Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies (London Forum)

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to your examination into whether the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) forms an adequate, clear and comprehensive framework of planning policy.

Background

The London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies (London Forum) is a charity established for 23 years operating as a federation of over 130 community and amenity groups and civic societies in the Greater London area representing more than 110,000 Londoners. London Forum responds on behalf of those members to consultations by Government and the GLA.

Trustees of London Forum and its members, who contributed to this evidence, have worked with their local planning authority (LPA) on local plan preparation, responded to planning applications and been involved in planning appeal inquiries over many years. They participated throughout the examination by Inspectors of the draft replacement London Plan between June and December 2010 at which existing national planning policy was reviewed and related to the policies of the London Plan.

Summary

1. London Forum has examined the draft NPPF and the associated Impact Assessment and finds that the new policy framework for England in the form published is badly worded and inconsistent in content. It changes the planning system to one in favour of almost any kind of development with the necessary safeguards for it to be sustainable development either omitted or weakened.

2. There is no vision for how urban and countryside areas should develop over the next 30 years. If the draft NPPF is implemented, major adverse impact would result to the living and working environment in those areas because it omits current policies for the best location of development.

3. The NPPF is a deregulation set of policies permitting harm that is contrary to the need to encourage development of the right type. It defines a new basis for decision making, contrary to the Government’s published aims for decentralisation and localism.

4. The Government’s insistence that the current planning system prevents development is not supported by the evidence of large numbers of granted approvals which have not been implemented.

5. With the aim that every person should understand it, the draft NPPF content has over simplified the present policies and omitted many of them. People who have to use the current planning system understand it and can work with it and could help to revise it with the support of your Committee and the Members of Parliament. That can happen only if Ministers are urged by MPs to be prepared to listen and cease criticising motives of contributors and declaring that they want to “win the battle”.

Key Points

The London Forum has the following specific concerns about the content of the draft NPPF document and numbers in brackets below refer to paragraphs in it.

It lacks any sense of place or place shaping or long term vision for planning, despite having a section heading of “Planning for places” (148).

The term “sustainable development” is not clearly or fully defined (10).

There is a lack of support for a plan-led emphasis on promoting the right development in the right place.

It states that the default answer to a planning application must be “Yes” (19), contrary to legal requirement for decisions to be based on an application’s conformance to development plan policies.

There is no policy requirement to reduce the need to travel. The placing of trip generating development where there is high transport accessibility is to be only “where practical” (83, 89, 92).

Prioritisation of some sites over others when there is a shortfall (PPS3) is omitted.

“Town centre first” policy of PPS4 has been weakened (78). Office development and business parks have been removed from the “town centre first” policy and not mentioned for their preferred locations.

Open and undesignated land protection has been reduced and the sequential approach to the disposal of open spaces in PPG17 has been removed (129).

“Special circumstances” for building on Green Belt Land (142) have not been defined.

Development under Community Right to Build is permitted on Green Belt land (145).

The application of the Sequential Test for avoiding flood risk (156) does not clarify how far beyond its borders a local authority is allowed to look for alternative sites.

The NPPF protects only those sites with the highest level of designation (166), eg SSSIs, contrary to the requirements of EU Directives and existing primary legislation such as that relating to National Parks.

The clear definition in PPS5 of the value of the different kinds of knowledge, understanding and relevance and enjoyment to be gained from historic localities and the historic built environment, their positive contribution and the implications of their loss have not been expressed in the NPPF (176).

The NPPF does not support the recent PPS5’s presumption in favour of the retention of heritage assets nor the need for developers to justify any harm caused to them (180, 183).

The current policy against large adverts on buildings and along trunk roads has been weakened in the draft NPPF (123).

The protection for employment sites for small businesses and start-ups has not been included (75).

There is no NPPF content for addressing inequality and achieving equal life chances for all, as in PPS1.

All local plans will have to be rewritten if policies do not “provide a clear indication of how a decision maker should react to a development proposal” (22) and have “clear policies that will guide how the presumption (in favour of sustainable development) will be applied locally.” (15).

