Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Barratt Developments PLC


Barratt Developments Plc welcomes the simplification of the planning system intended by the National Planning Policy Framework.

The brevity of the guidance leaves it liable to differing interpretations which in turn could create disputes that result in delay – the antithesis of its intention.

The relationship of the NPPF to 160 documents yet to be reviewed, documents not apparently cancelled and the intended production of good practice guidance needs clarification to provide a complete picture of government planning policy.

Sustainable development should be more fully defined.

Further guidance on the operation of the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development needs to be set out to provide a clear position for decision making and to reduce disputes.

The importance of the development plan is supported and so it is imperative that the tests of soundness are fully expressed so that unsound plans are not brought forward and the current frustratingly slow coverage of local plans is perpetuated.


1. This submission is made on behalf of Barratt Developments Plc who trade under the names of Barratt Homes/David Wilson Homes, Ward Homes and Wilson Bowden Developments.

2. Barratt is Britain’s best known house builder and has sold over 300,000 new homes around the country and is one of the leaders in terms of low carbon design, urban regeneration and social housing provision, in addition to its mainstream market housing activities.

3. The Company’s results for the year ending 30 June 2011 showed we completed almost 11,200 dwellings despite the challenging economic background of which 23.5% were social housing. The Company is building on over 375 sites in England, Wales and Scotland. It re-entered the land market in 2009 and has an owned land bank of about 47,900 plots. The Company also holds about 11,000 acres of strategic land whereby sites are pursued for allocation in the development plan system before a planning application is made.

4. The Company’s activities cover the whole of England and last year had approved 106 planning applications covering almost 11,000 dwellings. In terms of planning activity the Company is one of the leading participants in the country with a breadth of experience in terms of geography and complexity of issues.

5. Therefore, the Company has a major interest in the operation of the planning system and thereby the content of the National Planning Policy Framework.

6. The Company welcomes that the Government intention that the National Planning Policy Framework to be a simplification of the planning system in order to deliver prosperity in a fair and responsible manner. Against this background, the Company wishes to ensure it operates so that it can efficiently increase the delivery of development.

7. The Company’s main interests relate to development planning and development management in relation to housing and business issues. Other issues such as transport, design, sustainable communities, Green Belt, climate change and the natural and historic environments are of relevance insofar as they inter-relate to the Company’s main issues.

8. In submitting this evidence, there has been a deliberate emphasis on its general principles rather than detailed wording. Comments on detailed wording will be made separately into the ongoing consultation by DCLG.

Sufficiency of the Guidance

9. The Company support the production of national guidance which is clear, succinct and readily understood. However, its brevity could lead to the ability to interpret its contents differently and so create dispute and delay – the antithesis of its intention.

10. In this context it is relevant to ask:

(a)Are there other documents to be produced?

(b)What other key documents that are not intended to be withdrawn need to be read with the NPPF?

(c)Are there lessons to be learned from the existence of NPPF equivalents in Wales and Scotland?

Other Documents

11. The impact assessment that accompanies the Draft NPPF says that there will be a review of 160 other documents to determine what should be retained and that in the future “good practice guidance would be developed and owned by relevant external bodies, rather than being specified centrally”.

12. So it is clear the picture is not yet complete and that uncertainty will remain. Even when some of the additional documentation is produced it is uncertain if this “good practice” would be official government policy or just the wishes of a lobby group. This Company considers it is essential that the Government should have ownership of core documents irrespective of the body that initiated their preparation. Indeed the preparation of the NPPF provides a good example of a reasonable way forward. At the outset views were canvassed broadly, then a group of experts were invited to pull a proposal together; the Government considered that and published the draft NPPF accordingly.

13. The consultation document on the NPPF lists those policy documents which are intended to be cancelled. As noted above this leaves a lot yet to be decided. Whilst it is not relevant to try to list all these documents, the retention, or not, of some are fundamental to the understanding of the NPPF. Given that compliance with the NPPF has at the heart of government planning policy, such fundamentals need to be resolved.

14. This Company has concerns about three documents in particular:

(a)The Planning System: General Principles which accompanies PPS1 (2005)

(b)Delivering Affordable Housing, which accompanies PPS3 (2006)

(c)Guidance on Information Requirements and Validation (2010)

15. The Planning System document sets out the fundamental rules under which the system operates, if these are to continue or be amended the NPPF should say so accordingly. The relationship of this document to the Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development is particularly relevant.

