The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has now been in operation for two and a half years. The simplification it has brought to the planning system is welcome and was acknowledged by many witnesses, but it needs more time to bed in, and the Government needs to collect more data, before a full assessment can be made of its strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, the evidence to this inquiry has highlighted a number of emerging concerns: that the NPPF is not preventing unsustainable development in some places; that inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications; and that town centres are being given insufficient protection against the threat of out of town development.
These concerns point to the need to strengthen, rather than withdraw, the NPPF. We have suggested a number of changes that should be made both to the NPPF itself and to the way it is applied.
• First, we must take steps to ensure that the planning system delivers the sustainable development promised in the NPPF. We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension; that permission is only given to development if accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; and that the planning system places due emphasis on the natural environment.
• Second, all councils must move much more quickly to get an adopted plan in place: this will give communities increased protection against the threat of undesirable development. We call for a statutory requirement for councils to get local plans adopted within three years of legislation being enacted.
• Third, we must address the complex issue of land supply. Provisions in the NPPF relating to the viability of housing land are leading to inappropriate development: these loopholes must be closed. There also needs to be clearer guidance about how
housing need should be assessed. In addition, local authorities should be encouraged
to review their green belts as part of the local planning process.
• Finally, changes should be made to ensure the NPPF gives greater protection to town centres. The internet has changed the way we shop; town centre planning policy must therefore evolve too. We call for an end to permitted development that allows shops and buildings used for financial and professional services to become homes without planning permission, a policy which is undermining the local planning process.
The NPPF makes clear that importance of a plan-led system that delivers sustainable development. We trust that the Government will make the changes we propose to ensure that this principle is met and the NPPF becomes a document in which everyone can have greater confidence.