome and repetitive plans.
  • Councils may choose to revert to the practice of trying to address every eventuality through their development plans, thereby undoing a decade of work, slowing down plan production and increasing their volume.

25. We recognise that paragraph 26 of the Framework is intended to be helpful with regard to plans being “up‐to‐date” with its reference to councils seeking a “certificate of conformity” with the Framework. This concept, however, requires considerable clarification, not least with regard to its resourcing, but also whether such certificates will:

  • apply to whole plans or individual policies;
  • be required to prove validity, and will necessarily prove validity beyond doubt;
  • need to be regularly reviewed.

26. The critical weakness with the presumption is the unintended consequences associated with the amount of change being proposed to national policy, and the likelihood that any local plans will be able to be defined as being in accordance with it upon its approval. A policy change that will have a particular impact in this regard is the requirement for plans to identify 20% more housing land than is indicated by their assessments of need. As few plans currently do this, and it will

27. Where there is not an up‐to‐date plan, this could mean that the policies of the NPPF cannot apply. For example, government statements have been very clear that the NPPF retains control of development in the Green Belt. However, there cannot be any defined Green Belt in an area without an up‐to‐date plan, since the boundaries of Green Belt are defined in local plans, and the general extent and location of Green Belt will no longer be defined in PPG2 (superseded by the NPPF) or the regional strategies (revoked).

28. The usefulness of the presumption is weakened by its failure to recognise that the approval of proposals that do not accord with statutory plans could undermine the delivery of those that do, thereby prejudicing well‐intentioned investments. It is not sufficient for presumption only to be positive about development that accords with plans: it needs to support such development by clearly giving councils the authority to block proposals that could prejudice the delivery of their strategies.

Are the ‘core planning principles’ clearly and appropriately expressed?

29. In general the core planning principles in paragraph 19 are expressed well, and these are supported by general statements of the purpose and function of planning elsewhere in the framework. The positive representation of the role of planning is particularly welcome.

30. The repetition of the insistence that the “default answer to development proposals [should be] ‘yes’” is unhelpful if the only exceptions to this are justified by reference to the principles of the NPPF: if local plan policies cannot be used to justify a negative response, there is little point in having them. See also paragraph 26 above.

31. The requirement for policies to enable “a high degree of certainty” in decision‐making is an essential benefit of planning, but is not compatible with the requirement that policies include “sufficient flexibility” expressed in the presumption.

Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning­ related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

32. The relationship is clear: that the NPPF is just one of many national policy documents, produced by a variety of departments, with no obvious coordination. The National Policy Statements for infrastructure would seem to carry more weight because of their statutory basis, and the fact that they have been subject to a defined consultation and parliamentary debate procedure, and to appraisals of their sustainability.

33. Because the NPPF does not have a geographic basis, it does not provide a context within which to integrate other national policies, particularly with regard to locating new infrastructure development in relation to new areas of growth. This also weakens the NPPF’s ability to

respond to and coordinate with the plans of the other UK nations and with the marine spatial planning programme.

Does the NPPF, together with the ‘duty to cooperate’, provide a sufficient basis for larger ­than ­local strategic planning?

34. It can reasonably be argued that the duty to cooperate, which the RTPI has supported in principle as a means to enable cross‐boundary planning in the absence of nationally imposed sub‐national planning structures, will not operate effectively without a geographical element to the NPPF.

35. There are aspects of both economic and housing development that require a nationally defined and agreed vision, and which cannot be fully achieved by the voluntary actions of individual authorities or tinkering with uncoordinated enterprise zones.

36. In particular, this relates to the interventions necessary to address disparities between different parts of the UK, including the planning of infrastructure to support this.

37. As currently drafted, the NPPF relies on councils responding to demand in their areas, with no interventions to influence that demand where meeting it would be unsustainable or impossible due to physical constraints or environmental capacity. In many cases, this may be achieved by authorities working together to enable needs arising in one area to be met in another, but it will be a challenge for cities as large as London or Birmingham to secure the cooperation of those outside their boundaries necessary to sustainably address need or demand without some form of higher‐level incentives or interventions.

Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence­ based?

38. It is difficult to assess fully the extent to which it is evidence‐based because the evidence cited, such as it is, is often not entirely accessible. However, the Impact Assessment would seem to indicate that a lot of policy is based on what the government believes, rather than what evidence necessarily shows to be the case.

39. An example relates to housing, in which several beliefs are expressed, such as the belief that the top‐down system had slowed housing development. This belief is “justified” by housebuilding figures that were affected by the recession, by surveys of opinion that people did not want housebuilding in their area, and by statistics relating to the production of local plans; but not by reference, for example, to the proportion of residential planning applications that are in fact approved by local authorities, which is consistently around 80%. Reference is not made to the fact that housebuilding rates under previous systems also failed to meet need, including under the Structure Plan system, where housing provision was determined more locally.

40. Policy changes are further justified by the belief that the New Homes Bonus will incentivise communities to be more receptive to development and that Neighbourhood Plans will help to deliver significant amounts of new development: there is no evidence that this will be the case (although it is recognised that there is no evidence to the contrary either).

Further commentary

The case for the status of and procedures for the NPPF to be defined in law

41. The RTPI recognises that legislation already gives the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance to which bodies shall have regard as material considerations. However, this general power does not give enough status and clarity to the NPPF, especially in comparison with the National Policy Statements (NPSs) for infrastructure, which are referenced in part 2 of the Planning Act 2008.

42. There are five reasons why the NPPF should be referenced in the Bill. It would:

  • strengthen the NPPF’s effectiveness if a range of bodies and statutory plans were required to have regard to it specifically;
  • establish its position in relation to other statutory national policies, notably NPSs;
  • establish its position in relation to non‐statutory national plans such as the National Infrastructure Plan and Plan for Growth;
  • commit Governments to seek the approval of Parliament for its production and review;
  • give a statutory basis to fundamental policy changes such as the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The NPPF: what should it contain?

43. The RTPI believes that the NPPF needs to have five characteristics in addition to simply introducing the presumption in favour of sustainable development and condensing existing policy documents. These are:

  • bringing together all existing designations that inform decisions on major planning issues, including national designations such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, international designations such as Ramsar Sites, and national and international infrastructure networks;
  • enabling more informed decisions by Ministers and Parliament by expressing specific national proposals such as HS2 and the locations of new nuclear power stations within a wider policy context;
  • enabling more informed policy and decision making by setting out recognised geographic constraints on development, such as flood plains and areas of water stress;
  • addressing those Government policies that are focused on different parts of the country, such as those on re‐balancing the economy and the development of economic clusters; and
  • importantly, recognising that nearly all national policy decisions (such as investment in major research centres) have different impacts in different parts of the country and spelling these impacts out.

Final comments

44. It should be noted that the procedures proposed to approve the NPPF do not require a sustainability appraisal or similar, although this was required for other national policy documents, such as the National Policy Statements for Energy Infrastructure.

45. Where in this submission we have identified an issue of concern, we are currently working on suggestions for ways in which the issue can be addressed.

Royal Town Planning Institute September 2011