Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from E ast Midlands Councils (EMC)

EMC fully supports the need to streamline and simplify national planning policy. However, the Draft NPPF will need to be amended for it to become “fit for purpose”. In particular:

Transitional Arrangements: The Government should “phase in” the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” to allow councils more time to develop their local plans – as a minimum to March 2013. There also needs to be greater clarity on the process and timescales for the proposed RSS revocation.

Conformity Issues: The process for “certification” of existing plans as being in conformity with the NPPF should be clarified and should not be used to undermine the “plan-led” system.

Housing Delivery: Planning authorities already approve over 80% of housing applications and there is currently permission for 85,000 new homes in the East Midlands. Whilst it is important for local housing provision policies to be well evidenced, the Government should give greater priority to addressing the financial barriers to increasing housing delivery.

Housing Land Supply: The NPPF should clarify that the 20% addition to the 5 year land supply will not have the long term effect of increasing housing provision above levels set in the local plan.

Affordable Housing: Greater efforts should be made by Government to address the long term under-supply of affordable housing. The NPPF should allow the continuation of “rural exceptions sites” policies, which have proved successful in the East Midlands.

Employment Land Supply: The NPPF should allow councils to maintain well evidenced employment land designations throughout the economic cycle.

Brownfield Land & Regeneration: The NPPF should have a greater focus on regeneration issues and be clearer on the priority to re-use brownfield land.

Neighbourhood Planning: There are concerns about the democratic legitimacy of the proposed “neighbourhood forums” and what is actually meant by “general conformity” with the local plans – the current policy advice appears contradictory. Neighbourhood plans should not undermine the primacy of local plans.

Role of PINS: The role of PINS in determining planning decisions should be limited to testing legal issues and matters of fact.

A number of other more detailed comments are set out in the accompanying Annex.



Other National Policy

The consultation document states that the NPPF will cancel all existing PPSs and PPGs, but also two Circulars and 15 letters to Chief Planning Officers (CPOs). However, this still leaves 34 Circulars and 36 CPO letters apparently extant according to the DCLG web-site. It will be important that the final NPPF is clear not just about those Circulars/CPO letters that have been cancelled, but the status and purpose of those that remain. A full list of National Policy Statements for infrastructure should also be included.

Understanding the Collective Impact of the NPPF

Whilst is accepted that the NPPF does not constitute a plan or programme under the EU SEA Directive and therefore does not require a formal appraisal under the SEA regulations, it is designed to have a powerful impact on local planning decisions particularly in the absence of an adopted local plan. As with National Policy Statements for major infrastructure, some form of “appraisal of sustainability” should be undertaken on the impact of the document as a whole—not just the highlighted policy changes set out in the accompanying “impact assessment”. This would help ensure greater internal coherence (the key benefit of combining previously separate policy statements into one document), and highlight the extent to which the Government’s aspirations for the NPPF can realistically be met through current policies.

Infrastructure and Viability

The NPPF requires councils to assess infrastructure requirements and to plan for timely delivery to facilitate development, making use of planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy. It also requires that the collective “burden” on development should allow developers to make an “acceptable” return on investment and that infrastructure requirements should enable development to take place “throughout the economic cycle”. It will be important for developers to proceed on an “open book” basis. However councils and local communities may take a different view as to what is an “acceptable” return. Nor can requirements for essential infrastructure be obviated by economic conditions outside the control of the planning system to address. Further consideration should be given to the approach to viability set out in the Draft NPPF to ensure that development remains sustainable.

Definitions and Terminology

The NPPF is a significantly shorter than the collective length of the documents it will replace, resulting in a general reduction in detail and specificity. As a result, the draft includes a number of qualifications to policy statements such as “where appropriate”, “where practicable”, “proportionate” and “normally”, with little discussion as to how and in what circumstances these terms would apply. Whilst this may be intended to give flexibility to decision makers, it will also introduce a further element of uncertainty into the planning system until precedents are set through EiPs, the appeals process or in some cases by the courts. As a result, there will still be a need for additional technical guidance to be produced on different aspects of the NPPF, if not by Government then by other appropriate bodies.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development (PFSD)

The draft NPPF requires planning authorities to approve proposals that accord with the local plan without delay, and grant permission where the plan is silent or out of date:

“…unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies of this Framework taken as whole”.

