7 Transition to a new system|
120. The Department for Communities and Local Government's
target date for publishing the National Planning Policy Frameworkand
presumably bringing it into forceis April 2012.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) warned that experience
of previous planning reforms had shown that unless the transition
period was carefully managed, lack of certainty would in fact
act to slow down development.
Stuart Hylton of the Planning Officers Society explained that
every major change to the planning system since
the war has been followed by a couple of years of downturn in
development activity while the new system beds in. If we are talking
about introducing the biggest change to the planning system in
50 years in the middle of the biggest recession in the national
economy in 50 years, then the consequences could be very serious
121. The NPPF Impact Assessment notes that
around half (47%) of councils do not have a published Core Strategy
at present, and fewer than a third (30%) have one which has been
The poor coverage of adopted Local Plans has given rise to a great
deal of concern about the precipitate introduction of a system,
through the NPPF, which guides local planning authorities to grant
permission to developments whenever a plan is "absent, silent,
indeterminate, or where relevant policies are out-of-date."
122. Conservation bodies and others feared that inappropriate,
unwelcome or even unsustainable development could be imposed on
areas without an adequate plan.
The Institution of Civil Engineers suggested that, when the NPPF
was introduced, the limited coverage of Local Plans would encourage
developers to submit applications that perhaps would not be approved
were an up-to-date plan to be in place.
The National Trust speculated that "a national document [the
NPPF] will in effect determine many planning decisions for years
and Roger Harding of Shelter predicted "a flurry of potential
court judgments or applications brought forward while local authorities
adjust to the new system that might not be in keeping with the
long-term needs of the community and the NPPF itself."
123. Even those areas currently covered by adopted
plans may not be insulated from uncertainty. Several witnesses
told us that, because no already-adopted plans include the changes
of policy set out in the NPPF, in the words of RTPI President
Richard Summers, "if the button was pressed on the NPPF tomorrow
morning, as it is currently drafted, every Local Plan in the country
would be immediately out of date. There needs to be a transition
period to ensure that there is a smooth handover."
A particular concern is the requirement for plans to identify
20% more housing land than is indicated by their assessments of
need, a requirement which few, if any, current plans will have
124. Sir Simon Jenkins, Chair of the National Trust,
told us that, since the publication of the draft NPPF, some transitional
problems had already become apparent. Sir Simon alleged that Inspectors
were already making decisions on the basis of the draft Framework
in the absence of a Local Plan, so that "at the moment, you
have an extraordinary state of affairs in which the Inspectorate
is interpreting this document as, in effect, a green light for
any sort of plan or any sort of development."
In September 2011 the Planning Inspectorate issued advice to the
effect that the draft NPPF "is capable of being a material
planning consideration, although the weight to be given to it
will be a matter for the decision maker in each particular case."
Given the Minister's indications that significant changes will
be made to the document before it is finalised, this appears to
be a very unsatisfactory interim position.
125. Because of these concerns, many organisations
have called for transitional arrangements to be determined and
clarified as a matter of urgency. The Local Government Association
it is vitally important that councils have a
realistic chance of getting up-to-date plans in place before the
presumption [in favour of sustainable development] comes into
force. The process and timescales for having plans approved or
certified in conformity with the NPPF must be simple and streamlined.
The NPPF Impact Assessment states that one
of the reasons for the introduction of the presumption in favour
of sustainable development is in fact to provide an incentive
for local councils to get up-to-date plans in place.
Business and development representative bodies welcomed this as
a way of addressing the "serious frustrations" and uncertainty
caused by local authorities taking several years to complete or
Others pointed out that councils have an additional incentive
in the form of the Community Infrastructure Levy; without a Local
Plan in place they will not be able to develop a tariff for charging
developers under the CIL proposals.
126. Nevertheless, the process of adopting or updating
Local Plans will not necessarily be a swift one, especially because
it must include robust community consultation and examination
by a planning inspector.
Representing the LGA, Cllr Gary Porter pointed out that under
the new system, councils will have to take a considered view on
many aspects of policy which were previously determined nationally
or dealt with on a regional level, such as the duty to co-operate,
housing density requirements, or even car parking standards.
Local authorities whose plans assume the presence of a regional
tier of planning, and the full suite of guidance that is currently
in place, may also find that under the new system there are important
gaps in their policy coverage.
These factors can be expected to add significantly to the time
needed to prepare plans. Furthermore, while the burden of producing
plans may be greater under the new system, the resources councils
have to devote to the process are in many cases diminished, or
at least under greater pressure.
Stuart Hylton commented that:
Many authorities have gone through 20% or 25%
cuts in their planning policy staff as part of the budget savings,
but at the same time they are being asked now to plan at three
different levels. They have their day job of doing the Local Plan
borough-wide; they have the hand-holding that they are asked to
do with neighbourhoods who want to produce Neighbourhood Plansand
I know from experience that is a hugely resource-intensive task
for local authoritiesand they are also being asked to act
up strategically and fill at least part of the gap that has been
left by the demise of the regional tier. So they are being asked
to do a lot more with a lot less, and I think we need to be realistic
about what will be able to be delivered within what timetable.
127. A measure of concern was also expressed about
whether the Planning Inspectorate would have sufficient capacity
to examine a large number of new planning documents in a short
period of time.
Demand will be particularly acute because, unlike with previous
revisions of the planning system (such as the requirement for
district-wide local plans after 1991), there has been no indication
from the Government that plans prepared under superseded regulations
will be allowed to continue and to carry weight in decisions,
at least until their original end dates. There is likely, therefore,
to be a glut of new documents as councils rush to catch up with
the new system.
128. London Councils suggested there should be a
one-year period of transition before the NPPF takes effect in
order to allow local authorities that do not have recently adopted
Local Development Frameworks to catch up by preparing, publishing
and scrutinising their plans and getting them approved by the
Secretary of State.
