Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from K ent C ounty C ouncil

Kent County Council (KCC) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the questions set out by the CLG Select Committee on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Our comments are as follows:

1. Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

Sufficient guidance

Clarity and objectives

1.1 The policies of the NPPF are generally clear, and the document succeeds in the Government’s aim that planning should become more user-friendly and accessible, so that it is easier for members of the public to have a meaningful say in planning decisions.

1.2 KCC has carefully considered its objectives for Kent, working with the District and Borough Councils and others, and its Medium Term Plan “Bold Steps for Kent”, has three headline aims:

to help the Kent economy to grow

to put the citizen in control, as individuals, local communities or through their democratic representatives.

to tackle disadvantage, by being a County of opportunity.

The NPPF is welcomed as it gives support for these principles.

1.3 However, the NPPF has been subject to widely different interpretations and speculation about the impact that it will have on planning decisions and development. Clarification is therefore needed.

1.4 Para 14 includes two clauses that could give rise to particular concern in local communities. These are the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” and the stipulation that local planning authorities should “grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date”.

1.5 These policies, taken with the second principle in para 19, that “the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’” could be seen as undermining the first principle that “planning should be genuinely plan led”. This concern exists, not withstanding the NPPF makes clear that these polices would not apply if “the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.” (para 14).

1.6 The NPPF therefore needs to say more about the balance to be struck, and the circumstances in which development might be approved that is not foreseen by a local plan, and may not be supported by the local community. The intended balance can be drawn from the Framework, but the strands need to be brought together. For example, it states that “objectively assessed development needs should be met” and removes the target that 60% of new dwellings should be located on previously developed land. It requires a five year rolling supply of residential land and there should be choice of deliverable sites over the plan period.

1.7 However, it must be clear that there is no blank cheque for development. Protection for Green Belts, designated landscapes, habitats and heritage remain. Development of poor design can be refused, remote development is discouraged and local amenity is to be protected. Green space within urban areas is to be protected and the policy of at least 30 dwellings to the hectare has been removed.

Planning for housing

1.8 The South East Plan provides a target of 139,400 dwellings in Kent and Medway to 2026, and this number is the result of dialogue with the local authorities. Some local planning authorities have yet to adopt their local plans but the combined outcome of published plans and the ranges under consideration would match this number or exceed it. The exact number will change as District and Borough Councils make progress with their local plans, but it demonstrates that local communities will take a responsible approach and come forward with substantial development proposals.

1.9 The proportion of new dwellings completed on previously developed land in Kent rose to 82% in 2008-09 but dropped back to 75% in 2009-10 and may now have past its peak:

1.10 Even so there are planning consents for 48,200 new dwellings in Kent, 68% of which are on previously developed land. Land for a further 22,600 dwellings is allocated in local plans, 80% of which are on such sites.

1.11 The use of brown land on this scale in Kent is crucial to reducing development on green land, and regenerating town centres and urban areas. These aims should continue to be an important part of planning policy in the new Framework, and the use of previously developed land should be preferred where it is viable and offers the best planning solution.

1.12 However, the towns of Kent include growth points where development is mainly on green sites, and former industrial areas which are to be transformed by new uses on previously developed land. The national target for at least 60% of new housing to be located on previously developed land was a “one size fits all” policy that now needs to be replaced with a more flexible approach.

1.13 Local planning authorities should strike the balance between development on previously developed and green fields, tailoring a solution for each urban and rural settlement. It is important that these judgements take account of local services, and the quality of the landscape and countryside surrounding settlements. The optimum size planned for settlements should also maintain their character and the amenity of existing communities.

1.14 National planning policy should make clear to developers and owners of previously developed land that they should bring forward planned development. If not the development opportunity may be lost, especially if major investment in infrastructure and services are also required, and local planning authorities may have to look to alternative sites.

1.15 The achievement of a suitable mix of new dwellings is very important, and affordable housing can be the most important additional cost that developers are asked to meet. The draft Framework emphasises the viability of development in drawing up local plans, and the charges to be set for Community Infrastructure Levy are to be based on the local viability of different land uses. The draft Framework requires local planning authorities to consider the cumulative effect of national and local standards on viability.