Housing objectives (107 and 109) do not include locating homes in the most suitable locations, as in PPS3 paragraph 54.

The requirement has been removed for local authorities to negotiate affordable housing contributions with the developers of any scheme of more than 15 homes.

Land for growing food is not included as a requirement for related businesses, only “the needs of the food production industry” which could be just factory space for processing imported products (30).

The only mention of waterways is for transfer of minerals and aggregates (102). That omits current safeguarding of waterways’ facilities for other freight by water, for leisure use of rivers and canals and for transport on them. Local plan identification of infrastructure requirements (31) excludes facilities and infrastructure for such use of waterways. The protection of valued landscape (167) does not cover waterways.

There is no requirement when assessing planning applications in the vicinity of a World Heritage Site to take into consideration the Management Plans of those sites (188).

NPPF objectives for minerals (100) lack content for prudence, conservation of supplies and limits of the environment. There are no policies for mitigation of impact, including noise, traffic and views nor for appropriate aftercare of extraction sites.

The following responses are made to the Committee’s questions.

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?

No.

(i) The NPPF removes decision making from local elected representatives by proposing circumstances under which planning permission must be given. The default response to a planning application should be “yes” under the NPPF (19) which is illogical because it suggests a development should be approved even if unsuitable for the LPA and its communities.

(ii) In its prescriptive approach the NPPF limits scope for local decisions. It dictates how development management in a pre-determined manner will be specified within local policy definition (15, 22). That is not the purpose of a local plan. Approval should be given only in accordance with section 36(1) of the Planning and Compensation Act (2004): “If regard is to be had to the development plan for the purpose of any determination to be made under the planning Acts the determination must be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

(iii) In “Planning for places” the NPPF sets out (151) the reasons why a LPA should not refuse planning permission for “well-designed buildings”, rather than setting out the reasons why permission should be granted. This reverses the normal burden of proof and “well-designed” is subjective.

(iv) Even if a proposal impacts on a designated heritage asset, the LPA would have to show, in order to refuse planning permission, that it will cause material harm and that the harm is not outweighed by wider benefits. The NPPF fails to guide local planning authorities in that it does not support the recent PPS5’s presumption in favour of the retention of designated heritage asset and the need for developers to justify any harm caused to it (180). It replaces that presumption of retention of such an asset with the words “weight should be given to its conservation” (183). PPS5’s paragraph HE11.1 on enabling development should be restored.

(v) Planning permission has to be given if a plan is “absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.....unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” (14). The latter phrase is also in paragraphs 20, 110 and 165 and shifts the balance of decision making in favour of owners of land and developers. Such enforced granting of permission is not required by the NPPF to involve community consultation and that removes local people’s influence over planning decisions which was proposed in the Localism Bill.

(vi) Paragraph 39 of the NPPF requires local plans to ensure land can be “developed viably” and “provide acceptable returns to a willing landowner and willing developer”. Local plans and strategies are also to “take full account of relevant market and economic signals such as land prices”. It will be difficult for LPAs to base decisions on claims of profit levels of those involved in a planning application.

(vii) The NPPF will complicate Council decision making by its use of the weak terms “where practical” (19, 40, 74, 78, 83, 89, 92, 165) and “where reasonable” (69, 82, 83) and the need for any adverse impacts of development to be proven to “significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits” (14, 20, 110, 129, 151, 165, 169, 184, 185, 190). That is approaching a presumption in favour of any development. The NPPF will result in decisions being made after appeals where the interpretation of such words will be argued by lawyers and future policy will be shaped by case law.

(viii) The existing national policy preference towards use of previously developed sites is omitted, as described on page 49 of the Impact Statement on the draft NPPF; the protection for employment sites is not included, even where there is a strong demand for, and local shortage of, such sites; there is no protection for attractive or sensitive landscapes, other than national designated areas or small areas of local green space, so the protection of the countryside for its own sake is not included; the ability to set a strategy to prioritise some sites over others when there is a shortfall is omitted. That means the NPPF would not provide LPAs, the Planning Inspectorate and developers with certainty and with a basis to continue the control over development operated since the 1940s that has prevented sprawl and made the best use of land.

