From the remarks by Micheal Hepburn in the excellent ‘Unplanned England’ article in Planning last week it would seem like many in the consultancy business would not be unhappy if local plans went away altogether.
He said the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provided adequate tests in terms of sustainability and design to ensure that quality remained high even for unallocated development, and added that the pre-application engagement and consultation process as well as the formal planning process gave councils and communities “plenty of scope” to have some control over such schemes. “The last thing we want is for people to think that development outside an adopted plan is automatically poorer quality.
Indeed it is not. However that doesn’t mean it is the right development in the best location. We should be careful though is scouring the biggest appeals for urban extensions. Many of these sites would come forward for development anyway, if not in the next local plan the one after that, or the one after that. Public outrage per-se is not to be taken as good evidence of policy failure, after all housing will always be controversial and lack of public buy in to an appeal led system is an issue of political legitimacy not one of necessarily of poor planning outcomes. Nor should any infrastructure gap be insuperable. You can always block development by saying their is insufficient infrastructure and the current approach of the government is to build the housing first and then have parents desperate for school places, or doctors filling the shortage of primary care, to come along later and build free schools or surgeries using new homes bonus funding on developer supplied land. A non planning approach that always delivers too little infrastructure too late, but at least it delivers some.
Rather I think for examples of where the NPPF is failing is to loom at where a disproportionate amount of development is proposed when there are better alternatives, better alternatives that can’t be considered under the NPPF.
Where developers are now targeting now they have optioned out every urban extension potential site is large popular commuter villages. Arguably these places have received too little development in recent rounds of local plans. Villages with populations of over 2,000 within 5 or 10 miles of a larger employment centre, with good a or b road connections or a rail link, with good schools capable of expansion , some shops and services and a bus link. These will tick the minimum sustainability standards of the NPPF.
These villages often had lpost war estates built of poor quality and this led naturally to hostility to developement, and many local plans/core strategies have focussed development on urban extensions or have dispersed strategies. The problems with these is deliverability. large urban extensions often have infrastructure prerequisites with long lead in times. Whilst spreading development across dozens of villages is often impractical as you cant build have a form entry onto a primary school.
Classic examples of such villages are Feniton in Devon and Tattenhall and Hartford in Cheshire. The last having 350 houses allowed on recovered appeal. Some of these villages have proposals to increase their size by 30%, 50% or more in one fell swoop. A more reasoned expansion over a plan period would be more like 15% to cover natural household growth plans a small premisum of 5% or so if a village was to absorb some growth from smaller villages where it si impractical. Such a rate of growth, of one percent a year or so in population terms over a 15 year plan can be absorbed organically across multiple sites and not have the appearance of a suburbanised estate. It is impossible to make any estate of more than a couple of dozen houses appear ‘rural’ and a natural part of a village.
A very simple change to the NPPF could accommodate this. Simply requiring the scale and pace of development in a village to be appropriate to a villages size and character.