Some key issues raised in #NPPF responses – and how they might be resolved

We have looked in detail at the responses of the over 30 main national groups and alliances which have made the most substantive responses.

From these responses we have been able to draw out certain key issues.  There are legitimate changes requested by many groups which would clarify certain policy areas without going against the positive thrust of the government’s reform agenda.

We have modified our alternative draft in response to those changes which we would recommend should be taken forward and suggest some changes in response to the key issues and problem areas raised.  We have also kept a rolling log, now over 80 pages long, of all post submission changes split by group, as well as changes we recommend not be made for various practical and legal reasons, with other changes and corrections at the end.  The indesign package containing the automated files and the diagrams is here.

We have begun the process of discussing these issues with various groups and so far the response has been very positive.

From our analysis of these responses we consider that there is a clear way forward on about 80% of the issues.  Certainly the topic specific issues such as heritage, open space etc.  there are fairly obvious ways forward and very reasonable changes have been suggested.  The remaining 20% relate to the wording of the final ‘presumption’ and the issue of the application of this with regards to the duty to cooperate and transition arrangements.  We cannot see progress being made on the cooperation/transition issues without a revised and workable wording on the ‘presumption’-  the two issues being so closely related.  The issues also are quite technical and necessarily so and not the sort of issue that can be resolved by high level bilateral meetings until the nitty gritty multilateral work has been completed.

We consider that the changes required to our alternative draft only add six pages to the length of the NPPF, which is itself only 20 pages longer than the consultation draft (including indexes etc).  We hope that 88 pages overall is not unreasonable.

Turning to key themes that have emerged from the consultation, we suggest a number of changes as follows:


