Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from London Councils

London Councils welcomes this opportunity to comment on elements of the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

London Councils is committed to fighting for more resources for the capital and getting the best possible deal for London's 33 local authorities. We lobby key stakeholders, develop policy and do all we can to help our boroughs improve the services they deliver. We also run a range of services ourselves, all designed to make life better for Londoners.

We broadly welcome the Government's publication of the draft NPPF. We share the Government's aim of reducing excessive bureaucracy and simplifying the planning system as much as possible consistent with the twin objectives of timely decision-making that reflects local priorities and aspirations, and enabling the planning system to play a full role in a healthy and growing economy. We are especially concerned to ensure that the planning system helps deliver the increase in affordable housing that London and other parts of the country urgently need.

London Councils welcomes Government's emphasis on localism and devolution, and we see the draft NPPF as an opportunity for local authorities to operate far more flexibly when setting out the spatial vision for their area through their local plans (ie the Local Development Frameworks or LDFs).

However, we have some concerns about the draft NPPF which we hope to see addressed during the consultation process:

There should be a one year period of transition before the NPPF takes effect.

There needs to be provision within the final NPPF for areas with a three-tier planning system, such as London.

There should be a presumption against unsustainable development in addition to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Clarity needs to be brought to certain terms used in the draft NPPF in order to avoid litigation and the making of planning policy by appeal.

These points are expanded upon below.

The draft NPPF will be the default planning framework where local plans are out of date. In order to allow local authorities that do not have recently adopted LDFs time to “catch up”, we would like to see the NPPF not take effect until a transition period has passed. We would suggest that a period of one year would be helpful for local authorities to prepare, publish and scrutinise their plans and for these to be submitted and approved by the Secretary of State. Given that the DCLG expect the NPPF to take effect from January 2012, we therefore suggest that it actually takes effect from January 2013. Without such a period of transition, London Councils is concerned that the NPPF may create opportunities for poor or inappropriate development that does not meet the sustainable development needs of an area.

We note that the draft NPPF does not make any reference to London. London is unusual in planning terms in that it is the only part of England and Wales to have a three-tier planning system, through the regional London Plan. London Councils would like to see either reference to, and allowance for, this planning “exceptionalism” within the final NPPF; or would like assurances that, where appropriate within the text of the NPPF, wording allows for London's unique position. For example, paragraph 111 directs local authorities to plan for local demand for housing. In London a different approach to planning for housing, involving assessment of capacity, is used, and we would like the NPPF to allow the flexibility to do this where evidence justifies a departure from its policies.

London Councils believes that the draft NPPF contains a very helpful definition of “sustainable development” in paragraph 10. The three pillars of sustainable development this paragraph outlines—economic, social and environmental—are the correct objectives that all planning decisions should weigh up. There are, however, concerns that the draft NPPF seeks to direct decision-makers to weigh up the economic factors of a planning application more than the economic or social ones. This may be appropriate in some cases where the circumstances of a particular case justify it, but we would like to see an affirmation that proposed development that does not meet the balance of social, economic and environmental objectives set out in paragraph 10 can and should be refused. Therefore, along with the presumption in favour of sustainable development as defined in this paragraph, London Councils would like to see a presumption against unsustainable development when the objectives in that paragraph are not met.

London Councils is concerned that some of the language used in the draft NPPF may lack the clarity needed to ensure that differing interpretations, and therefore appeals, are kept to a minimum. We share the Government’s aim to minimise complexity and uncertainty in the planning system, and strongly agree that the greater the uncertainty, the less development happens, and the higher the transaction cost of any development that does occur. Appeals are extremely costly for local authorities, and in a time of reduced resources, having to pay for planning appeals may threaten the ability of local authorities to properly resource other important planning functions.

London Councils would therefore like to see greater clarity around the following terms used in the draft NPPF:

Paragraph 20: “... [D]evelopment needs should be met, unless the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” (italics added). This phrase is potentially problematic due to an absence of an agreed meaning of “significantly”. We would therefore suggest that an alternative should be: “... [D]evelopment needs should be met, unless the adverse impacts of doing so would compromise the principles of sustainable development set out in paragraph 10.”

Paragraph 86: “... [D]evelopment should not be prevented or refused on transport grounds unless the residual impacts of development are severe”. London Councils believes that the word “severe” lacks an agreed meaning. It is possible that a development, or more likely, the cumulative effects of various developments, could cause traffic problems that are serious, but may not be felt to be “severe”. A more helpful phrasing would be: “… [D]evelopment should not be prevented or refused on transport grounds unless the development, individually or as part of a cumulative effect, causes unacceptable burdens on the transport network.”



