8 Where should development take place?|
136. The draft NPPF incorporates a number of significant
changes to policies that affect where development will be located.
These are changes to policy on brownfield, on identifying land
supply, and on town centres. These three policies were characterised
by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in their letter to
us as giving the appearance of encouraging less sustainable types
In this chapter we consider each of these policy areas in turn.
Development on brownfield land
137. The Plan for Growth announced that the
target for 60% of housing to be on brownfield land, in place since
1998, was to be removed. Furthermore, as with other Planning Policy
Statements, PPS3 on Housing will be cancelled with the introduction
of the NPPF; PPS3 set out a policy of 'brownfield sites first',
stating that "the priority for development should be previously
developed land, in particular vacant and derelict sites and buildings."
The core planning principles in the draft NPPF state that "where
practical and consistent with other objectives, allocations of
land for development should prefer land of lesser value",
and later the document states that "plans should allocate
land with the least environmental or amenity value where practical".
The National Trust warned that the 60% target had not been replaced
with "a clear enough statement of the importance of using
previously-developed sites first."
138. John Slaughter, Director of External Affairs
at the Home Builders Federation supported the more flexible approach
of the draft NPPF. He told us that the brownfield target had not
been successful, because while a higher percentage of housing
was located on brownfield sites, the overall volume of housing
did not increase to the required levels because the policy simply
reduced the amount of greenfield development that was approved.
Others lauded the 'brownfield first' policy for achieving precisely
that. Sir Simon
Jenkins, Chair of the National Trust, argued that the policy had
supported urban renewal and environmental sustainability, and
its removal would encourage development "to go where the
money is, which is into the countryside".
Dr Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association told
us that the policy had been very important for ex-industrial areas
in northern England, and "without it the future for them
is potentially bleak".
The British Property Federation told the EAC that the Federation
"fully support the reinstatement of some form of brownfield
first concept [...] it is entirely morally right that you should
seek to use land that has been previously used, where it can meet
your needs, before you start to look at a greenfield site."
139. The NPPF Impact Assessment explains the
changes of policy by saying that "the stock of (viable) brownfield
land varies by local council, and in some areas is becoming a
strain on development".
Based on the fact that there is a need for 200,000 to 250,000
houses a year, Mr Slaughter considered that there was not enough
brownfield land available to meet even three years' worth of new
homes, and the planning system would also need to bring greenfield
sites forward for development.
According to the National Land Use Database, in England in 2009
there was sufficient previously-developed land available, and
considered suitable for housing, to accommodate nearly 1.5 million
in the regions with lowest availability, it would take seven years
of housebuilding on previously-developed land at pre-recession
rates to use up the current supply. This assumes a constant rather
than increasing rate of housebuilding, and that the land comes
forward for development with no unforeseen problems. However,
figures also show that the supply of previously-developed land
is being replenished at almost exactly the rate it is being used
in England as a whole, with some regional variation, so it should
not be considered a finite resource.
140. The British Property Federation recommended
that, rather than reinstating a target for brownfield use, local
authorities should be required to set out in their Local Plans
policies for maximising the use of brownfield land in their areasa
solution that would be both localist and sensitive to variations
in the availability of previously-developed land.
BPF made the point, however, that public funding for remediation
of contaminated land had often been crucial to efforts to maximise
use of brownfield sites.
The Minister, Greg Clark, told us that there should be some means
of assessing the viability of development on land where the cost
of bringing it back into use would be very high, and that it was
"desirable that regeneration does, where it can, find sums
of money" to achieve this.
141. Representing the Local Government Association,
Cllr Gary Porter described the brownfield policy as "a complete
and utter failure" because gardens had often been considered
The Minister acknowledged this problem as an unintended consequence
of a definition of brownfield land "that was not environmentally
sensitive enough"although gardens were removed from
the definition of previously developed land in June 2010.
The NPPF instead uses the wording "land of least environmental
value". Ian Fletcher of the British Property Federation told
us, however, that this formulation ignored the valuable social
and economic dimensions of the brownfield first policy, and a
more "subtle" definition was needed.
Other potential difficulties we were told about included local
authorities wishing to allocate brownfield to uses other than
housing, such as public open spaces and amenity,
the significant wildlife habitats that sometimes become established
on derelict land,
or the fact that some previously-developed sites may be some distance
away from existing settlements, transport links or community infrastructure.
In evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, the Campaign
to Protect Rural England (CPRE) argued that such circumstances
could be addressed by local planning authorities in their local
context, and through "slight revisions to policy" rather
than by removing the preference for brownfield sites.
