Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Professor Vincent Goodstadt

Context

1. I welcome the invitation to comment of the draft NPPF. Although these comments are made personally they draw upon a joint submission I was party to in an earlier consultation and which is attached in Appendix 2.

2. There are many detailed points that I am aware are being raised by other parties but I consider there is one central issue that needs to be resolved if the NPPF is to effective and efficient. This relates to the issues posed by the proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development. This I consider is so central to the credibility of the document.

Summary

3. The following note sets out:

(a)The context of the NPPF as a mechanism for delivering Government objectives in particular economic growth and sustainable development; and

(b)The implications of the current flawed proposed presumption in favour of sustainable development; and

(c)The implications for modifying and strengthening the NPPF. by operationalising the concept of sustainable development within the NPPF and is illustrated in Appendix 1.

The Role of the NPPF in Delivering National Objectives for Sustainable Development

4. The current proposed draft NPPF is right in making the goal of sustainable development central to the NPPF. This however needs to by promoting the balanced and sustainable development of England by:

(a)setting the framework for sustainable development;

(b)setting out the priorities for economic, social and environmental regeneration; and

(c)maintaining and enhancing the quality of the natural heritage and built environment.

5. The NPPF could achieve these goals around the principles of:

(i)Securing the Economic Resources required to maintain and improve the competitive position of the UK;

(ii)Sustaining the Social and Community Resources required to sustain and reinforce the services, amenities and physical identities upon which neighbourhoods depend;

(iii)Maintaining the Environmental Resources, their “carrying capacity” and quality and integrity of the ecosystems upon which they are dependent; and

(iv)Providing the framework for decisions on Development Choices in order to operationalise the presumption in favour of sustainable development that the Government’s seek. The NPPF could therefore clarify what is meant by the planning tests for sustainable development without getting into theoretical arguments about the definition of sustainable development.

6. Experience shows that a NPPF has greatest added value if it is underpinned by one or more over-riding concept which creates real synergy between the necessary separate strands of government and helps deliver the priorities of the Government. In the current English planning context “Economic Growth” is the immediate priority and “Security” is the longer term need. Therefore “Securing the Growth of the Nation” or equivalent branding could form the focus for the NPPF.

7. Unfortunately the current proposed NPPF lacks does not seek to provide a vision for the future of the nation but limit the NPPF to being an administrative tool against which local plans will be judged nationally. This will be useful and ensure a level of consistency between plans and more level playing field for developers. However it represents a missed opportunity to make the planning system proactive in promoting sustainable growth as opposed to regulatory culture within which current draft NPPF.

Draft NPPF Proposals for Sustainable Development

8. As currently drafted the NPPF ends up being a reactive set of criteria which are open to interpretation. Although there are a plethora of issues that arise because of this I would wish to draw attention to three key implications for sustainable development of this.

(a)The principle of sustainable, as presented, rests upon a high order definition which is so open to challenge it will cause delay, confusion and costs. The NPPF therefore needs to express the concept (as far as it is to be applied within the planning system) in terms of operational principles that will not be subject to continuous debate.

(b)There is no basis for assessing whether the policies in the NPPF have been implemented. The question needs to be asked therefore how will the government ever know whether its aspirations for growth in any of the policy areas are met within local plans unless some sense of the scale and distribution of development is set out within it?

(c)The regulatory “approach” which the government is proposing gives a green light to development where there is no plan in place and undermines the very principle of sustainable development since it removes need to assess whether a proposal meets any test of sustainability. The rationale upon which this policy is based, is fundamentally flawed since there is no necessary linkage to whether or not a plan is in place as to whether a development proposal is sustainable. This presumption is therefore irrational and I would question whether it meets to Wendsbury test of reasonableness.

