Annette Brooke MP writes… A much improved national planning policy Framework

Back in October 2011, I submitted a response to the National Planning Policy Framework consultation on behalf of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Policy Committee on DCLG issues which I co-chair with Lord Graham Tope. The response was robust, so much so that The Telegraph claimed it as a huge Lib Dem rebellion. But, I believe that the committee was right to submit its concerns in an honest and straightforward way. Our role within the coalition must be to offer constructive criticism when we feel it is necessary! And I am very glad that we did. The document which was published on Tuesday is a much improved one. The Government has really listened to the concerns of the many organisations and groups, including our own, that submitted their concerns. Many of our recommendations have been taken on board and included in the final document.

On Sustainable Development

We raised concerns as we felt the NPPF was insufficiently clear and coherent in its articulation of what sustainable development means, and that this incoherence was leading to a sense that economic imperatives were superior to social and environmental ones. We recommended that the NPPF be revised to include the definition of sustainable development that is currently used in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy 2005, and pressed the need for a balance between the three pillars-economic, social and environmental-rather than one overriding objective of growth.

The final NPPF does include the five principles as set out in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy 2005: living within environmental limits; achieving a sustainable economy; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; using sound science responsibly; promoting good governance. The final document also clarifies that “economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system”, making clear that all three pillars – economic, social and environmental, will be taken together in a balanced way.

On Local Development Plans

In our submission, we supported the principle that development must be plan led, and that plans must be formulated and agreed at a local level but subject to sustainable development tests. We also argued that there must be genuine sovereignty for Local Development Plans.

The final document states that “applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan” and that planning should be “genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a positive vision for the future of an area.”

On Transition Arrangements

The Lib Dem Committee argued that there must be a transitional period to cover a gap when local authorities do not have up to date development plans so that there is not a rush for planning permission in the assumption that the default answer to development will be ‘yes’. We suggested that the transitional period could vary according to how far along a local authority is in creating a local development plan.

The Government have listened to these concerns and the final NPPF confirms that local authorities now have 12 months to finalise Local Plans, and emphasises that greater weight will be attached to Local Plans as they approach their final stages.

On Brownfield Sites

In our submission, we supported the principle of ‘brownfield sites first’, and argued that it should remain a principle in the framework. The Government took on board these comments and have retained the principle, stating that planning should: “encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value”.

On Town Centres 

There were many calls to strengthen the importance of the high street in the original framework document. We added our concerns on this issue, highlighting the importance of enabling local authorities to protect the diversity of our local high streets to achieve the right balance of independent and multiple traders, unit sizes and local use classes

The final document provides a much stronger section on protecting the high street, following the Portas Review. The framework recognises that town centres are the heart of their communities and states that plans should pursue policies to support their viability and vitality. The final NPPF states: “Planning policies should be positive, promote competitive town centre environments and set out policies for the management and growth of centres over the plan period”.

On Housing

As a committee, the urgent need for housing is one of our key priorities. However, we were concerned by the Government requirement in the original document that local authorities should identify a 5 year land supply plus 20%. It is vital that local authorities do make an accurate assessment of their housing needs with reference to waiting lists but we questioned the use of some economic models which seemed to overestimate local housing need by giving greater weight to wants rather than needs. And we recognised that some local authorities will need flexibility to make appropriate plans according to local circumstances.

In the new version, the requirement for an additional 20% surplus land has been replaced with a 5% buffer. The inclusion of windfall sites is now permissible in figures, which is another recommendation we made in our submission.

I am pleased that the Government has taken on board concerns and published a much improved document, and I must give credit to the valuable role Andrew Stunell played behind the scenes in pressing the Lib Dem concerns to his Ministerial colleagues. It appears that lots of listening has taken place, and I am proud of the role that I and the Lib Dem DCLG Policy Committee have played in the process, although we can’t claim all the credit for the end result! There were many groups such as the National Trust and CPRE raising their concerns, and a very active Daily Telegraph campaign! But we stuck to our principles and the groundwork is there for more localism.

Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole and Co-Chair of the Lib Dem DCLG Parliamentary Policy Committee

* Annette Brook is the Liberal Democrat MP for Dorset and North Poole.

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  • Oh dear, I’ve not read the revised version but my instinct is this is not good news. When the National Trust, the CPRE and the Daily Telegraph are thrilled with something it’s time to ask cui bono. You don’t make it sound like housing was one of your key priorities, frankly.

  • LondonLiberal 29th Mar '12 - 6:01pm

    i’ve read the new NPPF and must agree with Annette. it’s not perfect, there still seem to be some huge policy holes that will be filled by planning lawyers on appeal (for example defining what ‘silent, out of date or indeterminate means’), but it is a much improved document.

  • Annette Brooke 30th Mar '12 - 3:28pm

    Alix, I would say that you should certainly read it and appreciate that it is widely supported!

    The organisations that have come out in support of the new document include the Local Government Association, Home Builders Federation, National Housing Federation, CBI and RSPB.

    Martin Harper from the RSPB said: “This new planning system will help the Government deliver on its promises to promote growth, halt the loss of biodiversity and enhance our natural environment.”

    Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation said: “These proposals are sensible and will balance a community’s housing needs against environmental and other considerations.”

  • Patrick Smith 9th Sep '13 - 10:40pm

    I am in total agreement that Local Development Plan must be based on local resident experience and a robust consultation process, to draw upon empowered individuals,groups and firms, to generate a coherent reflection of local vision for the Neighbourhood that reflects community identity,continuity or change as is the democratic will of local people.

    I believe local residents should all feel free to speak out about change to their local Neighbourhood and that the L/D Localism community values are all important, in recognising that the actual experience of residents who choose to live in an area, should also be the same people with the power to shape its development.

    Clearly the Local Development Plan has to express a need to press for a targeted housing build and the marriage of `sustainable development’ and observance of `natural environment’ should always run to the maximum and widest local discussion before final planning consents are signed off by the Council.

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