142. The Minister recognised that the omission of
the terms 'brownfield' and 'previously-developed land' from the
policy as expressed in the draft NPPF had caused some readers
to infer that it was no longer a Government priority to see derelict
land brought back into use.
He commented that it should be possible to clarify the policy
intent while referring to the word 'brownfield', which benefited
from "a certain familiarity".
The Impact Assessment notes that there is a risk that,
by removing the priority for brownfield development, "Government
may be seen to be encouraging development on greenfield land".
This risk, it states, will be mitigated "by continuation
of existing landscape and environment protections, such as Green
Belt, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest, Areas of Outstanding
Natural Beauty and by implementing the new designation to protect
green spaces of particular local importance to communities."
However, the Impact Assessment also takes trouble to outline
many potential benefits of greenfield development, such as increasing
housing supply, greater competition, job creation and more access
to New Homes Bonus and Community Infrastructure Levy funds, and
anticipates that development will no longer be "skewed"
towards previously developed sites.
143. We welcome the Government's openness to reinstating
the familiar and well-understood term 'brownfield' in the NPPF,
whilst recognising that more sophistication is needed in its definition
to avoid unintended consequences. There is a danger, nevertheless,
that the removal of the brownfield target and the 'brownfield
first' policyin conjunction with the introduction of the
presumption in favour of sustainable development and changes to
requirements for allocating land for housingwill result
over time in less importance being attached to the use of previously-developed
land first where possible. This principle should be strongly stated
in the NPPF, and reiterated by requiring local authorities to
set their own targets for the use of brownfield land. This would
allow for adaptation to particular circumstances and would in
addition be a useful mechanism for local accountability.
The supply of sites for housing
draft NPPF states that, in order to boost the
supply of housing, local planning authorities should identify
and maintain a rolling supply of specific deliverable
sites sufficient to provide
five years' worth of housing against their housing requirements;
this supply should include an additional allowance of at least
20% "to ensure choice and competition in the market for land".
In this rolling five-year (effectively six-year) supply, local
planning authorities will not be permitted to make allowance for
windfall sites, "unless they can provide compelling evidence
of genuine local circumstances that prevent specific sites being
Windfall sites are those which are not allocated in a plan but
subsequently become available for development.
145. Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of CPRE, told
us that the requirement to allocate more land "will put irresistible
pressure on local authorities to release greenfield land unnecessarily
[...] and simply enable developers to cherry-pick greenfield sites,"
that is, sites which are generally easier to develop and more
Summers, President of RTPI, described the requirement as "a
strange formulation" and said it would
put the squeeze on authorities whose urban edge
is up tight against the green belt, an area of outstanding natural
beauty or an area of countryside that is valued for environmental,
forestry, or agricultural purposes. It also puts a squeeze on
the question of updating a plan, because it will take some time
to go through the land search, the public consultation and all
the rest of it to bring the Local Plan up to date.
John Slaughter of the Home Builders Federation rejected
the suggestion that developers would be able to cherry-pick greenfield
sites, because it would still be up to the local authority to
identify the land to be allocated, and to focus on brownfield
land within that.
146. Changes to the requirement for housing land
supply, as well as changes to brownfield policy, were a particular
concern to environmental groups who feared that the draft NPPF
did not provide sufficient protections from development for greenfield
land which may consequently be in more demand. The draft Framework
deals at length with Green Belt land,
and requires that local planning authorities give "great
weight" to "protecting landscape and scenic beauty in
National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty."
It also introduces a new category of designation, 'Local Green
Spaces', although it notes that this "will not be appropriate
for most green areas or local space."
However, conservation organisations argued that there is little
explicit protection in the NPPF for open land which does not enjoy
a special designation, nor is there recognition of the intrinsic
value of the countryside.
The North Wessex Downs AONB, for example, argued that the document
reverts to a view of nature and landscapes as "compartmentalised
oases of conservation", and "removes the universal protection
currently afforded to the wider countryside."
Civic Voice was concerned for the future of what it called "everyday
147. The Minister explained that the rationale for
"the sixth year" policy was to provide a "buffer"
when sites either fail to come forward for development or do not
yield the anticipated number of homes.
Adrian Penfold, author of the Penfold Review, considered that
this measure would make the five-year land supply "more viable
and more achievable."
Cllr Porter agreed that an over-allocation would protect against
plans failing to deliver as expected, but asked "why have
a nationally set target? Why not have a local target determined
on history? The same with windfall sites. Windfall sites [...]
should be included against the over-allocation."