16. Delivering Affordable Housing sets out a range of important rules to establish an affordable housing policy in the absence of Circular 6/98 which was cancelled by PPS3. The NPPF reduces affordable housing guidance to a single bullet point and a definition in the glossary. This appears insufficient for such an important subject and if Delivering Affordable Housing is not to be retained then an alternative policy document must be provided.

17. The validation document covers some 39 pages and is a key matter for submitting planning applications. The NPPF reduces this to one paragraph which is not in conflict with the validation document but given the key important function of that document at least a cross reference or footnote should have been provided.

18. Given that the NPPF is not a complete statement of government policy and is to be supplemented, it is relevant to consider which areas of policy need more detail. This Company considers these are:

(a)The constitution of an evidence base for local plans.

(b)The definition of viability and deliverability.

(c)The production of neighbourhood plans.

19. The NPPF makes reference to local plans being based upon “adequate, up-to-date and relevant evidence”. This is a welcome statement but in the absence of clear supporting guidance, this intention could be interpreted in a variety of ways. In the case of the housing requirement, the Company would say that this should be based upon the national projections and where it is proposed to deviate from these, the rationale for deviation should be explained and so be subject to examination.

20. The NPPF indicates a retention of the Strategic Housing Land Availability and Housing Market Assessments which is welcome, subject to some detailed amendments, but a context for local decision making needs to be established.

21. Similarly, evidence in respect of the quantum and location of land for business and to justify the need to retain and provide additional green spaces are essential to create a balanced plan capable of conforming to a Strategic Environmental Assessment. This is crucial to enable a plan to be considered “sound”.

22. The NPPF rightly raises the need to ensure viability and deliverability and this Company strongly believes this should be a central plank of planning policy. Without viable development, nothing happens. Consequently, this welcome reference in the NPPF needs to be supported by a clear assessment of what is considered viable and how this should be demonstrated. It cannot be left that in a Local Plan Inquiry the planning authority to say one thing, the developers/land owners another and the Inspector left to arbitrate. This appears to be the position in relation to the emerging Community Infrastructure Levy inquiries and it is unsatisfactory. At its best the plan making system is not quick and the consequences of decisions are not seen for years ahead. It will be too late for an inadequate assessment of viability to result in a lack of delivery to be realised some years later. Government policy is based upon increasing delivery and so this key element needs to be set out.

23. The concept of neighbourhood plans is introduced by the Localism Bill and so it is reasonable to look to the NPPF for guidance about their operative detail. Unfortunately, the four short paragraphs that relate to neighbourhood plans leave a lot of unanswered questions. Given that such plans could be prepared by a small group of people without professional expertise then it is essential that they have sufficient guidance to ensure their outputs do not result in unnecessary conflict and their proposals are viable and implementable. Concern has been expressed in the Committee Stage in the House of Lords about the legitimacy and operation of a neighbourhood forum, especially where they are not currently constituted as parishes. Whilst the Government may be confident that the provisions within the Bill cover these issues, it is essential that such bodies have an effective operating document for their activities. The NPPF as is stands falls short of that requirement.

Lessons from Wales and Scotland

24. The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have their own national planning policy statements – Planning Policy Wales and Scottish Planning Policy. It is reasonable to look at these to see if they offer a better way of succinctly setting out planning policy.

25. Planning Policy Wales covers 212 pages and certainly presents more detail and explanation than the NPPF. However, each chapter is cross referenced to a large number of other documents and so it acts more as a central reference point rather than a complete statement of policy. As such it is probably not in keeping with the Government’s intention for the NPPF.

26. Scottish Planning Policy at 54 pages is much more succinct but because of its presentational style it is probably about 50% more words than the NPPF. The Scottish version has a few key cross references to other documents and presents a fuller picture of planning policy than the current NPPF. This Company considers that the Scottish version has much to offer as a model of the appropriate balance of being succinct whilst giving sufficient detail.

Conclusion on Sufficiency

27. This Company would conclude that the NPPF as it stands is not a complete document sufficient to fulfil its intended purpose nor should it be regarded as a complete expression of government planning policy. Apart from the need for it to clarify its relationship to other documents, of itself it requires expansion in other key areas, particularly:

(a)The definition of sustainable development.

(b)The operation of the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development.

(c)The tests of soundness, including the role of the Inspectorate and the Secretary of State.

