Does the Minister understand the concerns that the evidential burden has changed in the NPPF? Currently an applicant has to provide evidence that they comply with planning policy, so for example if there are trees which are effected on site they have to provide a tree survey, if there is evidence of a species protected by law a habitat survey and so on. The NPPF has been read as implying that this burden now falls on hard pressed local planning authorities, how will they be able to afford this? Indeed the key author of the NPPF John Rhodes has said to the select committee:
“what it does not do is force every development to prove its sustainability….. It has to work the other way round, which is to say that the country needs development and it should be allowed unless it infringes principles of sustainability”
However this seems to contradict the government’s own position. When the practicality and cost implications of the evidential burden shifting was pointed out to the department by campaigners it issued its ‘mythbusters‘ document, which states
“All proposals will need to demonstrate their sustainability”
So who is right, or to put it in very practical terms who pays for tree surveys? If a local planning authority cant afford a tree survey do they have to presume in favour of planning applications that cut down trees?
When asked about this as the Environmental Audit select committee by the member for Richmond Park the Minister gave an even more confusing response
“It is not so much the burden of proof….What I want to get to is a situation in which it is clear from the plan”
As the member for Richmond Park stated at the time
will [this] effectively require local authorities to develop such prescriptive plans to deal with any possible eventuality, that actually we might end up with a more, not less, bureaucratic system at the end of it?
And it did not answer the question, where is the evidential burden over whether a development complies with a local plan or not? Who pays for the tree survey if it has a policy on trees or not? To be fair it would appear that the minister may have got confused between local lists which are lists of evidence to be provided outside the local plan and the local plan itself.
Can the minister clarify this – who is right on the issue of evidence – the DCLG website or John Rhodes? Will the final version of the NPPF clear this important matter up? Surely it is a sensible approach that at the time of an application the applicant provides a statement of evidence of why they think the presumption applies, and other parties can bring other evidence if they think not, then it is a level playing field.
Advice from Government Advisory Bodies
A number of bodies have been expressly set up by parliament to advise both it and government on policy matters, examples include what are now Natural England and English Heritage. Yet the cabinet office has now clamped down on these bodies from making policy statements, even though in most cases they have fair and constructive criticisms on how to improve the NPPF. Quangos and advisory bodies now furtively publish their responses on obscure parts of their website or dont publish them at all simply emailing then to the DCLG. We pay taxes towards these bodies to fulfil their purpose and that purpose is to provide advice not just to the government but parliament and the public. Will the government remove this ridiculous gagging and will it publish as soon as possible the responses from all official advisory bodies and in due course from everyone else?
Will the final NPPF restore the successful policy of 60 years protecting the countryside for its own sake unless its loss is sanctioned in a plan as being necessary. Im here referring to the ordinary non nationally protected countryside that covers 2/3rds of rural england, outside green belts AONB etc?
Will the revised NPPF include a section on planning for the coast, surely moving away from integrated planning of coastal areas, and of looking at littoral and marine issues in a joined up way is a retrograde step.
The government has claimed that it is not abolishing brownfield first, but the impact assessment is clear the policy is being removed. The new test of ‘lowest environmental value’ does not mean brownfield first as what is environmental value is listed in the text and does not refer to greenfield or brownfield, and of course many agricultural fields may have had their environmental valued ruined even though it could see habitat restored. Will the government acknowledge that it and the HBF have caricatured the brownfield first policy, it always excluded their development where this was unsustainable such as where a site was best used for habitat, open space or a site was inaccessible? Will the government commit to properly considering all these matters before revising and reinstating the brownfield first policy in the NPPF.
The impact assessment falsely assumes that all brownfield sites are much more expensive than green field ones, but it falsely assumes that all brownfield sites are contaminated, most are not, and all contaminated sites are brownfield sites, many are greenfield sites. Will the minister agree not to change fundamentally national planning policy on the basis of such a shoddy impact assessment?
The NPPF allows schemes to cause congestion and traffic chaos as long as it isn’t ‘severe’ isnt this setting the bar very low and encouraging car orientated developments even in locations where they could be designed to use other forms of transport?
The removal of maximum parking standards from national planning policy will mean that developers can provide as much parking as they like until local plans are in place. Will the government introduce transitional arrangements?
Planning policy used to refer to land use and transport planning, now its just land use, integration of land use and transport planning isnt mentioned once, will the government rectify this retrograde step.
Why is the minister reintroducing a discredited policy from the 1980s that only ‘obviously poor designs’ can be refused, a policy designed to allow the arguably poor, the dull, mediocre and just plain twee or bland? There was consensus that this policy had failed, for 20 years we have had a policy brokered by the late Francis Tibbalds and accepted by all of the institutes and design bodies, why go back to the weak planning of the 1980s? Does the minister have a fondness for Spandau Ballet, quiffs and quattros?
Much of the concern over the NPPF is over how it confines consideration of landscape and natural beauty to a few nationally protected areas, will the final NPPF make this a consideration in all areas of value.?
Many environmental bodies, supported in some cases by legal opinions are concerned that in detail but not ministerial intent the NPPF as drafted will weaken current protections because of its overterse editing of current policy which has got a lot of phrases mangled up. In some areas such as noise and flooding policy has been so edited down it is impossible to understand. Will the minister seriously consider the many positive suggestions of how to improve the test including where necessary discarding parts of the consultation draft text if it makes no sense or contains major errors.
What country is the national planning policy for? This isn’t a flippant question as ministers and the prime minister have suggested it applies to Britain, which will surprise colleagues in Wales and Scotland. Why is there no sense of England here. what makes its countryside, villages and towns special and what challenges as a nation it must face. Will the final NPPF have some spirit, some understanding of place and how we have a duty of care for our country for future generations.
Will the minister acknowledge that much of the opposition and concern about the NPPF has not been NIMBY or opposed to planning reform but simply because it is such a dull badly worded repetitive uninspiring document that misses the once in 60 years opportunity to remake the principles of English planning putting sustainability at its heart in a meaningful way and setting clear principles on what we want to protect and what we want to see.