UK: The NPPF And Major Infrastructure

Last Updated: 3 April 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Yesterday was a rare day when planning made the main headlines, thanks to the publication of the final version of the National Planning Policy Framework. #NPPF was even trending on Twitter at one point. You can find it here. There are endless commentaries on the text, so today's entry focuses on the main paragraph of concern and how the NPPF covers nationally significant infrastructure.

The National Trust and the Daily Telegraph, which led the charge against the draft NPPF published last July, are happier with the final version, while the British Property Federation and the Confederation of British Industry are also happy. On the face of it, then, the government has done a good job, but it could be that the NPPF is open to wide interpretation. The proof of the pudding will be in the treatment of controversial planning applications.

The silence of the plans

What of paragraph 14, which said that permission should be granted if local plans are absent or silent, unless adverse impacts significantly outweigh the benefits? Expectations were that local authorities who didn't have an up to date plan would be given more time to produce one, and the draft said that those that did would be able to apply for a 'certificate of conformity' to say that their plans were still compatible with the NPPF.

Paragraph 14 is still there, albeit with a further proviso that permission should be refused if specific policies in the NPPF indicate that development should be restricted. Planning authorities that have created a local plan since 2004 are rewarded by being given a year where conflicts with the NPPF are resolved in favour of the local plan (paragraph 214), but those without one have no transitional provision. Rather than certificates of conformity, references to which have been removed, free advice from the Local Government Association, the Planning Inspectorate and the government is on offer as to whether plans need updating (paragraph 217). Call 0303 444 5500.

Arguably the 'duty to cooperate' in the Localism Act 2011 is strengthened by paragraph 181, which requires local authorities to demonstrate evidence of having cooperated when their plans are submitted for examination, although this has not changed from the draft NPPF (paragraph 46 - the number demonstrating that the final NPPF has moved things around a lot, without necessarily changing the wording).

Infrastructure

What about infrastructure in particular? Nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) do not need planning permission, so you might think that the NPPF was not relevant to them. That is not entirely the case.

Paragraph 3 says that the NPPF does not contain specific policies for NSIPs, but matters that the government consider 'important and relevant' when making decisions on NSIP applications (the phrase in the Planning Act equivalent to 'material considerations') may include the NPPF. Promoters should therefore be aware of the compatibility or otherwise of their projects with the NPPF.

The draft NPPF only implied that NSIPs were not covered by the NPPF, and did not suggest it was relevant to decisions (paragraph 6), so this is new. The NPPF has come instantly into force, so this is even relevant to 'live' NSIP applications.

Paragraph 162 says that local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to take account of the need for strategic infrastructure, including nationally significant infrastructure within their areas. This is the same wording as in the draft (paragraph 31).

The interface between local plans and the Planning Act regime has been brought to the fore with the Hinkley Point C application (see, for example, paragraph 73 of the Sedgemoor Core Strategy Inspector's Report), and the treatment of this issue in the NPPF will no doubt be the subject of ongoing debate.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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