The National Trust suggested a grace period of two years, and
this was supported by the Planning Officers Society on the basis
that this would match the timetable for the introduction of the
Community Infrastructure Levy.
John Slaughter of the Home Builders Federation told us:
The starting point is that there cannot be a
gap. If you are looking to develop, then we need to have a manageable
transition so that, where you have a reasonable application to
put forward, there is going to be a basis on which it can be determined
fairly. You are clearly going to have a range of situations. Where
there are authorities that already have adopted core strategies,
that is one thing. Where they are close to adoption, that is slightly
different. Where they are a long way from adoption, that it is
different again. I do not think it would be reasonable to have
an indefinite period when the aspects of the Planning Framework
did not apply.
129. The need to take account of the different stages
that local authorities find themselves at was stressed by Hampshire
County Council, which argued that
to cast the many recently adopted or published
core strategies on the scrap heap and require a planning system
to be built from scratch across the whole country cannot be a
sensible way forward. A way must be devised of creating a period
of transition between the primacy of plans based on the old suite
of guidance to allow the creation of new plans based on the NPPF.
Oxford City Council suggested that any adopted Core
Strategies should automatically be assumed to be in compliance
until their next review is due, potentially up to five years.
The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that there be a
transition period during which "local authorities should
be able to judge planning applications on the basis of any existing
plans potentially rendered 'out of date' by the NPPF and by the
relevant legacy policies in the revoked Regional Strategies."
Adrian Penfold, author of the Penfold Review of Non-Planning Consents,
argued that some policy changes would be more difficult than others
for local authorities to incorporate in their planspointing
out that changes to Planning Policy Statements have often been
introduced without a transition periodso transition could
be nuanced accordingly.
Mike Holmes of the Planning Officers Society stated that review
of plans "has in the past been too cumbersome a process because
what has happened is you have had to review the whole of the document",
rather than discrete sections of it which had changed.
130. The Minister, Greg Clark, told us that it had
always been the Government's intention to put transitional arrangements
in placean intention, in our view, that could usefully
have been expressed in the draft Framework so as to avoid raising
so many concerns on this point. He explained that councils which
have relevant policies in place, even where those fall short of
being a full, up-to-date Local Development Framework, could expect
planning applications to be determined in the light of those policies
in the transitional period.
In the debate on the NPPF in the House in October, the Minister
indicated that he was reluctant to pre-empt the Department's consultation
response by detailing what those arrangements would be. Nonetheless,
he affirmed that "no local council or authority that has
developed a plan that expresses the future of its community will
be at all disadvantaged. [...] we will safeguard and strengthen
the ability of local councils to be in charge of their own destiny
rather than the reverse."
131. Local Plans are the foundation on which the
planning system should be built. It is in everyone's interests
that they are effective expressions of both local needs and local
wishes; preparing the evidence base and conducting robust consultation
to ensure this will necessarily be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
It is right that the Government seek to incentivise the prompt
production of plans, but a degree of realism is needed about the
time it will take councils to revise and adopt plans that take
into account the new policy landscape. We recommend that the
Government establish a timetable for a transition period in consultation
with local government. We consider that clarity and reassurance
are urgently needed by local authorities, communities and developers
on the status of existing arrangements for development control
during this transition. The Government has several choices on
how to achieve this.
132. We recommend that, in the interests of ensuring
that authorities put in place Local Plans compliant with the NPPF
expeditiously, a strictly limited period is allowed during which
the presumption in favour of sustainable development is not applied
in cases of absent, silent or out-of-date plans until councils
have had a realistic chance of putting such plans in place.
133. We observe that the Government may wish to
allow those authorities that have recently adopted or are at present
in the process of adopting new plans a lighter touch path to examination
and approval of those parts of their plans that require any amendment
as a consequence of revisions to national policies introduced
through the NPPF.
134. We believe that if Local Plans are to be
able to remain at the centre of decision making over a plan period,
there needs to be a mechanism by which they can be kept up to
date. This will help maximise certainty and minimise challenge.
We recommend the adoption of a 'light touch' system of approval
for changes to Local Plans to be used at the discretion of the
Local Authority as they judge necessary.
135. We further recommend that the Government
consider as a matter of urgency whether the resources of the Planning
Inspectorate are sufficient to prevent a bottleneck of unapproved
plans building up, particularly given the scope for a short term
increase in challenge to Development Control decisions.
232 DCLG, Business Plan 2011-15, November 2010,
p 26 Back
Q 278 Back
Q 140 Back
Core Strategies are the key compulsory planning documents currently
required under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
They will be replaced by, and can be considered to constitute,
the 'Local Plans' referred to throughout the draft NPPF. Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, table B1.1 Back
Draft NPPF, para 14 Back
Ev 104; Ev w200 Back
Ev w212 Back
Ev 108 Back
Q 229 Back
Q 278; see also Ev 108. Back
Ev 154 Back
Qq 86, 129 Back
planningportal.gov.uk, letter dated 8 September 2011 Back
Ev 116 Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, p 23 Back
Ev 104; Q 19 Back
Q 285 Back
Ev w277 Back
Q 166 Back
Q 140 Back
Ev w200 [RICS]; Q 140 Back
Q 140 Back
Ev w106 [Oxford City Council]; Ev 119 [Local Government Group] Back
Ev w295 [London Councils]; Ev w250 [National Housing Federation] Back
Qq 128, 140 Back
Q 127 Back
Ev w46 Back
Ev w105 Back
Environment Audit Committee, Sustainable Development in the
National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1480, para 24 Back
Q 302 Back
Q 148 Back
Q 332 Back
HC Deb, 20 October 2011 Col 1085 Back