(ix) The requirement that LPAs must “approve all individual proposals wherever possible” (14) is badly worded as guidance. It will lead to delays and legal arguments in decision making, as it is always “possible” to grant permission. Any reasons for refusal are reduced by the weaknesses in the NPPF.

(x) The guidance on communications infrastructure in the NPPF extracted from PPG8 does not include the requirement for “keeping the environmental impact to a minimum”.

(xi) The NPPF’s requirement for LPAs to identify an extra 20% more housing sites than are required (108) distorts application of housing need and capacity studies. It will not be in local plans for some years as approved policy and in London the housing numbers for LPAs are set in the Mayor’s regional spatial development strategy, the London Plan. The allocation of extra housing sites to those derived from assessment could inhibit approvals for business development and harm the local economy, contrary to Government’s intentions.

(xii) The NPPF does not contain the policy in PPS1 supplement on water efficiency. That lack of guidance for LPAs could cause problems in north east London where water supplies are inadequate and strict standards will need to be applied to achieve the number of homes needed.

(xiii) Only “obviously poor design” can be refused (121) which takes away local negotiating power and is another subjective standard that will be explored, case by case, at appeal inquiries. The setting for a development can influence its design but the key text from PPS7 on local character has not been included in the NPPF. There is no reference to inclusive design, required under disability law.

(xiv) LPAs would not be able to control advertising on buildings and in the countryside, as they have had the right to do, because the policies have been weakened (123).

(xv) Guidance on the Community Infrastructure Levy does cover culture and the NPPF omits the policies in PPS4 that encouraged the provision of theatres for town centres’ night time economy. That restricts LPAs’ ability to produce CIL schedules for the facilities their communities should have.

(xvi) LPAs would not be able to refuse development in future where transport links are inadequate, due to the omission of that test in the NPPF. It does not include the PPG13 content on sustainable patterns of development and the location of high trip-generating uses.

(xvii) “Town centre first” policy of PPS4 has been weakened (78). Office development and business parks are not in the “town centre first” policy and not mentioned for their preferred locations.

(xviii) The omission in the draft NPPF of policies in PPGs and PPSs, as in the points made above, weakens guidance to LPAs for dealing with applications. It may cause them to add policies to their LDFs to cover the deficiencies in the NPPF and that will complicate the planning system and result in inconsistent definition at local level of key policies and varied decision making across LPAs. It will alienate communities who are supposed to be able to influence development.

(xix) The failure of the NPPF to acknowledge the existence of a regional spatial strategy for London and the associated strategies and SPGs of the Mayor of London seriously impairs its value to local authorities, Planning Inspectors, developers and communities in London. One example of this failure is in paragraph 109—local authorities are to “set out their own approach to housing density” which ignores the London Plan policy which includes a single set of density standards across all boroughs.

Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate?

(i) Sustainable development in the NPPF (10) and the Core Planning Principles (19) is not defined in a way that recognises environmental and ecological limits, social considerations, design requirements, location and future requirements. No basis is provided for deciding when a development would be unsustainable. The definition of sustainable development in paragraph 10 is inadequate and incomplete because it does not provide clear parameters against which a development can be assessed although there are frequent references back to the definition which add more qualifications. For example, in paragraph 114 a key element in achieving sustainable development is stated to be good design.

(ii) The NPPF refers to “levels” of sustainability (151) but does not clarify that. Nor does it explain “responsibly” in its requirement that development is to be “planned and undertaken responsibly” (11). This inadequacy of definition is bound to lead to litigation and uncertainty.

(iii) The re-use of existing land is often the most sustainable, but the NPPF does not contain the existing “brownfield first” policy and would therefore lead to development sprawl on open land.

(iv) Land which is open and undesignated has had its protection weakened (129) and the sequential approach to the disposal of open spaces in PPG17 has been omitted. That would lead to unsustainable development.