Taken at face value, this would appear to indicate that the only basis for taking a planning decision will be the local plan and the NPPF. However, this is clearly inconsistent with Section 70(2) of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990, which requires to local planning authorities to have regard to “other material considerations” as well as the plan. The NPPF will be a strong material consideration - but not the only one. There will be many other considerations that could be material to a given decision. To avoid confusion, the section describing the PFSD should be redrafted to fully reflect the legal basis for making planning decisions. Leaving aside legal issues, on a practical level it may be very difficult to prove that any individual proposal would significantly conflict with the NPFF, given the breadth and generality of the current draft. Whether or not this is the intention of Government, the proposed primacy of the NPPF when the plan is silent will place pressure for local planning authorities to include plan policies that cover all eventualities.

Natural Environment

The draft NPPF appears less certain than PPS7 or the East Midlands Regional Plan about the importance attached to National Park Landscape and fails to refer to the continued relevance of the National Park Vision and Circular 2010 on National Parks. Without a stronger statement to clarify these points, there is a danger that the NPPF will not maintain the carefully developed approach towards sustainable development in the Peak District National Park. The Government should look carefully at detailed points made by the Peak District National Park Authority which aim to make delivery of the NPPF more compatible with statutory national park purposes.

Greenbelts and Green-wedges

There are a number of proposed changes to greenbelt policy which, whilst individually minor, could in combination have a significant local impact in parts of the East Midlands. In addition, there appears to be no specific reference in the NPPF to the designation of “green wedges”, which have been used successfully as a flexible alternative to greenbelts for controlling patterns of development in a number of areas in the East Midlands (or example Leicester and Lincoln).


The Draft NPPF appears broadly consistent with the approach taken in PPG 13 (Transport), apart from the removal of maximum car parking standards for new development. However the draft states that:

“…development should not be prevented or refused on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe…”

Traffic generation is one of the major concerns stated by local communities in opposition to new development. Whilst it may be un-realistic for new development to improve existing traffic problems, it is surely reasonable to expect future conditions not to be significantly worse once mitigation measures have been implemented. The test of “severe residual impact” should be reconsidered accordingly.


The Government is proposing not to specifically cover planning for waste in the NPPF, but instead to include relevant waste policies in a separate National Waste Plan at some later date. In the meantime, PPS10 on waste will remain. The logic behind this approach is not clear and it is likely to lead to a less coherent and “joined up” approach to waste planning. Waste is not an isolated issue, it is product of the activities addressed elsewhere in the NPPF and should be considered as part of an integrated policy approach.


The Government appears to be retaining the system of a managed supply of aggregates supported by aggregates working parties (AWPs). However, it is not clear if AWPs will remain “regional” (as they have been since they were established in the mid 1970s), or reflect some other geography. Nor is it clear if they will continue to be supported financially by DCLG as they have been to date. The draft NPPF states that mineral authorities should:

“ far as practical, ensure sufficient levels of permitted reserves are available from outside National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.”

This implies a lower level of protection for the Peak District National Park and Lincolnshire Wolds AONB compared to Policy 37 of the East Midlands Regional Plan, which requires a “progressive reduction” in minerals extraction from these areas. The NPPF should be amended to reflect the current regional approach and the requirements of Circular 2010 on National Parks.


The “sequential test” and the “exceptions test” should be given greater prominence in the final NPPF. It will be important for Government to give sufficient clarity, either through the NPPF itself or supporting technical documents, to enable the current agreement with the Association of British Insurers to provide insurance in flood-risk areas (which expires in July 2013), to be continued. Large areas of the East Midlands are affected by flood risk, including the Lincolnshire Coast and parts of all the region’s main urban areas.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011