Implications

9. The implications of the above comments are three-fold.

(a)The concept of sustainable development needs to be operationalised. This should not be done by further refinement of the definition of sustainability (whichever one is used), but by setting out the core criteria which will be used to make planning choices. This should be based on the principle that where there is a planning choice planning authorities and developers should choose the more sustainable option (eg in centre v out of centre; greenbelt v non-greenbelt etc). It therefore would not seek to assert that the development itself is sustainable on some theoretical sense but that the most sustainable decision has been taken given the material circumstances. There are of course various ways that one may seek to express this but for the sake of illustration Appendix 1 sets out an example of how this may be able to be encapsulated within an NPPF.

(b)The promotion of sustainable development in the NPPF would be greatly strengthened by setting out scale of growth that is needed nationally and which local plans should seek to support. Examples of this were set out in my earlier submission in Appendix 2.

(c)The current presumption in favour of granting consent where there is no development plan in place should be deleted, on the basis that it is irrational.

September 2011

APPENDIX 1

POTENTIAL TEXT TO OPERATIONALISE THE CONCEPT SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WITHIN THE NPPF

The concept of Sustainable Development as embodied in International Agreements, European Treaties and Directives and National Policies reflects the requirement to provide for the needs of existing and future generations by safeguarding and enhancing the economic, community and environmental resources of the area.

The following principles should therefore be applied in planning policies for and decisions on development proposals:

a presumption in favour of meeting demonstrable needs for development within the planning horizons of the local plan and which demonstrates benefits in terms of the objectives of the NPPF and local plan;

the application of the relevant sequential approach in order to ensure that the most beneficial location has been selected in terms of its economic, social, environmental and transport implications, and that resources are safeguarded from potential irreversible damage or strain on their carrying capacity; and

the impacts on local communities arising from a development proposal should be borne by those who benefit from the proposal.. The extent to which such costs are being borne by the developer will be material to the acceptability of a proposal.

These Principles are based upon the following considerations:

Economic Resources

Economic growth and security is central to the NPPF (and government’s wider agenda). Key economic locations and infrastructure cannot easily be replaced and need to be safeguarded in order to maintain and improve the competitive position of the UK. This will also help avoid diverting or displacing investment from more sustainable locations for development identified in the NPPF. This applies particularly to the vitality and viability of town centres.

As a result:

Strategic business centres (ie the main city and town centres) need to be supported by a presumption in favour of their growth and renewal;

existing and proposed economic development locations in the local plan should be safeguarded and enhanced;

new investment should maximise the use of existing infrastructure, including transportation and water services;

an effective marketable supply of industrial and business opportunities across the local plan area should be maintained;

a range of opportunities should be maintained to meet special needs as identified in the NPPF eg for large-scale inward investment; and

preference should be given to the selection of locations which support the movement of freight by rail (or sea) rather than solely by road, and minimise the length of journeys to work, particularly by private car.

Social and Community Resources

In order to support the well-being of communities and neighbourhoods, there is a need to provide sufficient houses and local jobs, and safeguard and reinforce the services, amenities and physical identities upon which they depend. New developments should therefore be encouraged to locate where they will reinforce and support existing communities. A sustainable approach to development also requires that there is an equitable balance between the costs and benefits of any development. Development proposals should therefore take account of the ability of settlements to accommodate additional development without unacceptable adverse impacts upon their physical identity or the quality of life within them.

As a result:

optimum use should be made of existing community facilities and infrastructure by recycling urban land and safeguarding town centres;

community facilities should be in locations which are accessible to all sections of the community by walking, cycling, or public transport;

development proposals should be related to the ability of existing communities to accommodate further development without significant adverse impact; and

the range and distribution of community facilities within town centre catchments should be improved, and an adequate housing land supply should be maintained within each housing market area.

Environmental Resources

The nation contains a wide range of natural and historic Environmental Resources, designated and undesignated, ranging from those of international to those of local significance. Development proposals should be assessed against their impacts on these resources, including landscape and “carrying capacity” and quality of the ecosystems upon which they are dependent.

As a result:

the quality and extent of environmental resources should be safeguarded, especially internationally and nationally designated resources;

ecosystems should be sustained

priority should be given to the reuse of vacant urban land and buildings;

priority should be given to the decontamination of derelict urban land;

new development should seek to promote renewable energy production;

new development should seek to reduce energy consumption and in particular, the length and number of trips by private cars; and

the risk of blight or loss of environmental resources caused by the excessive allocation of land for development should be minimised.