(v) DEFRA’s description of sustainable development published in March 2011 should be summarised in the NPPF with its recognition of the interconnection of economy, society and the environment.

(vi) Paragraph 9 of the NPPF refers to the importance of people being able to satisfy only their basic needs which fails to address widening inequality and therefore is unsustainable.

Is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

No.

(i) The NPPF lacks the basis for refusal of a poorly designed and ill conceived scheme in the wrong place. The presumption reduces planners’ negotiating powers for the right scheme, properly located. It is not a balanced and workable approach.

(ii) There is a double presumption in the case of housing applications (110). If the LPA cannot show that it has a five year supply of housing and cannot demonstrate that it has an additional 20% available land for homes, planning permission has to be granted unless on protected sites. The application site could be the least acceptable for access or the housing proposed may not meet the requirements of the LPA.

(iii) Existing protection for National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt will be maintained but other green spaces will be made available for development by the “presumption”. That is contrary to the Natural Environment White Paper policy to retain planning protection of the natural environment, which the White Paper defines as “all countryside”.

(iv) The presumption ignores policy that 60 per cent of development should be built on previously developed ground, despite the entry in the Glossary. It makes good economic and environmental sense to use existing infrastructure and to plan in ways that saves land and reduces both the need to travel and the need for additional expenditure on additional transport and new facilities.

(v) The presumption is made even more unacceptable by the Localism Bill’s introduction of giving weight to financial incentives for development. Also, the proposed Use Classes changes that mean employment premises can become housing, even if not located where infrastructure and services are sufficient. Small businesses will lose the premises they can afford which has an adverse impact on economic growth which the Government is intending to support.

(vi) The NPPF wording implies that everything is sustainable unless proven otherwise which requires decision makers to act in a negative manner and seek reasons for refusal. That is contrary to the positive approach that NPPF paragraph 54 is seeking.

(vii) There should be a “presumption that all development must be sustainable”.

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

They are not expressed appropriately.

(i) The NPPF fails to recognise urban areas; it lacks any sense of “place” or place shaping or long term vision for planning; it does nothing to emphasise the need for a plan-led emphasis on promoting the right development in the right place.

(ii) Making the default answer to a planning application “Yes” (19) is contrary to the current law, which requires that “determination must be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.” Indeed, the ability to set local policies for sustainability, space standards and energy efficiency of new homes is reduced, as is the ability to set design standards, so important for context sensitivity or the attractiveness of places for people to live and work in.

(iii) The “town centre first” policy enshrined in PPS4 is generally accepted and applied and it should be a core planning principle. It is seriously weakened by NPPF wording “local planning authorities should prefer applications for retail and leisure uses to be located in town centres where practical” (78). Also, by the removal of office development and business parks from that policy, so that they can be located where road usage, congestion and associated air pollution would be increased. There is no planning principle for refusal of unsustainable development.

(iv) Despite assurances, the NPPF subtly but definitely and considerably weakens the protection given to heritage assets. That protection should be a core planning principle for the reasons given in our point (iv) in answer to the Committee’s first question. The NPPF requires LPAs to show that harm to heritage is not outweighed by wider benefits. PPS5’s presumption in favour of the retention of any heritage asset and the need for developers to justify any harm caused to it (180) has been dropped and replaced by the much weaker words “weight should be given to its conservation” (183).

(v) The NPPF mandates the setting of policies only for sites with the highest level of protection (166), eg SSSIs. This seems to be inadequate bearing in mind the requirements of EU Directives and existing primary legislation such as that relating to National Parks.

(vi) The core planning principles part (19) of the NPPF is a sub section within “Delivering sustainable development”. It should be in a section at the front of the document with a clear set of objectives as part of the vision for England with principles and policies for their achievement.

(vii) Paragraph 19’s fourth bullet point takes away, without reason, consideration of the current or previous use of land. Its sixth bullet point does not include water capture as a use of open land.

