To be published as HC 1526-iii

House of COMMONS



Communities and Local Government Committee

National Planning Policy Framework

Monday 24 October 2011

Robert Sullivan, Mhora Samuel, Tony Burton and Stephen Wright

Emmalene Gottwald, Shaun Spiers, Stephen Joseph and Roger Harding

Evidence heard in Public Questions 180 - 265



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Monday 24 October 2011

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Heidi Alexander

Bob Blackman

Simon Danczuk

David Heyes

Mark Pawsey

Steve Rotheram


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Robert Sullivan, Head of Corporate Affairs, The Football Association, Mhora Samuel, Director, The Theatres Trust, Tony Burton, Director, Civic Voice, and Stephen Wright, Principal Lawyer (Planning), The John Lewis Partnership, gave evidence.

Q180 Chair : Good afternoon, and welcome to our third evidence session in our inquiry into the Draft National Planning Policy Framework. For the sake of our records, could you just indicate who you are and the organisation you represent?

Stephen Wright: I am Stephen Wright from the John Lewis Partnership.

Tony Burton: I am Tony Burton; I am the Director of Civic Voice.

Robert Sullivan: I am Robert Sullivan from the Football Association.

Mhora Samuel: I am Mhora Samuel from the Theatres Trust.

Q181 Chair : Thank you very much for coming and for the written evidence you have provided to us already. You have each put some evidence to us and, although it is all different, you seem to be arguing for more planning rather than less, and more guidance rather than less. Is that not rather a contradiction to the Government’s stated aim of trying to get more development agreed and, if you had your way, would it actually put a brake on growth rather than helping?

Stephen Wright: We very much support the streamlining of policy. We think the draft NPPF is an excellent attempt by the Department to shrink the amount of policy, much of which we believe is repetitive and probably unnecessary. Policy at a national level is about stating key principles that ought to apply nationally. We do think there are areas of the text that can be tightened up to carry forward the existing policies more succinctly and more clearly. However, I do not think that is about more planning; I think it is just about clarifying the existing policies into that streamlined text.

Tony Burton: Yes, I guess our starting point is that we are not asking for a lot more; we are actually asking for the retention of quite a lot that we already have and are losing, such as the key tenets around Brownfield First and Town Centre First, and locating where there is transport choice. We also welcome the general reduction in the total amount of guidance, which we think will make it more accessible to communities, but I think the fundamental problem has been best expressed in the battle of myth busters that has been going on. You have myth busters busting the myths in other people’s myth busters about whether or not the planning system is a barrier on economic growth. This Committee looked at that issue a few years ago and found the evidence wanting.

Certainly the myth busters I am putting my shoulder behind are those that suggest the planning system is in no way a barrier on economic growth or development. Some 80% of applications get permission, a third of appeals are granted, less than 1% of applications take more than a year, and there is land allocated with planning consent for over 300,000 houses. In my view, that is not a system that is somehow getting in the way of development. The economic future of the country is more around demand than a lack of supply of land and planning consent. The planning system provides the certainty that future economic investment needs, hence the need for clearer planning, more clearly expressed, which will provide the foundation from which the economic growth can move forward.

Robert Sullivan: Football, and indeed wider sport, would start from the basis that we believe our game is at the fundamental heart of communities: 7 million people play football every month; there are 130,000 teams and 12,000 leagues. In every community in all of your constituencies football will be integrated and part of the community. What we are looking for in planning policy-and by and large we think the new framework delivers this-is to ensure that it is embedded within what is called sustainable development. We believe that sport and football should be a big part of sustainable development because it is an important part of community life.

We have little problem with the direction of travel of the policy, but we are seeking clarification in a numbers of areas to ensure that, as the gentleman from John Lewis said, the new provisions marry up to the existing provisions to ensure there is some certainty for all of us going forward in the new framework.

Mhora Samuel: From the Theatres Trust’s perspective, it is important that there is clarity around PPS4, and what has been lost in the current draft is the reference to the importance of culture and other uses, such as theatres and concert halls, in relation to the town centre evening economy and the vitality of town centres. For us it is not about an addition but ensuring that what is there currently is very clearly expressed in the NPPF.

In addition, we would like to see an alignment with the Localism Bill, particularly with regard to the amendment by Baroness Hanham about expressing assets of community value, explicitly including social interests, social well-being and cultural interests. So again we are seeking clarity, so that the NPPF can be helpful to planners and not cause confusion. Having a lack of information around culture could end up in more discussion and debate around what is actually meant by culture.