APPENDIX 2

PRIORITIES AND POLICIESREQUIRED TO PRODUCE AN EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENTNATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK (NPPF)

Response to Ministerial Consultation byProfessors Vincent Goodstadt & Cecilia Wong & Dr. Mark Baker

Context

10. We welcome the invitation by the Rt. Hon. Greg Clark to organisations and individuals to offer their suggestions on what priorities and policies should be adopted “to produce a shorter, more decentralised and less bureaucratic National Planning Policy Framework”. We therefore submit the following views on these matters and will be very happy to expand and explain any of them. The recommendations presented here are the personal views of the authors but draw upon their substantive experience and knowledge of delivering effective planning at a strategic and national scale.

11. The Government’s desire to make the planning system clearer is welcomed, in particular the three principles which underpin the Government’s agenda for the planning system:

a strengthened local input into and accountability for planning decisions;

clearer national policies; and

a commitment to sustainable development.

12. The integrity and coherence of the proposed reforms depends upon the delivery of all three principles. An effective NPPF is one of the key tools for delivering the Government’s core objectives of economic growth and competitiveness whilst promoting localism agenda and meeting the UK’s international commitments to sustainable development. Without an NPPF local decisions will be without context and potentially in conflict not only with that of their neighbours but also with the national interests. Similarly, sustainable development will remain mere rhetoric unless the NPPF pins down the sustainability tests that need to be applied at local as well as a national level.

13. The following note therefore considers the following matters identified by the Minister in his statement to the Parliament:

(a)The relationship between a NPPF and the localism agenda;

(b)The role of a NPPF as a mechanism for delivering Government objectives in particular economic growth and sustainable development; and

(c)The form & content of a NPPF that will deliver user-friendly and accessible policy.

NPPF & Localism

14. The re-empowering of local communities is long overdue. However effective localism cannot flourish in a policy vacuum. If local initiative is to flourish it needs to have the confidence that it will be supported by, and not undermined by, the planning decisions in other areas. There is also the need to minimise the risk that local aspirations will not reflect the needs of the wider community of interest for new infrastructure, new housing, new retailing or employment. Local communities therefore require a clear strategic context without which, as experience shows, the localism agenda will be undermined and frustrated by a lack of confidence and uncertainty.

15. These potential problems have been recognised by the Government, eg in the Local Growth White Paper. The Government has therefore already recognised that local communities are not islands. In part this issue will be addressed through the duty to cooperate locally. However there are key decisions that affect local areas which can only be taken at the national level through a NPPF or similar mechanism. These relate to the range of matters that hold the nation together and drive it forward. These are also those matters upon which there will be a national interest in ensuring that communities cooperate locally if national priorities are to be delivered. These national priorities are amplified in Appendix A and can be characterised as:

(a)The National Economic Hubs which drive and secure the future of Britain.

(b)The National Networks upon which all communities are dependent for accessing the national hubs and major urban centres;

(c)The National Flagship Projects which will help transform the competitiveness and quality of life of England.

16. Much of the thinking in defining such priorities is already in place in various governmental or other reports that either exist or are in hand. Although therefore the Government has a tight timetable for producing the first NPPF, the identification of the national development priorities is a practical proposition. Appendix B sets out some of the material that already exists which could be drawn on in the preparation of the NPPF without duplication.

The Role of the NPPF in Delivering National Objectives

17. The overall goal of the NPPF must be to promote the balanced and sustainable development of England by:

(a)setting the framework for sustainable development;

(b)setting out the priorities for economic, social and environmental regeneration; and

(c)maintaining and enhancing the quality of the natural heritage and built environment.