(viii) The principles do not cover the things that need to be achieved in regeneration, town centre viability, development matched with infrastructure, development in the right place, homes that are affordable and of the right type, enhancement of biodiversity, green chains and waterways, urban containment, excellent design and retention of required local facilities.

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?

No.

(i) The NPPF is contrary to a proper transport policy. It fails to recognise the imperative to reduce the need to travel. Achieving sustainable transport methods and the placing of trip generating development with high transport accessibility are to be only “where practical” (83, 89, 92). Local authorities may not therefore seek high standards that reduce adverse impact.

(ii) Paragraph 86 rules that “developments should not be refused or prevented on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe”. The word “severe” will need a lot of explanation but the policy is suggesting that unsustainable development should be allowed.

(iii) There is no reference to parking standards or cap on provision and so Councils which grant the most car parking space could secure the most development but reduce air quality and increase traffic congestion and associated delays. Those delays could increase the costs of goods being transported.

(iv) Paragraph 21 of the NPPF greatly reduces the ability of local authorities to produce additional or supplementary planning documents, and will make it much harder for them to improve the standards of development or of the environment in their areas, in order to meet the wishes of their inhabitants or to have local policies for sustainability, space standards and energy efficiency of new homes.

(v) The requirement in paragraph 22 for local plans to be rewritten if every policy does not “provide a clear indication of how a decision maker should react to a development proposal.” will put an enormous burden on local authorities unless a lengthy period of grace is given. The requirement is contrary to national statements on decentralisation and localism and dictates LPAs’ basis of decisions.

(vi) National policy on provision of affordable housing is undermined by the removal of the requirement for local authorities to negotiate affordable housing contributions with the developers of any scheme of more than 15 homes.

(vii) A major omission is of any policy on waterways to meet the Environment Agency’s standards. It is mentioned only in the context of the transfer of minerals and aggregates (102), ignoring the need to safeguard waterways’ facilities for other freight by water and for leisure use, or for their landscape value.

(viii) Paragraph 31 fails to cover the identification of infrastructure requirements to meet national policy for safeguarding of these facilities on waterways.

(ix) There is no requirement when assessing planning applications in the vicinity of a World Heritage Site to take into consideration the Management Plans of those sites (188).

(x) The NPPF objectives for minerals (100) lack content for national standards for prudence, conservation of supplies and limits of the environment. There are no policies for mitigation of impact, including noise, traffic and views nor for appropriate aftercare of extraction sites.

(xi) Failure of the NPPF to integrate national planning policy across Government Departments is shown by its differences with the DEFRA description of sustainable development published in March 2011.

(xii) Paragraph 87 refers to another Government “Framework” and it should be clarified how many exist and how they relate to each other.

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

Yes, however:

(i) Cooperation and liaison between boroughs in London is based upon the policies in the London Plan which covers the “duty” and sets aims for cross boundary working. That is supported by the activities of the sub regional alliances of boroughs, businesses and partners.

(ii) The cooperation and planning across the boundary of the GLA with LPAs in the Outer Metropolitan Area will be adversely affected and complicated if regional strategies outside London are removed.

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

No.

(i) The present planning regime is cast as an inhibitor of development, even though 80% of applications have been approved in recent years.

(ii) No analysis is given of the reasons why very many extant planning permissions have not been built. London needs up to 37,000 homes each year but 170,000 units of accommodation in the London area have planning permission but are not being implemented. That means that London boroughs have already provided several years of housing, beyond that which they are required to do by the NPPF.

(iii) Some house builders in London have continued delivering homes through the recession. They have purchased land at prices suitable to themselves which have allowed them to collaborate with boroughs on estate renewal and the building of affordable homes. Their market housing has supported that and they provide and then safeguard facilities for communities in mixed use developments. The Government’s aims for promoting housing seem to ignore such achievements.

(iv) Empty homes are not being brought back into use. Their numbers need to be taken into consideration and policies introduced for their use. Repair and restoration of them is being hindered by the VAT system which applies 20% charge to such work but zero on new building.

