NOTES OF THE LONDON FORUM OPEN MEETING ON 24 April 2012:
NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK (NPPF) AND NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING
Over 50 people attended.
SECTION 1 NPPF
Stephen Hammond MP, PPS at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was unable to be present. Mr Bach gave the DCLG presentation on his behalf, emphasising particularly that:
- the regime introduced by the NPPF (and coming into force immediately) was plan- led (ie planning for the growth we will need), and not merely plan-compliant (ie ensuring that applications are determined in accord with the plan – which is in any case a legal requirement);
- growth for its own sake was not sought, but development that delivered all three of the three elements of sustainable development;
- local authorities had a year to get Local Plans (the new name) in place; and
- that targets for the use of brownfield land were to be set locally, not nationally.
He said that the NPPF had been welcomed by those especially concerned with design matters.
Mr Bach then gave his own presentation. He said that a number of the Forum’s concerns with the original draft NPPF had been addressed in the final version:
- the meaning of ‘sustainable development’ had been clarified (though would still provide work for lawyers);
- local plans were given a stronger position; and
- the ‘town centre first’ policy had been strengthened, but was concerned that it may not be sufficient.
Nevertheless, he said that the NPPF:
- remained ‘placeless’;
- said nothing about towns, cities let alone London;
- should have been clearer about how best and where to develop; but
- would not change the present regime in London very much.
The London Plan could be demonstrated to be in general conformity with the NPPF and would remain in force, with a few changes on which the Mayor’s staff were now working. All the boroughs except for Hillingdon and Hounslow should have Local Plans in place by the deadline of a year. It was important for boroughs to realise that if they wanted for economic reasons to protect offices from conversion to residential (as Kensington & Chelsea did) they would have to have specific and robust policies in their local plan to justify retention of the offices they wanted to retain, such as identifying specific industry “clusters” or “preferred locations” where offices should be retained – town centres or close to public transport interchanges, as suggested in the NPPF.
The discussion that followed was a lively and well-informed one.
Edward Dawson (CPRE London) said that the campaign against the draft NPPF had had remarkably good media coverage, and the outcome was better than had been expected. The possible interpretatation of ‘sustainable development’ was still a concern – the Brundtland report had looked for ‘growth’. The tone, rather than the actual content, of what the NPPF said about Green Belts worried CPRE. Moreover, paragraph 111 of the NPPF though encouraging the reuse of brownfield land left targets – which had hitherto been effective – entirely to local authorities.
Martin Simmons (Town and Country Planning Association and a Vice-President of the Forum) doubted whether any definition of sustainable development would work everywhere; it was for local authorities to have their own definition in their local plans. He emphasised the importance of the duty to co-operate; although of less significance within Greater London than elsewhere because of the London Plan, it was still important for boroughs with neighbours outside, in respect both of housing and, especially, of waste. Greater London had to be set in the context of the whole South-East.
Del Brenner (Regents Network) drew attention to the absence of roads from the NPPF. Mr Bach observed that PPG13, although titled “Transport” had had more in them about the location of development generally, but the NPPF had very little.
Ken Hobday was concerned about the implications for wildlife – especially what power would remain to prevent the desecration of the Chilterns by HS2. Mr Bach pointed out that the authorisation of major infrastructure projects like HS2, as national infrastructure, would be for a mechanism quite outside the NPPF, though the principles would be the same.
Andrew Bosi complained that the NPPF showed no understanding of the concept of reducing the need to travel. Mr Bach said that more generally the NPPF had not adopted the key principles in para 20 of PPG13 and therefore did not properly emphasise the need to ensure that development is in the right place; under localism local authorities would have to work out their own policies; reducing the need to travel would have to be in borough plans. The London Plan would need to be revised accordingly to become the lead policies for London.
Tanya Szendeffy (Peckham Society) wondered how best, as time went by, to reassert the priorities of civic societies. Mr Eversden wondered if the Government would make this more difficult by changing the Use Classes Order allowing commercial buildings to be converted to housing without consent; Mr Bach thought this unlikely as the NPPF had changed the policy whilst allowing boroughs to make the case for retaining these uses where it was justified.