1.16 This may mean that the scope for affordable housing will be reduced, especially when market conditions are relatively weak. It will be necessary for local authorities to take a flexible view of CIL charges and planning obligations, both geographically and over time. The Government can help the delivery of affordable housing by clarifying the role of CIL and planning obligations in providing for social housing.

Local plans

1.17 The new policy Framework will without doubt provide a strong incentive for local planning authorities to adopt and keep up to date a local plan that conforms with its policies. However, our focus in Kent is on the delivery of proposals that are delayed by the need for infrastructure and a stronger market, and we would not wish to see a rush to review local plans that have been recently adopted. Therefore if local plans are referred to the Government for certification as consistent with the Framework, we ask Government to indicate the aspects that need to be updated but to ensure that broadly sound plans are not undermined.


1.18 Enforcement of minerals and waste planning decisions is an important matter for the County Council and local communities. However, there is no mention of planning enforcement in the draft Framework, and the removal of established and detailed policy and guidance will cause uncertainty at Planning Inquiries and may give rise to a more adversarial approach. If local planning authorities develop their own principles the industry will encounter inconsistent approaches across boundaries. The Government should ensure that a consistent policy framework for planning enforcement is maintained.

1.19 KCC’s response to the consultation on the draft NPPF will refer to other area of planning policy that it feels would benefit from greater clarity, or where valuable principles may be lost.

Local communities power over planning decisions

1.20 The Localism and Decentralisation Bill includes provision for the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies such as the South East Plan, and as a result local planning authorities will determine their own dwelling numbers. The Bill also introduces the power for communities to prepare Neighbourhood Plans and to grant Neighbourhood Development Orders, and will establish Community Right to Build Orders. These measures are anticipated in the draft Framework.

1.21 It is important that local communities are clear about the scope of their new planning powers and that they are seen in perspective. The draft Framework makes clear that Neighbourhood Plans are not to be used to prevent development, and it states that neighbourhoods should:

develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for housing and economic development

plan positively to support local development, with the power to promote more development than is set out in the Local Plan.

1.22 However, it is not clear how Neighbourhood Plans could sensibly proceed in advance of the adoption of a local plan if consistency is to be achieved, or if they will be suited to taking forward without delay the large scale developments identified in local plans.

1.23 The draft Framework also states that neighbourhoods should:

identify opportunities to use neighbourhood development orders to grant planning permission for developments that are consistent with an adopted neighbourhood plan. (paras 17 and 50)

1.24 Neighbourhoods will need to understand their responsibilities to be fair and objective in their plan making and decisions, and not to promote particular interests at the expense of others, as land owners or residents. The Government must ensure in the Regulations that the interests of all in the community are safeguarded.

1.25 The great majority of planning decisions will remain with the local planning authority, and will be subject to existing consultation procedures. There are existing consultation processes for plan making and for development proposals, and increasingly opportunities are provided for engagement of the community in design and planning. These less formal processes may be more appropriate and involve less delay than the insertion of a new layer of plan making at the neighbourhood level.

2. Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

2.1 The definition of Sustainable Development in the draft Framework means using the planning system:

“to build a strong, responsive and competitive economy…to promote strong, vibrant and healthy communities...and to protect and enhance our natural and historic environment, use natural resources prudently and mitigate and adapt to climate change” (para 10).

2.2 This statement is critical to the clarity of the document and its interpretation. KCC supports such a broad approach, which underpins the strategies that we are pursuing for housing, transport, the economy and the environment.

3. Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

3.1 KCC supports the concept of ten core planning principles as set out at paragraph 19, and considers them to be clearly expressed, subject to the reservation in paragraph 1.5 above.

3.2 The principles do not however recognise the importance of building homes and communities, rather than simply building housing estates. Nor do they fully recognise the importance of ensuring that new housing is provided with infrastructure and services. These are important principles in “Bold Steps for Kent”, alongside choice and affordability of housing, and we encourage their adoption as core principles in the Framework.