18. The NPPF could achieve these goals around the principles of:

(i)Securing the Economic Resources required to maintain and improve the competitive position of the UK;

(ii)Sustaining the Social and Community Resources required to sustain and reinforce the services, amenities and physical identities upon which neighbourhoods depend;

(iii)Maintaining the Environmental Resources, their “carrying capacity” and quality and integrity of the ecosystems upon which they are dependent; and

(iv)Providing the framework for decisions on Development Choices in order to operationalise the presumption in favour of sustainable development that the Government’s seek. The NPPF could therefore clarify what is meant by the planning tests for sustainable development without getting into theoretical arguments about the definition of sustainable development.

19. Experience shows that a NPPF has greatest added value if it is underpinned by one or more over-riding concept which creates real synergy between the necessary separate strands of government and helps deliver the priorities of the Government. In the current English planning context “Economic Growth” is the immediate priority and “Security” is the longer term need. Therefore “Securing the Growth of the Nation” or equivalent branding could form the focus for the NPPF. The key point is that an NPPF is more than a mere administrative document (which in essence the PPSs have been) but to be a tool for re-engineering the nation.

20. Linked to this, is the need to transform the plethora of national planning policies into an enabling framework and move away from being a prescriptive set of directives. This could be achieved if the NPPF could set out a “balance sheet” and “future business plan” for the development of the nation, which would summarise the key components of UK plc. The potential scope of these is illustrated in Appendix C. Such a statement could be developed as part of the NPPF or as a supporting document. This could, in effect, be a State of the Nation Report setting out the directions of change; and the national Perspectives on the potential “futures” that England faces and that the NPPF should seek to accommodate and enable.

Form & Content of a NPPF

21. The current form and content of national planning policy statements are not effective because:

(a)They are not only excessively lengthy but also have duplication.

(b)They are essentially reactive in nature being criteria based and they therefore do not offer clarity about what is required of local plans.

(c)They are in effect presented in policy silos which leads to policy gaps and potentially conflicting policy positions.

(d)They lack sensitivity to different spatial contexts, assuming that policies are applicable across the different parts of the country.

22. A single NPPF offers the opportunity to provide clarity by setting out those core policies that should underpin local development policies and proposals whilst allowing local application of them. These national policy requirements would ensure a consistency, complementarity and synergy in local planning generally. This would thereby provide a level playing-field for investors across the country, reducing uncertainty and speeding up the development process.

23. Appendix D sets out an initial assessment of a reduced list of current policy requirements. It is presented as an illustrative Framework of Policies that need to be applied locally. They are all capable of being interpreted without needing major (ie documentation) within the NPPF itself since there are well established sources on good practice which a qualified planner is capable of drawing on if needed. This framework is based around the following three key themes:

(a)Promoting and supporting sustainable economic development;

(b)Identifying opportunities to meet in full the local need for development in local communities and neighbourhoods; and

(c)Protecting, enhancing and creating national environmental resources & ecosystems.

24. Finally, the real clarity will be provided by the NPPF by the selective use of conceptual mapping. Selective both in number and content, these do not need to replicate mere survey data that can be accessed from other primary sources. They would however include:

(a)National economic opportunities and priorities.

(b)National social priorities.

(c)National Environmental Priorities.

(d)Indicative priorities for the use of Natural resources.

(e)The national Infrastructure Priorities.

APPENDIX A

NATIONAL PLANNING PRIORITIES

In addition to the principles of sustainable development and the framework of nationally applied planning policies (refer Appendix D), the NPPF will need to set out the national planning priorities required to safeguard and deliver the economic, social and environmental future of England.

These should include:

(A)The National Hubs which drive and secure the economic and social future of Britain. These would include amongst other things:

Airports.

Ports.

Inland freight terminals.

Knowledge/ research centres of excellence.

Power supply.

Water Supply.

(B)The National Networks upon which all communities are dependent for accessing the national hubs and Major metropolitan areas, including, inter alia:

Rail (passenger and freight.

Road.

Canals/river systems.

Power grids.

Telecommunications.

The Water Catchment / Ecosystem Framework of England.

Green Grid, including Green Belts, National Park Systems, protected habitats and AONBs.