Anna Townend (Greenwich Environmental Forum) said that ‘sustainable development’ still did not take account of the natural environment; population growth must be tackled. Mr Bach emphasised that the issue for the NPPF was how, not whether, to accommodate population growth.
Helen Marcus (Heath and Hampstead Society) said that in Brent a development was being prepared by the council without anything in the local plan; was there anything that could be done about it? Mr Dawson said that such a departure from the Plan would have to go to the full Council. Mr Bach said that local plans could not cover every possibility, but proposals outside the Plan should have to have met the same tests as those coming through the plan. In the case of major developments, if the Council did not follow their own plan, the Mayor could intervene, or there could be a call-in; but Ministers did not favour call-in except where there was a real national issue involved or evidence of potential conflict of interest.
Despite the Conservative manifesto the Government had refused to allow third parties to appeal against the granting of planning permission, and Judicial Review was difficult, expensive and unlikely to succeed in all but the most egregious of faulty decisions. So persuading the Mayor to intervene was the most hopeful line.
Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) complained at the absence of vision in the NPPF. Mr Bach agreed – the Government’s response was that this was a matter for local plans and that they were not going to prescribe (or give a clue) as to how towns and cities should develop in the most sustainable way.
SECTION 2 NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING
Neighbourhood planning as still in its infancy; Mr Eversden and Mr Bach attempted to draw together what had happened so far. The prime need was for there to be a robust Local Plan in place that would prevent decisions from falling solely to the NPPF. Three areas in London were seriously wanting parish councils. Some borough councils had defined ‘neighbourhoods’ with boundaries that local people could not accept as correct.
Neighbourhood Plans could have particular value when they covered contiguous areas of more than one borough and could ensure consistency. It might be better for a neighbourhood, at least in the first place, to seek to amend provisions in the Council’s Local Plan that embodied their wishes through a neighbourhood planning approach, rather than embark on the statutory neighbourhood planning procedures of a full-blown neighbourhood plan.
It might be worth establishing a Neighbourhood Forum without, at least immediately, proposing to produce a Neighbourhood Plan; civic groups could help establishing a forum bringing together a wide range of organisations in, determining what local people really wanted, and pre-empting other interests from trying to establish one, and could make responding to local authority proposals speedier and more authoritative.
Seven of those present at the meeting said that Neighbourhood Forums had been or were being formed in their area. Gaby Higgs (St Marylebone Society) said that they had been acting very like a Neighbourhood Forum, but without the resources to take it over. Michael Hammerson (Highgate Society) said that they would not wish to become a
Neighbourhood Forum themselves alone, lest it provoke opposition, but had identified interest from many other organisations in a joint venture.
Ian Bruce (Richmond Society) had previously believed that a Neighbourhood Plan was an essential feature of a Neighbourhood Forum, but now realised that they could be more informal, and sought advice. Mr Bach said that if a council was happy with a proposal for a Neighbourhood Forum (e.g. was clear that the proposal had broad backing) it was required to support it. The Neighbourhood Forum could then decide what they wanted to produce, which could be a proposal that Council could adopt without the Forum having to take it through the examination and referendum themselves. Mr Eversden drew attention to the very useful briefing available from the Urban Design Group.
Dick Allard (Westcombe Society) asked about the size of neighbourhood areas. Mr Bach and Mr Eversden said that there was no guidance as to size nor was it up to the Council to impose one; a dialogue with the local authority was needed.
Del Brenner (Regents Network) was concerned at the work involved in setting up a Neighbourhood Forum, probably with opposition from the Council. Mr Bach said that if local people really wanted a Forum, they could achieve one.
Tom Ball (Thorney Island Society) asked if a local referendum would be necessary. Mr Bach said ‘No, unless the Council was not prepared to adopt the proposal – if the Council supported the proposals they could be taken into Local Plan without a referendum.
Mark Poulter (Putney Society) identified as problems that the 21 people required for a Neighbourhood Forum were not just local residents but could include many other bodies, and that the local authority could have a lot of influence on what a local neighbourhood was. Mr Bach said that the 21 certainly need not be all amenity
society members, but must be people from within the area and representative of the people in that area; the local authority would need to know this. Ultimately, if there were a referendum, it would be essential that the proposals had wide local support.