Tony Burton of Civic Voice argued that it would be odd to have
a policy favouring housing development on brownfield land, but
not to embrace a significant source of such sites for housing
development in the form of windfall sites.
148. The Minister told us his intention was to "reflect
on" the fact that some councils in fact had a good record
of accurately predicting their actual supply of windfall sites,
which might justify a more localist arrangement; the same could
apply to councils which see a consistent level of windfall sites
In response to concerns that the extra 20% would mean developers
could 'cherry pick' the less environmentally-damaged sites within
the allocation, Mr Clark said during a debate in the House that
"it is exactly the intention that councils should be able
to prioritise and to bring forward the lowest environmentally
valuable sites first."
149. Asking local authorities to identify six
years' rather than five years' worth of sites for housing carries
an inevitable risk that the total supply will contain a greater
proportion of greenfield sites, which developers will prefer.
We recommend that it should be made explicit that local authorities
which adopt a local target for the use of brownfield land can
prioritise it within their six-year supply, which we urge the
Government to confirm and clarify in the NPPF.
150. We recommend that the Government allow windfall
sites to be included alongside identified brownfield land where
local authorities can demonstrate a track record of such sites
coming forward for development, as this will achieve the aim of
satisfying the need for land supply while minimising the need
to allocate greenfield sites. The Government should have more
confidence in the continuing replenishment of brownfield sites
as a source of land for new development.
151. Some local authorities may, in good faith,
be unable to identify six years' worth of land supply appropriate
for housing. We recommend that the Government clarify that unsustainable
development will not be allowed to proceed as a result of appeals
against local authorities which have not allocated the full six
Town Centre First
152. Planning Policy Statement 4 (PPS4) includes
the policy of 'Town Centre First', bringing in a 'sequential test'
for development under which sites were identified for development
first in existing centres, then in edge-of-centre locations, and
only then in out-of-centre locations.
The draft NPPF contains a section which is supportive of town
centres as the preferred location for retail and leisure development
as opposed to out-of-town development. The Framework also proposes
to increase the 'time horizon' for assessing the impact of retail
and leisure schemes in edge-of- or out-of-centre locations from
five to ten years.
153. However, several organisations expressed concern
that the drafting of the NPPF weakens the Town Centre First policy
by guiding local planning authorities to "prefer" rather
than require applications in town centre locations, and qualifies
this by adding "where practical".
Office development has been removed entirely from the scope of
the policy, exempting offices from the sequential test. Furthermore,
arts, culture and tourism were included in the list of 'main town
centre uses' in PPS4, but it is not clear from the text of the
draft NPPF whether these have been subsumed under "leisure
uses", or whether they have been omitted from the policy.
154. Support for the Town Centre First policy among
our witnesses was nearly unanimous, although Professor Paul Cheshire
argued that it had resulted in losses of productivity in the supermarket
sector and had increased retail's carbon footprint.
However, there was widespread recognition of the role that the
policy had played in helping town centres to prosper by concentrating
development there, and during our previous inquiry into Regeneration,
we heard that the policy had made a significant contribution to
town centre regeneration.
155. The John Lewis Partnership argued that the policy
had "served town centres well for almost two decades"
and should remain "the cornerstone of positive future investment
for and in town centres". It expressed concern that the language
of the NPPF "falls short of giving the necessary weight to
the sequential and impact tests" by replacing a requirement
with a preference,
and that the detail of how impact and sequential assessments should
be undertaken would be lost because of the brevity of the NPPF.
The John Lewis Partnership suggested that, if a scheme failed
a sequential test or was likely to have a significant adverse
impact on a town centre, it should not be considered sustainable
and should normally be refused permission.
The Association of Convenience Stores stated that the removal
of "significant amounts of detail" from the policy may
give developers greater opportunities to circumvent it, and expose
councils to legal challenge should they resist out of town development.
Sustainable transport organisations were concerned that the change
to policy would increase congestion and car travel.