(C)The National Flagship Projects to transform the competitiveness and quality of life of England which are recognised as national economic, social and environmental priorities, and could include for example:

Internationally important projects eg The Olympics/Commonwealth Games.

Transport Projects of National Significance eg HS2, Cross-rail.

Blue-Brown Priorities—ie Regeneration Priorities (eg UDCs) or New Town or equivalent projects.

Blue-Green Priorities eg new Green Belts, New national parks or National Forestry Projects.

APPENDIX B

ESTABLISHED POLICY THINKING AT A NATIONAL LEVEL

The approach suggested in this report could draw on the longer term national issues identified in various recent reports. The following are examples of what is already available. These are only illustrative and:

(a)National Infrastructure Planning: refer “Strategic Framework and Policy Statement on Improving the Resilience of Critical Infrastructure to Disruption from Natural Hazards”;

(b)Food Security: refer “Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges faced by the UK”;

(c)Water Stress: eg as highlighted in the Environment Agency report “Water for People and the Environment” 2009;

(d)Flood Risk: refer Flooding in England: A National Assessment of Flood Risk;

(e)Impoverished Biodiversity: refer “Lost life: England’s lost and threatened species”;

(f)Sustaining Ecosystems Services: refer recent report “Draft synthesis of current status and recent trends”;

(g)Energy & Climate: refer Low Carbon Transition Plan: national strategy for climate & energy;

(h)Renewable Energy: refer the 2009 UK Renewable Energy Strategy Consultation;

(i)Transport: 2008 Delivering a Sustainable Transport System;

(j)High Speed Rail documents (HS2).

APPENDIX C

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT BALANCE SHEET

The NPPF could set out the “balance sheet” and “future business plan” for the development of the nation, which would summarise the key components of UK plc, for example as follows:

(a)A State of the Nation Report setting out:

(i)The aggregate capacity for development;

(ii)The underused capacities in our national stock (eg housing) and infrastructure systems;

(iii)The pinch points in our national infrastructure;

(iv)The scale and any identified priorities for urban regeneration;

(v)The “condition” of the natural environment (eg level of risk).

(b)The “Shifts” in the Nation setting out:

(i)The economic, social and environmental trends;

(ii)The national flows and goods, services and people; and

(iii)The external relationships.

(c)The National Perspectives on:

(i)The directions and distributions of change; and

(ii)The potential “futures” that the NPPF should seek to accommodate and enable.

APPENDIX D

NATIONALLY APPLIED FRAMEWORK OF DEVELOPMENT POLICIES

The following list is an illustrative Framework of Policies that need to be applied nationally. They are based on three key national themes, all of which are capable of being interpreted without needing major explanation (ie documentation) within the NPPF itself since there are well established sources on good practice which a qualified planner is capable of drawing on if needed.

A. Support and promote sustainable development by:

Promoting urban renewal and regeneration in preference to further urban expansion;

Providing a co-ordinated approach to rural areas, reflecting the varying needs within them;

Maintaining the vitality and viability of town centres;

Locating new development where it is linked to sustainable transport;

Identifying opportunities for the development of renewable energy;

The strategic management and development of the national transport network; and

Designating long term Green Networks including Green Belts.

B. Identify opportunities to meet the local need for development by providing:

A settlement strategy which has a 20 year horizon;

A related supply of land for industrial and business development, and the safeguarding of the national economic development priorities identified in the NPPF;

A minimum five year effective housing land supply in each of Housing Market Area, giving priority to the use of brownfield land;

A land bank for aggregate minerals of at least 10 years and the safeguarding of mineral deposits for future extraction;

A spatial strategy for dealing with waste management and disposal;

A zero-carbon society; and

A framework for the development of sports and recreational facilities, and open space.

C. Protect, enhance and create environmental resources & ecosystems including:

Habitats and species of national and international significance;

Prime land and other important agricultural land;

Landscapes of international, national and local importance;

The historic environment, including archaeology;

Coastal areas;

Other areas subject to significant change from climate change;

Woodland and forest resources; and

River catchments and watersheds, including areas liable to flooding.

Prepared 20th December 2011