Question A

Do you support the principle of the Government’s proposal to grant permitted development rights to change use from B1 (business) to C3 (dwelling houses) subject to effective measures being put in place to mitigate the risk of homes being built in unsuitable locations? Please give your reasons

London Councils does not support the Government's proposal for the reasons that we have outlined in our general comments. These are, briefly, that there is sufficient pipeline capacity for new housing, suggesting that the planning system is not at fault in undersupplying the market; that current planning guidance and practice already enables appropriate uses of land for residential and business purposes; that the ability to plan for sustainable communities will be undermined; that there will be negative impacts on businesses from the mixing of residential uses with business ones in areas; the economic growth will be impeded by this conflict and by the loss of employment land, especially certain types of employment land; that funds for mitigating infrastructure and affordable housing will be lost; that quality public service provision will be endangered; that the measure is anti-localist and that it is inappropriate for London.

Question B

Do you support the principle of granting permitted development rights to change use from B2 (general industrial) and B8 (storage and distribution) to C3 (dwelling houses) subject to effective measures being put in place to mitigate the risk of homes being built in unsuitable locations? Please give your reasons

No, for the reasons outlined in our general comments and in the answer to QA.

Question C

Do you agree that these proposals should also include a provision which allows land to revert to its previous use within five years of a change?

London Councils does not support these proposals, but if they were to be implemented then we would want to see a provision allowing land to revert to its previous use within five years of a change.

Question D

Do you think it would be appropriate to extend the current permitted development rights outlined here to allow for more than one flat? If so should there be an upper limit?

There may be circumstances where this would be appropriate. However, it would be hard to set an upper limit on a national basis - how would this affect an office tower with a shop at its base? London Councils believes that the matter is best left to local authorities to tackle through local planning tools.

Question E

Do you agree that we have identified the full range of possible issues which might emerge as a result of these proposals? Are you aware of any further impacts that may need to be taken into account? Please give details

There are issues that not captured by the consultation that need to be considered and we have outlined them in our general comments, however the main points are:

New homes created under this policy change may well be of low quality, without conforming to lifetime homes, living space or environmental standards.

There are very real and potentially expensive costs relating to use conversion that may not be accounted for without the planning process, including compliance with safety requirements, introducing supporting infrastructure, premise design and the appropriateness of converting commercial premises to housing use.

There will be a loss of Section 106 and CIL income to boroughs which is a valuable resource used to provide homes and infrastructure, as well as possible loss of business rates income in the future.

The proposal potentially undermines boroughs' abilities to effectively plan for longer term community infrastructure for issues such as school place demands.

There is a significant threat that the higher land values for business sites converted to housing could have the effect of undermining business within an area as well as constraining business development within a locality.

The proposal runs contrary to the Government's stated localist intent.

The nature of a blanket policy such as that being proposed is that it will never be able to take into account the full range of issues that will occur in every locality, hence the need for a more localist response to the issue.

Question F

Do you think that there is a requirement for mitigation of potential adverse impacts arising from these proposals and for which potential mitigations do you think the potential benefits are likely to exceed the potential costs?

The consultation identifies potential problems with community infrastructure provision, amenity housing mix, transport accessibility, loss of employment land, and noise and pollution. London Councils agrees broadly with this list, but believes that it cannot be exhaustive as local circumstances will always throw up new situations. Each aspect will impact differently in each location, so it cannot be said that for any one impact the mitigation benefits will always exceed the costs. This is why we believe that the best way to mitigate against adverse impacts is to allow a locally operated planning system look at development applications on their merit. London Councils does not believe that depending on the goodwill of developers, as suggested, is remotely sufficient to make up for the loss of planning conditions and obligations.

Question G

Can you identify any further mitigation options that could be used?

See our general comments.

Question H

How, if at all, do you think any of the mitigation options could best be deployed?

Article 4 - this is a very expensive and time consuming way of excluding an area from the impact of the proposals. London Councils believe it would be more effective, easier, cheaper and quicker to allow local authorities to “opt-in” using local planning tools, than to “opt-out” using article 4 directions. Conditions and prior approval—London Councils does not believe that this would be effective as it relies on a developer’s self-certification or, if it did not, then would be better addressed through the transparency of planning system. Thresholds and exclusions—if the proposal goes ahead, then in addition to these, London Councils would like to see an exclusion for areas of high residential values that have locally, regionally or nationally important business functions, as identified through local development plans.

Question I

What is your view on whether the reduced compensation provisions associated with the use of article 4 directions contained within section 189 of the Planning Act 2008 should or should not be applied? Please give your reasons

See our general comments.

Question J

Do you consider there is any justification for considering a national policy to allow change of use from C to certain B use classes? Please give your reasons

London Councils thinks that this suggestion is as anti-localist as the reverse proposal, and we are therefore opposed to it. However, if the reverse proposal were implemented, then this should be considered as a complementary measure.

Question K

Are there any further comments or suggestions you wish to make?


September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011