UK: Select Committee Report On The NPPF Released

Last Updated: 4 January 2012
Article by Ashley Damiral

Earlier today the Communities and Local Government Select Committee released its report on the draft National Planning Policy Framework ("NPPF") originally published for consultation in July 2011.

At the outset of its Report, the Select Committee makes it clear that it has chosen to concentrate on the content of the draft NPPF, rather than the rationale for its production.  The Report makes 35 recommendations for changes to be incorporated in the final NPPF.  This Law-Now focuses on some of the key recommendations; please click here here for a full copy of the Select Committee's Report.

Presumption in favour of sustainable development - no longer a developer's charter?

The presumption in favour of sustainable development contained in the draft NPPF has been the subject of considerable debate and media attention over the past few months.  Overall, the Report is relatively critical of the emphasis on economic development and the recommendations seek to balance economic factors with environmental and social ones to ensure planning balance.  The Report recommends:

Definition of sustainable development - A new definition be included in the NPPF containing the following elements: (1) wording from the 1987 Brundtland report ("development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs") (2) the principles in DEFRA's 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy ("living within environmental limits, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance, and using sound science responsibly") and (3) an explicit statement that all three aspects of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) should be achieved without assuming that one aspect can be traded off against another.  The Report also states that the definition should encourage local authorities to apply the definition to their own local circumstances and allow them the scope to do so.  The primacy of the local plan is emphasised throughout the Report.

Presumption in favour of sustainable development retained -  The Report recommends that a presumption in favour of sustainable development consistent with the local plan should be included in the NPPF.  The Report also recommends that the "presumption should apply unless to do so would cause significant harm to the objective, principle and policies set out in this National Planning Policy Framework" (rather than adverse effects having to "significantly and demonstrably" outweigh the benefits of a development proceeding as was contained in the draft NPPF).

Default "yes" to development deleted -  The default "yes" to development is not supported on the basis that it is weighted too far towards a single interest (being economic development).

Viability test - The definition of 'viability' in the draft NPPF caused many people to conclude that unsustainable development could go ahead if measures to make the development sustainable would also make it unviable for the developer.  The Report recommends that the NPPF be made clear that calculations of viability presuppose requirements to provide infrastructure and other necessary measures so that calculation of viability is not interpreted as simply "returns deemed acceptable to the developer".

The need for clarity

Another feature of the Select Committee's recommendations is the need for clarity in the final NPPF to avoid debate and legal challenge and to make the transition to the new policy as smooth as possible.  On this issue the Report states "...we consider that the NPPF does not achieve clarity by its brevity; critical wording has been lost and what remains is often unhelpfully vague".  Recommended changes include that:

Need for narrative -  The NPPF should include a narrative at its beginning stating where policy has stayed the same, where new policy has been introduced, where current policy has been changed or removed, and the relationship of the NPPF to other national policy documents.

Status of existing guidance - The continuing relevance and force of the body of current planning guidance needs to be clarified and secured through the NPPF at least until new guidance is produced.

Transitional clarity - A timetable for transition be prepared by the Government in consultation with local government to clarify for local authorities and developers alike, the status of existing arrangements for development control during the transition period.

Specific policy recommendations

The Report recommends a number of detailed changes to specific key policies:

Development on brownfield land - Much of the media attention in respect of the NPPF has focussed on a perceived fear that the draft NPPF would open the way for development on the greenbelt by removing the brownfield target and brownfield first policy in PPS3.  The Report proposes to address this by reinstating the principle and requiring local authorities to set their own targets for the use of brownfield land.

Supply of sites for housing - The draft NPPF includes a requirement that local authorities should identify and maintain a rolling supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years' of housing supply with an additional allowance of at least 20% to ensure competition in the market.  The requirement to effectively provide a 6 year land supply carries the risk that it will inevitably include a greater proportion of greenfield sites and the Report recommends that local authorities that adopt a local target for the use of brownfield land be able to prioritise brownfield land within their 6 year supply.  The Report also recommends that windfall sites be included in their land supply where local authorities can demonstrate a track record of such sites coming forward for development.

Town Centre First policy - The brevity of the draft NPPF created a number of concerns about the application of the well understood PPS4 principles.  The Report recommends that the NPPF should reflect the existing policy by bringing offices back within its ambit and also that Government should clarify the policy position on arts, culture and tourism uses to ensure that these are included too.  In respect of out of centre development, the Report recommends a return to PPS4 policy by requiring the application of the sequential test for development rather than expressing the policy as a preference. It also recommends the inclusion of a provision to allow communities, in certain exceptional circumstances, to adopt an absolute protection of a town centre from out-of-town retail development.  It will be interesting to see what position the Government takes on town centre policy, particularly in light of the Portas Review, also released this month ( click here for a copy of our Portas Review Law-Now).

· What next?

The Department for Communities and Local Government's target date for having the NPPF finalised and published was initially April 2012.  It remains to be seen, given the range and breadth of recommended changes, whether this will be achieved.  The Select Committee has also recommended that a further short consultation take place to allow comments on the technical aspects of the revised NPPF (once it is published).

Given the wide-ranging impact of the NPPF, landlords, occupiers and developers alike will need to ensure they pay careful attention to the revised NPPF when it is published next year.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 21/12/2011.

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