  • Consistent Language: We use three tenses of weight throughout.  Great, considerable and normal [unqualified].  We use only three subjects on policy, ‘plans should’ ‘decisions should’ or ‘plans and decisions should’ .  No vague adverbal forms.  We only refer to the local planning authority where it is explicit to that body and not for example to minerals planning authorities.  To aid the lay reader we do not introduce key terms such as ‘planning conditions’ without explaining their function.
  • Orphaned Policy Areas: A key issue of ‘transition’ has been where LPAs have relied on national or regional policy.  Examples are parking standards, affordable thresholds, rural exceptions sites.  Throughout we propose a default of legacy position which Local Plans should then adjust in light of local evidence or circumstances, leaving no policy vacuum.  In those cases where specific regional plan policies would cause genuine transition problems – good examples being the York Green Belt and the Thames Basin Heaths, we would hope that the SoS acts pragmatically using his new power to partially revoke, in effect saving, the small number of policies which are necessary until local plans are in place.
  • Brownfield First wording and PDL definition:  Many recommended changes to the PDL definition have been suggested because various groups wish certain land to be exempt from the ‘brownfield first’ test  or the ‘presumption’.  These are conceptually distinct issues and significant problems arise if they are confused.  For example ‘open mosaic’ land may include priority species – in which case there are legal issues with the presumption, or not, in which case it is a policy issue of the weight to be given.   It would be problematic, for example, to place an absolute prohibition on the 17% of PDL in the Thames Gateway, much more in many former coalfield and steelworking areas, and often the largest and most derelict sites, which is open mosaic land (which used to be classified under a previous scheme as ‘wasteland’), if no habitat directive issues arise.  For this reason it is important to tease these issues out which we have attempted to do with our revised ‘brownfield first’, PDL definition and biodiversity suggested sections.  We have attempted to integrate the relationship between these.  For example we state that the ‘brownfield first’ test does not apply to parts of sites protected under the biodiversity policy (such as section 41 habitats).  We suggest a wording for open mosaic habitat which has been tested at the London Plan EIP where the Mayor considered an absolute prohibition unreasonable, the panel agreed.  This  is a critical issue as many wildlife groups consider resolution of this matter a make or break issue in terms of whether or not they accept a ‘brownfield first’ policy. 
  • Sustainable Development Definition:  We have tweaked the language of this section, with a more positive bent with reference to expanding ecosystem services, rather than making radical changes.  We have been encouraged by recent ministerial statements on this matter which seem to be very much in line with our thinking.
  • Making Planning Decisions: We have refined the concept of the single statement and continue to think that it can help resolve the issue raised by many, including in the select committee hearings, of the evidential burden.  Two changes is making the link to appeals, avoiding the need for separate appeal  statements in many cases, secondly linked to a later section stressing how reasons for decisions should be based on the balance of benefit and harm rather than solely repeating plan policy numbers, a point made correctly by certain consultees.   The structure of the ‘presumption’ section is much the same as before however we have taken the opportunity to include the same approach to ‘significance’ of material considerations in the 2008 Act regime including the NPSs on Energy and Ports.  We have noted many different reformulation of the decision tests in submissions. Some are deceptively simple.  However we believe that none of them, other than what we have submitted, satisfy what we think are the four bottom line conditions that any such test should meet.
    • o It should be complementary not conflicting to the plan led test under section 38(6)
    • o It should enable the weighing and balancing of other material considerations in all cases, as required by caselaw
    • o It should provide a usable decision test in cases where plans are no longer relevant without allowing for unsustainable development
    • o It should incentivise plan making without creating an appeal-led system.
  • Plan-Making: Quite a number of responses fear the return of 1990s style plan inquiries  with them getting bogged down over months with site by site and detailed policy by policy detail.  The revisions include text to avoid this including having examinations in two parts where necessary, dealing with the strategy first. A number of changes to the transition arrangements, planning strategically and soundness tests sections.  Rather than seeing the transition arrangements as a ‘one off’ they are now an application of the wider principle that LPAs/MPAs should have an opportunity to adjust to new circumstances, but if they are not taking measures in a reasonable timescale then this becomes a material consideration in applying the ‘presumption’.  So this might not just kick in at the end of the ‘period’, whatever it is, but at the point the authority stalls or drags its feet on the tough decisions, including duty to cooperate arrangements.  This will help in those cases where lack of a local plan is no incentive because of adopted core strategies that don’t yet deal with cross border issues that were meant to be dealt with in later reviews –such as Central Beds with the expansion of Mk and Luton.  On the duty we have added a section on the various ‘variable geometries’ of cooperation.  A major problem in implementation is potential holdout or deadlock.  We propose a simple solution which will help here – that in the event of conflict between the ‘duty’ soundness test (what we call the ‘constrictive’ test) and the ‘delverability’ soundness test the ‘duty’ test has priority.  This means that the holdout authorities would be assumed to fail when they eventually come to examination and their neighbours can press on.  This would have reversed the outcome of one well known examination which I won’t mention as it is sub-judice. 
  • Design: Apart from the first 15 pages this section seems to have attracted almost as much critical comment as the transport section, and we continue to believe that it should be recast.  A section where we had not had chance to do a lot of work before but where there has been a lot of negative comment is NPPF para. 117.  An example of a comment which illustrates the issue comes from Cotswold District where there has been local plan policy for well over 20 years ensuring development is not harmful to Cotswold character and vernacular.  We suggest a wording our para. 4-7 which would allow for stronger control in areas of strong vernacular or local historical character, whilst allowing for innovation and creative design solutions that are sensitive to and add to local character.  The section on design review reflects the outcome of the Bishop review.
  • Housing:  The changes here are mainly from Housing Alliance detailed comments.  We spotted that somewhere in the revisions to PPS3 and carried over to the NPPF it got lost that the housing supply includes sites granted permission and deliverable and not just allocated sites.  It is an unstated assumption.  Until the government clarify how they will handle the ‘buffer’ issue and what the full meaning of ‘objectively assessed needs’ should be in terms of migration, employment led growth and meeting any concealed housing backlog it is difficult to make any further progress.
  • Transport: A lot of responses, including the Transport Alliance, mention the importance of certain key text from PPG13 especially para 20, which we have updated and précised.
  • Minerals:  Updated introductory section and included, in line with a lot of comments, more info on acceptable noise and dust levels taken from the MPS2 annexes.  The application of these principles will create automatic and evidence based buffers for open caset workings, again a major source of concern in the consultation.
  • The Coast: New section on landfall of marine projects, which has become a major issue in recent months – example substations necessary for offshore arrays.  New paragraph on seascape base on the official guide to visual assessment.
  • Climate Change and the Water Cycle: We have updated this section to integrate with the proposals for the zero carbon timetable including treatment of allowable solutions within the local plan system.  The water cycle section has been rewritten to fully implement the water framework directive and the principles of River Basin Management Plans.
  • Green Belt:  Having seem the legal advice of CPRE we are confident that the wording we suggest would overcome these issues.  We have also spotted a major error in the NPPF in précising PPG2.  It forgot to mention that changes of use of land (as opposed to buildings) could be an appropriate use subject to the openness qualification.  Without this change changes of use of agricultural land to equiculture, or to domestic curtileges would automatically be inappropriate development, which they are not at the moment.
  • Habitat/Birds Directive Issues and SSSIs:  A number of suggested changes are recommended by various groups, but from a detailed analysis we have undertaken we don’t consider that any of them, not even from Natural England, would bring the biodiversity policy fully into compliance with these directives.  We suggest a wording on this issue including on the correct treatment of ‘imperative reasons’ issues in light of case law.
  • Heritage:  An issue raised by a number of parties was the treatment of World Heritage Sites and whether or not the WHC obligations would be fully met.  This matter was made worse by the confusing status of Circular 07/09, half of which was replaced by PPS half of which is extant.  We have attempted to draft a para. which fully meets treaty obligating enabling this circular to be withdrawn.