156. The NPPF Impact Assessment argues that
the requirement to demonstrate compliance with the sequential
test "places undue burdens on office development" and
has contributed to high rent costs for office space compared to
However, this was not the explanation for the change of policy
given to us by the Minister in oral evidence:
In a lot of rural areas, making use of disused
agricultural buildings for business hubs, including small offices,
has been quite successful in providing a place in which businesses
can start up, and in terms of sustainability, if you live in a
village and you can actually work there, rather than needing to
commute somewhere else, that seems desirable. That was our intention
in not requiring every new office development to be in the town
centre. What was not intendedit has been suggested that
this may be a loopholewas to have massive out-of-town office
developments that could detract from the town centre. [...] let
me say again what my policy intention was in drafting this: it
was not to depart from the 'town centre first' policy, but to
157. The Town Centre First policy has enjoyed widespread
support from businesses as well as local authorities, and the
certainty it provides to developers has been an important springboard
for councils to achieve town centre regeneration. The NPPF
should reflect the existing Town Centre First policy by bringing
offices back within its ambit, in a form that allows exceptions
that make a specific contribution to rural sustainability. We
recommend that application of the sequential test for development
remains a requirement rather than a preference, and developments
that fail the sequential test should be deemed unsustainable.
We further recommend that the Government clarify the policy position
on town centres with respect to arts, culture and tourism uses,
to ensure that they are included in the Town Centre First policy.
158. The draft NPPF states that planning policies
should "promote competitive town centre environments"
and "recognise town centres as the heart of their communities".
It also stipulates that local authorities should "set policies
for the consideration of retail and leisure proposals which cannot
be accommodated in or adjacent to town centres".
The Local Government Association (LGA) noted that:
there is often a widespread desire for local
communities to have more of a say on the sustainability of their
shopping parades, district town centres and high streets. The
vitality of these places depends on local areas having access
to the necessary tools to shape their locality in a way that reflect
local needs and priorities.
The LGA argued that reform of planning policy must
better allow this to happen. We recommend that the NPPF include
a provision to allow communities, in certain exceptional circumstances,
to adopt an absolute protection of a town centre from out-of-town
retail development. The circumstances would have to include
evidence of widespread community support, and the ability to demonstrate
that the town centre has outstanding qualities that would be threatened
by the proposed development.
266 Environment Audit Committee, Sustainable Development
in the National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1480, para 11 Back
DCLG, Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing, June 2011 Back
Draft NPPF, para 19 Back
Draft NPPF, para 165 Back
Ev 112 Back
Q 131 Back
Q 209 Back
Q 119 Back
Q 68 Back
Environment Audit Committee, Sustainable Development in the
National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1480, Q 38 Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, p 49 Back
Qq 120, 122, 123; see also Q 255. Back
Green Balance, Building in a small island: why we still need
the brownfield first approach, Campaign to Protect Rural England,
November 2011 Back
Green Balance for CPRE, Building in a small island: why we
still need brownfield first, November 2011 Back
Ev 104 Back
Ev 104, Q 119 Back
Q 346 Back
Q 151 Back
Ref Q Back
Q 119 Back
Q 119 [Ian Fletcher] Back
Q 66 [Paul Cheshire] Back
Ev 157 [Adrian Penfold] Back
Environment Audit Committee, Sustainable Development in the
National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1480, Q 17 Back
See also Ev 158 [Adrian Penfold] Back
Q 345-46 Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, p 55 Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, pp 53, 56 Back
Draft NPPF, para 109 Back
Draft NPPF, para 109 Back
Q 262, Ev 143 Back
Q 302 Back
Q 125-26 Back
Draft NPPF, paras 133 ff Back
Draft NPPF, para 167 Back
Draft NPPF, paras 130-2 Back
Ev w271 [London Forum of Ameity and Civic Societies]; Ev 142 [CPRE];
Ev 128 [Civic Voice] Back
Ev w267 Back
Ev 128 Back
Q 347; see also HC Deb, 20 October 2011, col 1083. Back
Q 284 Back
Q 144 Back
Q 209 Back
Q 347 Back
HC Deb, 20 October 2011, col 1084 Back
DCLG, Planning Policy Statement 4: planning for sustainable
economic growth, 2009, p 11 Back
Draft NPPF, para 80 Back
Draft NPPF, para 78 Back
Draft NPPF, para 78 ff; Planning Policy Statement 4,
para 7 Back
Qq 69-70 Back
Communities and Local Government Committee, Sixth Report of Session
2010-12, Regeneration, HC 1014, November 2011, paras 40-42;
Ev 96; Qq 207, 208 Back
Ev 131, Q 203 ff Back
Ev 132 Back
Q 210 Back
Ev w35 Back
Ev 144 [Campaign to Protect Rural England]; Ev w37 [Sustrans];
Ev w102 [Living Streets] Back
NPPF Impact Assessment, p 35 Back
Q 343 Back
Draft NPPF, para 76 Back
Ev 116 Back