28. This Company considers that there is a significant danger that the intention of the NPPF to avoid confusion and delay and so results in hindering growth and not helping communities shape development. This danger stems from the brevity of the document leading to various interpretations and thereby outcomes.

29. This, in turn, would lead to disputes being resolved by appeal or through the courts. This would be a wholly unsatisfactory outcome.

30. Already it is evident that lobby groups see the phrase “grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date” as a threat resulting in uncontrolled development. This Company regard that as a misrepresentation as it ignores the established basis of planning decisions being made on the basis of material considerations. However, this misrepresentation is fuelled by a lack of definition of “out of date”, a clear restatement of planning principles and a substantial definition of sustainability to better understand the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development

31. The NPPF defines sustainable development in one sentence at paragraph 9. This sits in contrast to the existing PPS1 which sets out the policy of Planning for Sustainable Development over 18 paragraphs covering 6 pages. Whilst it is understood that reducing the extent of guidance is a key objective, this is such a fundamental issue that more explanation is required. In the committee stage of the Localism Bill in the House of Lords, amendments were put forward to include the central position of sustainable development in planning within the Bill. This debate took place before the publication of the draft NPPF and the Government gave assurances about its commitment to sustainable development. This Company considers that as it stands the NPPF falls short of giving a sufficient definition or clarity that it is the fundamental consideration.

32. The Company considers it is right that the NPPF is the place for defining sustainable development rather than in the Bill. Therefore, it is considered that the NPPF should be amended to provide a fuller explanation of sustainability using much of the text of PPS1, paragraphs 1 to 13. A recommended text is appended.

Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development

33. The Company welcomes the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development and like the Government see it as both a “carrot and a stick” to both plan making and decision taking to produce a more positive planning process.

34. However, this Company is concerned that there is still uncertainty about its effectiveness. The presumption is said to operate when plans are “out of date” but it is unclear what qualifies as out of date. All plans have to contain the presumption as a starting point and have clear policies as to its local application. This appears to result local variations to a definition of the presumption. If it is to be the “golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking” then it is a matter of national interest that it is consistently defined and applied.

35. Whilst additional guidance in the NPPF would help, (although the Company in evidence to the Public Committee on the Localism Bill stated that the presumption should be on the face of the Bill and still maintain that position) the essential minimum requirement should be a statement on behalf of the Secretary of State to provide a basis for his own decision making and that of the Inspectorate in dealing with appeals.


36. The Company agrees that the certainty provided by having adopted coverage of Local Plans is beneficial. Therefore, it is essential that these plans come forward quickly but also that they are found sound so that they can be used for decision making and are not delayed.

37. The tests of soundness set out in the NPPF are repeated from those which already exist in PPS12 with the added test of being “positively prepared”. However, this raises some confusion in that it refers to also meeting “the unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is practical to do so…”. Clearly this has a cross reference to the Duty to Cooperate but as it stands even with the proposed amendment to the Localism Bill, there is no apparent sanction if the Duty is not complied with. Given the wording of this test those who fail in their Duty by not accommodating their neighbours needs may justify their position on the basis that it is not practical. Thus the plan can be found sound but needs fail to be met; this is an unsatisfactory position.

38. The Company feels that the NPPF should provide an explanation of the importance of the Duty to Cooperate, as a matter of planning principle and reasonable behaviour, and so the implication of not fulfilling this Duty to be set out. The Company feel this would be to clarify that not only that the Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development would operate but that in the event of subsequent refusal of proposals and a successful appeal, an award of costs would be automatic.

39. The tests of soundness fail to refer to the need to comply with European legislation, specifically the need for a Strategic Environmental Assessment. Indeed the need for such an Assessment is not referred to in this section of NPPF except in reference to neighbourhood plans. This is an important omission and this section of the NPPF should be amended to include this requirement. In addition, the Company considers it is essential the Government issues guidance on the requirements for a satisfactory SEA and cross references that accordingly.

40. The importance of viability and deliverability is referred to elsewhere in this section of NPPF but does not clearly follow through as a test of soundness. Therefore, although there is a requirement for plan makers to assess cumulative impacts of policies (though welcome of itself) the outcome of such assessments will not prevent an unviable plan being adopted. The Company considers that the need for plan to be assessed as viable should be a test of soundness.

41. This Company considers that the tests of soundness need revisiting to ensure that implementable plans which meet all needs in a balanced and sustainable way is achieved.