Australia Launches National Urban Design Protocol – 33 positive responses not 14,000 negative ones #NPPF

Australia has launched a national urban design protocol, effectively a national policy for urban design.

The basis for the urban design protocol is to encourage world-class urban design. This is drawn from an agreement by the Council of Australian Governments, between each of the States and Territories, to undertake reforms in capital city strategic planning systems ‘to ensure Australian cities are globally competitive, productive, sustainable, liveable and socially inclusive and are well placed to meet future challenges and growth’

Interesting to note that in promoting good urban design rather poorly planned sprawl they had all of 33 responses, rather than 14,000.  Hmmm perhaps DCLG might learn a lesson there.

Spot the vertical spelling mistake below.

Housing Completions down 6% in 2010/11

New DCLG statistical Release 

The latest England net supply of housing statistics produced by Communities and Local Government were released on Thursday 2 November 2011.

The latest statistics report on net supply of housing up to the 2010-11 financial year and update those previously released on 21 October 2010.

Key points from the latest release are:

  • Annual housing supply in England amounted to 121,200 net additional dwellings in 2010-11. This is a 6 per cent decrease on the 128,680 net additional homes supplied in the previous year, and compares with a 23 per cent fall between 2008-09 and 2009-10.
  • The 121,200 net additions figure for 2010-11 is composed of 117,700 new build homes, 5,050 additional homes resulting from conversions, 11,540 additional homes resulting from change of use, 1,810 other gains and a loss of 14,890 homes through demolitions.
  • London saw the largest decrease (27 per cent), falling from 24,340 net additional homes in 2009-10 to 17,830 in 2010-11, and the North West showed the next largest decrease (16 per cent). The North East saw the largest increase (26 per cent), from 3,740 in 2009-10 to 4,710 in 2010-11, and the East of England showed the next largest increase (5 per cent). Similar numbers of new homes were added in Yorkshire and Humber, the West Midlands, the South East and South West in 2010-11 as in 2009-10.

Norman Fosters Isle of Grain Masterplan Revealed

Fosters, working with Halcrow and Volterra has published its long awaited pre-feasibility study for a four runway airport Hub on the Isle of Grain.

It is christened the ‘Thames Hub’.

It follows the abandonment of the idea of a reclaimed ‘boris island; island on grounds of cost and the length of time required to build.

The key driver for the project would be an outer Thames barrier/tidal power station/new Thames crossing east of Hooe.

When I say ‘on’ the Isle of Grain it is clear that it would need to increase significantly in size from reclamation.

It states

The increased value of newly flood-protected land would be unlocked to help finance the project. Funding could be achieved through an
insurance levy on those areas protected… Maximising the opportunity for greater synergy between the different strands of the project,
residential development on newly protected land east of Gravesend and east of Tilbury could provide homes for Thames Hub staff.

These areas are Green Belt but not as far as I am aware internationally protected.

The project would include an highspeed rail/freight rail outer orbital route connecting to North of London.

Is it practical?  Bold in engineering terms but nothing on the practical issues – birdstrike for example, the showstopper on the earlier Hooe proposals.  Air traffic routing, the drawing show both outbound and inbound routings facing east – that would be a challenge – and all flying through a special protection area.  Road capacity, not touched on at all, as ive said on here before would probably require both the NCR and the A13, to be upgraded to motorway standard to cope with west-west movements, and a way found to avoid the A20 and A2 grinding to a halt, by revising plans for a third thames crossing so the A13 (upgraded) takes the strain, a billion pound project in itself.  What about noise impact on Sheerness? What about capacity issues with crossrail?  Surely it requires a secondary high speed metro link via Fenchurch Street and an interchange with the District Line, as well as upgrading the Barking/Gospeal Oak line as a full ‘tube’ standard line.

But if these issues were tractable – yes it could work, much of the infrastructure would be needed anyway, so the marginal costs and CBR of the projects would be comparatively low.   I suspect that it might tempt the government to commission those studies.