Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Confederation of UK Coal Producers (CoalPro)

CoalPro strongly supports the general thrust of the draft NPPF in the form of a general presumption in favour of sustainable development. CoalPro also supports the Government’s objectives in reducing the number and volume of planning policy and guidance statements but has some reservations.

These reservations relate to the need to use the new Framework to minimise areas of conflict and the potential for misinterpretation as far as possible and are detailed in the responses to the Committee’s questions set out below.

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?

In general terms, the guidance is sufficient and local communities will still have at least the same power as they do now. However, there remains a lack of clarity in respect of some of the detail. For example, the relationship between neighbourhood plans and local plans, and the extent to which the former can over-ride the latter, or indeed over-ride the Framework itself, is unclear. Neighbourhood plans offer the prospect of greater power to local communities but this must be exercised in a positive and responsible way. Neighbourhood plans cannot be allowed to simply block certain types of sustainable development such that it either does not take place or is merely moved elsewhere with no good reason. It is unclear whether neighbourhood plans can have any role in minerals planning and, if so, what it is.

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?

Taking the second part of the question first, if a development is “sustainable”, then there is no reason why it should not take place and balance and workability are effectively ensured. The key, therefore, lies in the first part of the question as to whether the definition in the document is appropriate.

The definition is fairly comprehensive. It would, however, benefit from the addition of the proximity principle, ie that activity should take place as close to its market as possible, other things being equal, to avoid unnecessary cost and emissions associated with transport.

CoalPro is concerned about one aspect of the draft Framework where there appears to be a contradiction. Para. 106 refers to a presumption against the extraction of coal. This is a legacy from previous guidance. However, placed in the context of a general presumption in favour of sustainable development, this does not sit easily and it might be read that coal extraction is not sustainable development. When well over half the coal used in the UK is imported, it is clear that coal extraction in the UK complies fully with the definition of sustainable development. Para. 106 should therefore be redrafted, for example, along the lines of “the extraction of coal should only take place if…..”.

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

Yes. The issue is whether the rest of the document adheres to these provisions. CoalPro has concerns that the fifth bullet point, related to the appropriate protection of environmental and heritage assets, is not properly followed elsewhere.

The document refers in a number of places to the Birds and Habitats Directives (eg para. 16, para. 170) and states that development affecting sites protected by these Directives would not be sustainable. However, both of these Directives expressly do not prohibit development and the references should be redrafted in line with these Directives to avoid gold plating.

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?

CoalPro is unclear as to what this question relates to. If it relates to major infrastructure projects under National Planning Policy Statements, the relationship is clear but would perhaps benefit from being spelled out further.

On related matters, we are concerned that it is unclear in the draft Framework as to what is policy (ie “shall”) and what is guidance (ie “should”) and feels that this distinction needs to be made more clearly throughout.

Whilst welcoming the doing away with voluminous guidance, we are concerned that there is not a resulting vacuum in certain areas. Where guidance provides specific well-founded, technical advice, which has come to be relied on, its absence could create an area of conflict that does not presently exist. An example is the specific technical advice on dust, noise, slope stability, etc in MPS2. Government should consider the need for specific technical supplementary guidance of this kind.

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

We are not certain that this is sufficiently robust in the case of minerals. First the section on minerals (para. 100 et seq) should contain a statement that minerals can only be extracted where they are found. This is a fundamental determinant of spatial planning for minerals.

It follows from this that minerals, which are widely used everywhere and essential for sustainable development, have to be extracted in limited locations and transported to the points of use. We feel that the “duty to cooperate” will not adequately deal with this fundamental issue.

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

We can only speak for our area of expertise. Generally, we feel that the policies do properly reflect the available evidence.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011