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National Planning Policy Framework - Part One

The Government have been very careful to try to ensure that Local decision making is not undermined by the new system.  However, it is acknowledged by Government that:

“…as the planning system has become more complex, it has ground ever slower. In 2004 Parliament required every council to have a plan - eight years on, only around a half have been able to adopt one.” (Greg Clark MP)

They have been careful not to criticise Local Planning Authorities, but it is clear that whilst some have understood the intrinsic need to ensure that they have an up-to-date Local Plan or Development Framework either adopted or very close to being so, and also an identified supply of demonstrably sustainable and deliverable sites, others have not.  A key issue has been the rejection of targets set out in the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which were widely expected to be revoked with the document following the Localism Act.   However, it is becoming evident that the RSS is not going away just yet, but more pertinently, the targets identified remain in force, based on a sound evidence base and even if RSS falls away, the requirement for new development remains. 

The Government have given a 12 month period following the publication of the NPPF within which Authorities must ensure that their Plans are in conformity with the National Framework.  They have also allowed weight to be given to emerging Plans.  Where Authorities have Plans that were adopted after 2004 and where they have a demonstrable supply of deliverable land, they should be in general conformity and less vulnerable for the transitional period.  Where either or both criteria is not met (i.e. lack of a five year supply of housing or an out of date Plan), then they may be more vulnerable depending on whether it can be demonstrated that any specific development would be significantly harmful.

It is at this point where a development must be shown to be deliverable and whether it demonstrably constitutes ‘sustainable development’.  It is here that the ‘presumption in favour’, the fundamental tenet of the new system, applies.  Where sites have been specifically identified for protection, or where other ‘material considerations’ (not defined by Government) indicate otherwise the anticipated default ‘yes’ will not apply.  On other sites, the draft NPPF suggested a default ‘yes’, but it is less clear-cut in the adopted version, where the answer is now a ‘maybe’, subject to detailed justification and demonstration that a site is truly sustainable and deliverable.

It is interesting to note that that the NPPF has not referred to the issue of ‘prematurity’, where development is rejected on the grounds of being ahead of the plan process.  This clearly places the onus on Authorities to get their Plan’s up-to-date or risk having to either permit development (unless other factors weigh significantly against) or be faced with the prospect of an appeal.  A number of appeals have been heard in the run up to the NPPF adoption, which have looked at the issue of prematurity.  A key example relates to promoted housing sites in Sandbach, Cheshire East where various determinations have been made by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.  In the light of the NPPF, it is likely that these will be considered again.

Spawforths have consistently sought to promote the most sustainable sites for development across the country, on the basis that the planning system for many years has sought to deliver sustainable development and consequently resist proposals in unsustainable locations.

As a result, Spawforths are able to prepare and submit a robust and credible Sustainability Assessment for each site we promote to the Local Planning Authority. These assessments consider each site consistently against a number of key sustainability objectives falling under the key themes of economy, environment and social. On this basis we can demonstrate whether a site is sustainable and, consequently whether the Government’s “presumption in favour of development” applies. Given that development will rarely be promoted on sites which are specifically protected from development, this assessment will form a critical basis on which the principle of development in each will be considered.  A sustainable development should therefore mean a successful planning application and a proposal which is deliverable.

Posted in National Planning Policy


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