42. Within this context the role of an Inquiry Inspector is crucial. However, the revised Local Planning Regulations, which are also the subject of consultation, makes a reference to Inspectors only being able “to recommend modifications to overcome these issues (conflicts with national policy and the regulatory process) if the Council ask them to”. This seems rather bizarre and the NPPF does nothing to set out the procedure. Clearly, the tests of soundness in the NPPF will mean nothing if in finding a plan unsound, the Inspector is not requested to recommend modifications and the plan goes ahead unchanged. The result is likely to be a legal challenge which is unhelpful in achieving the desired objective of a strategy for a particular area.

43. Similarly, the role of the Secretary of State in this context is unclear. There is a reference to a certificate of conformity (for plans) with the framework but this does not say from who and it implies it is optional. If it is optional, what is its value?

44. Adopted plans have a weighty status in decision making and so it is important that they are soundly based, fulfil government objectives and produced in a timely fashion. It is essential that the Regulatory Framework which covers this area is clarified and reflected in the NPPF.


45. NPPF represents a major change in the way in which government planning policy is expressed. The production of this draft has been a significant undertaking and its general direction of travel is most welcome. However, this Company considers that the document as it stands is an incomplete statement of government planning policy with some crucial elements for its successful operation missing.

46. Whilst these elements are missing uncertainty prevails and despite the recent guidance issued by the Inspectorate, planning applications cannot be pursued with confidence. Given that current applications are at a historic low set against an increasingly desperate need for development, the total picture of government guidance needs assembling as a matter of urgency.

47. The objectives of the Government to promote sustainable growth should not be frustrated for the want of complete guidance. Uncertainty, delay and conflict serve no one. Therefore it is important that the NPPF be clarified in several important aspects so that it is indisputably fully fit for purpose.

Barratt Developments PLC

6 September 2011


1. Sustainable Development

1. Planning shapes the places where people live and work and the country we live in. Good planning ensures that we get the right development, in the right place and at the right time. It makes a positive difference to people’s lives and helps to deliver homes, jobs, and better opportunities for all, whilst protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment, and conserving the countryside and open spaces that are vital resources for everyone. But poor planning can result in a legacy for current and future generations of run-down town centres, unsafe and dilapidated housing, crime and disorder, and the loss of our finest countryside to development.

2. Good planning is a positive and proactive process, operating in the public interest through a system of plan preparation and control over the development and use of land.

3. Sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning. At the heart of sustainable development is the simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for future generations. A widely used definition was drawn up by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

4. Planning should facilitate and promote sustainable and inclusive patterns or urban and rural development by:

Making suitable land available for development in line with economic, social and environmental objectives to improve people’s quality of life;

Contributing to sustainable economic development;

Protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment, the quality and character of the countryside, and existing communities;

Ensuring high quality development through good and inclusive design, and the efficient use of resources; and,

Ensuring that development supports existing communities and contributes to the creation of safe, sustainable, liveable and mixed communities with good access to jobs and key services for all members of the community.

5. This plan-led system, and the certainty and predictability it aims to provide, is central to planning and plays the key role in integrating sustainable development objectives.

6. The Government set out four aims for sustainable development in its 1999 strategy. These are:

Social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;

Effective protection of the environment;

The prudent use of natural resources; and,

The maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

These aims should be pursued in an integrated way through a sustainable, innovative and productive economy that delivers high levels of employment, and a just society that promotes social inclusion, sustainable communities and personal well being, in ways that protect and enhance the physical environment and optimise resource and energy use.

7. The following key principles should be applied to ensure that development plans and decisions taken on planning application contribute to the delivery of sustainable development:

(a)Development plans should ensure that sustainable development is pursued in an integrated manner, in line with the principles for sustainable development set out in the UK strategy.

(b)A spatial planning approach should be at the heart of planning for sustainable development.

(c)Planning policies should promote high quality inclusive design in the layout of new developments and individual buildings in terms of function and impact, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development. Design which fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area should not be accepted.

(d)Development plans should also contain clear, comprehensive and inclusive access policies – in terms of both location and external physical access. Such policies should consider people’s diverse needs and aim to break down unnecessary barriers and exclusions in a manner that benefits the entire community.

(e)Community involvement is an essential element in delivering sustainable development and creating sustainable and safe communities. In developing the vision for their areas, planning authorities should ensure that communities are able to contribute to ideas about how that vision can be achieved, have the opportunity to participate in the process of drawing up the vision, strategy and specific plan policies, and to be involved in development proposals.

Prepared 20th December 2011