4. Is the relationship between the NPPF and other national statements of planning-related policy sufficiently clear? Does the NPPF serve to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments?

4.1 To ensure that the planning system can be understood by local communities, the Framework should list the National Policy Statements that will form part of Government’s overall planning policy. It should state clearly the process that will apply to determining nationally significant infrastructure projects, and summarise the types of development that this includes. The Framework then needs to provide guidance on how local planning authorities should provide for smaller scale infrastructure not covered by National Policy Statements and the procedures of the Infrastructure Planning Commission and its successor.

4.2 The Framework should also provide more guidance on how Local Plans should address nationally significant infrastructure projects in the transition period, prior to the adoption of National Policy Statements.

4.3 The County Council as minerals and waste planning authority for Kent notes that the draft Framework includes no policies for waste, and that these will be provided by the National Waste Management Plan for England. We believe that the National Waste Management Plan will consist of a number of documents, and these and the timing of the Plan should be clarified. Similarly the content of the proposed Aviation Framework and the relationship with the Natural Environment White Paper should be clarified.

4.4 These are examples of the need for consistent policy across Departments. We urge the Government to maintain its commitment to a simplified and transparent approach to policy, and this should be set out in the Framework.

5. Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

5.1 The Framework requires consultation with County Councils in two tier areas on housing and “relevant issues”, and with “other authorities” on infrastructure including energy and flooding. It states that “Local authorities should work with neighbouring authorities and transport providers to develop strategies for the provision of viable infrastructure necessary to support sustainable economic growth.” This is welcome recognition of the need for cooperation to secure the delivery of development.

5.2 The Framework also requires local planning authorities to plan for “Integrated Coastal Zone Management across local authority and land/sea boundaries”, and “Planning policies should take account of the need to plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries”. It refers to Local Plan “strategies” for the economy, “robust and comprehensive” policies for design, “proactive strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change” and “a strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment”. These are all matters in which County Councils have expertise and which can be more economically provided by the two tiers of local government working together.

5.3 The Framework also states that:

“National incentives and relevant local charges will help ensure local communities benefit directly from the increase in development that this Framework seeks to achieve. The revenue generated from development will help sustain local services, fund infrastructure and deliver environmental enhancement” (para 18)

5.4 The immediate priority in Kent is to fund infrastructure that will enable planned sites to proceed. KCC provides services such as highways and education that are critical to the implementation of development, and enable the creation of sustainable communities. The Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus do not guarantee that upper tier authorities such as KCC will receive these new sources of revenue proportionate to their responsibilities.

5.5 KCC provides highways and schools and these are the services most likely to determine whether development can proceed. KCC also provides youth services, adult care and libraries that are important to the creation of communities. Over the past nine years at least £148 million of developer contributions have been secured by KCC for schools, community facilities, and other services excluding transport, plus land for 16 schools. The majority of these contributions have been secured using Section 106 agreements with developers.

5.6 Section 106 agreements are best suited to fund infrastructure directly serving development sites, but in future they may be used only on a restricted basis alongside the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). In two-tier areas such as Kent, District and Borough Councils will set the charges for CIL, collect the revenue and determine how it is used. Upper tier authorities will need to seek agreement with local planning authorities that CIL revenues will be made available to fund the services essential to bring forward and support development. This is a major concern and is creating uncertainty.

5.7 The duty to cooperate is welcome but it does not address this potential gap in the delivery of strategic development. The Government must ensure that there are effective mechanisms to channel revenues to priority infrastructure projects and services if “larger than local” planning is to be achieved. In this way, providing the infrastructure necessary to allow permitted development to proceed would lead to an immediate stimulus to the economy.

6. Are the policies contained in the NPPF sufficiently evidence-based?

6.1 An apparent gap in the evidence on which the draft Framework is based is the lack of recognition that the development market is not strong at present. The need for support in funding major infrastructure to enable planned sites to proceed is now critical.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011