(v) The Mayor has policies in London for business growth and additional jobs for which masterplans have been developed. He offers support to outer London LPAs for Strategic Development Centres which can increase business development in the capital.

(vi) The changes in national policy as brought into the draft NPPF and challenged in this London Forum evidence to the Committee seem not to be based on evidence in London.

General Comments

(i) The reduction from over a thousand pages of national planning policy to less than 60 for England has been too extreme. The Planning Policy Wales is a 200 page version of PPGs and PPSs and is much more understandable and able to be applied. The Wales Spatial Plan has a better vision than the NPPF. Some of the basic provisions of PPS1 should be set out in the NPPF.

(ii) We press the Government (through the Select Committee) to abandon the present draft NPPF and have all the existing PPSs reviewed independently by separate (and widely representative) groups of experts in each field. Thanks to the bolt-on-nature of planning rules and regulations imposed on the planning system by various governments over the past couple of decades, there are flaws, inconsistencies and complications which need sorting out. It would be desirable to speed up planning decisions, but that is not the same as “making it easier to develop”.

Requirements in a Planning Policy Framework for England

London Forum asks the members of the Committee to consider that the starting point for a planning policy framework should be those in PPS1. It was launched in its latest form with the following aims which must influence the main content of the NPPF.

“The planning system is key to achieving sustainable development. The Government’s new planning policy statement ‘Delivering Sustainable Development’ (PPS1) sets out our vision for planning in England and the key policies which will underpin it. PPS1 makes clear that sustainable development is at the heart of the planning system. It sets the framework for reflecting the duty in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for regional and local plans to be prepared with a view to contributing to sustainable development. Other planning policies, set out in the Government’s Planning Policy Statements and Planning Policy Guidance notes, complement PPS1 in delivering sustainable development:

Planning policies for housing ensure that brownfield land is developed first for new housing, and that new housing is built at higher densities than previously, reducing the need for development on greenfield sites;

Other national policies ensure that new developments are located in areas such as town centres which are accessible by means of walking, cycling and public transport thereby reducing reliance on the private car;

Policies for the natural and historic environment ensure the conservation and reuse of buildings and the protection of wildlife resources; and

Policies for rural areas ensure that there are strict controls on development in the open countryside and that our finest countryside and landscapes are protected for the benefit of everyone.

The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations. This will be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment, and use resources and energy as efficiently as possible.

Government must promote a clear understanding of, and commitment to, sustainable development so that all people can contribute to the overall goal through their individual decisions.

Respecting the limits of the planet’s environment, resources and biodiversity—to improve our environment and ensure that the natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and remain so for future generations.

Meeting the diverse needs of all people in existing and future communities, promoting personal wellbeing, social cohesion and inclusion, and creating equal opportunity for all.

Building a strong, stable and sustainable economy which provides prosperity and opportunities for all, and in which environmental and social costs fall on those who impose them (polluter pays), and efficient resource use is incentivised.

Actively promoting effective, participative systems of governance in all levels of society—engaging people’s creativity, energy, and diversity.

Ensuring policy is developed and implemented on the basis of strong scientific evidence, whilst taking into account scientific uncertainty (through the precautionary principle) as well as public attitudes and values.”

Those objectives and policies of PPS1 are essential and must be in the NPPF which has to:

Promote sustainable patterns of development.

Promote the right development in the right place, especially in town centres.

Guide new developments to the most sustainable locations.

Make the most efficient use/reuse of previously-developed land.

Resist the loss of open spaces, using a sequential approach to disposal.

The draft NPPF should be assessed against each of the requirements and aims above.

Greg Clark has said that “The purpose of planning is to help make the way we live our lives better tomorrow than it is today. And not just tomorrow—but a million tomorrows, so that nothing our generation does compromises the ability—indeed the right—of future generations to improve their own lives.” Those purposes are not expressed in the draft NPPF.

London Forum requests that the Committee considers and reports upon each paragraph in the draft NPPF criticised in the evidence that you receive in order to assist the scrutiny by Parliament of the document.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011