Q182 Chair : So to clarify, you all seem to be saying very similar things. You are not arguing for the retention of all the existing guidance or opposed to the general principle of a shortened NPPF, but you are arguing that perhaps some of the wording is not as clear as it might be and there are things from previous guidance missed out that could be added to provide greater clarity, but still in a very brief document. Is that basically it?

Stephen Wright: That is right.

Q183 Heidi Alexander: I would like to pick up on something that Civic Voice said in its written evidence. I will just read the sentence from it: "Any changes in the NPPF need to be accompanied by a new and more positive attitude from the Government as a whole to the role of planning in delivering economic progress and providing certainty for investment in land and buildings, as well as addressing social, environmental and cultural considerations." Obviously, Civic Voice agrees with that statement, given it was in your written submission, but I wonder whether the rest of the witnesses would agree with that or if you have experience of planning being a blockage to development in your sector?

Stephen Wright: We think the presumption in favour of sustainable development is a very good thing. We think it will hopefully encourage a more positive attitude towards growth, economic development, and particularly towards sustainable development from local authorities both at the plan-making stage and at the development-control/planning-application stage. To my mind that reflects the attitude of Government: that planning can be used to achieve those things. Some of the blame put at the door of planning for blockages in development is perhaps overstated. A shortage of finance to bring forward some of these projects, especially over the last few years, has been more responsible for development not coming forward than the planning system could ever be.

Robert Sullivan: Speaking on behalf of football and sport, we would look at that question the other way around. We would look at where planning policy and guidance has been able to help us protect our facilities where developments may or may not threaten the existence of playing fields, sports facilities or whatever they might be. Like all of these things, it is about getting the balance right, and we believe the current structure-where Sport England have a statutory consultee right-does that. They basically can work with local authorities to identify when development plans are put forward if there is a need for a like-for-like replacement or some alternative redevelopment around the site. In the vast majority of cases that provides a composition deal where the sports community, the local authority, Sport England, and the developers are happy that a suitable outcome has been achieved for all of those parties. For clarity, that kind of process is one we are looking to be embedded within the new framework. Whilst we hope it will be embedded-and discussions with officials suggest it will be-it is not clear at present. Hopefully this process will help us achieve that clarity.

Mhora Samuel: The Theatres Trust is a statutory consultee in the planning system. As you described with Sport England, we try to advise and enable development, particularly where it relates to the provision of theatres. We have found that we are promoting new development of theatres, as well as protecting existing ones and indeed replacement of like for like. What we tend to find is that the planning system enables people to consider cultural considerations, and we do believe that culture is a core planning principle and therefore should be included in the NPPF.

Q184 Heidi Alexander: Mr Burton, is there anything that you would wish to add about the planning system doing more to foster economic growth? It was clearly something you picked up on and I wondered whether there is anything you would like to add at this stage?

Tony Burton: The solutions to some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the system do not lie in the NPPF. A National Planning Policy is not going to solve what have been identified as uncertainties about the process, how long it takes and all the rest of it. A lot of the discussions have been like ships in the night, and a lot of the solutions to issues raised by people actually lie in the quality of planning staff, the certainty of the time in which decisions are going to be made, and the ability to guarantee a process that is efficient and effective. We would all welcome a recognition of the important role that local councils have to play, with diminishing resources, in managing millions of pounds worth of investment as efficiently and effectively as possible. That is where attention might be more appropriately directed, rather than kicking planning policies, which will not solve the problem.

Q185 Mark Pawsey: Mr Burton, you told us you were not impressed with the argument that the NPPF would free up economic growth and enable the country to grow better. However, a second key plank of the NPPF is to make planning more localist and to get individual communities involved. Do you think all local authorities should have the same policy on issues such as open space, and the amount of sport facilities they should provide, or do you subscribe to the localist agenda and accept that this is an opportunity for local communities to determine their priorities and needs for their area?

Tony Burton: I think the continuing emphasis on a plan-led system is really welcome. This is something we have had since 1991 in legal terms, and the emphasis on the plan being sovereign, and on the role of not just local councils but now communities in preparing development plans-be they local plans or neighbourhood plans-is hugely welcome. Yes, that does enable plans to respond to the circumstances of the area in which you find them, which results in a different set of policies. So on something like open space, there will be a different response depending on the circumstances. If you are doing it for Islington, it is going to be a very different response than if you are doing it for Eden Valley, to give two extreme examples. That variety is exactly right; that is how it should respond.

Where we need the certainty that comes from clarity in national policy would be on something like disposal of open space. In our view the guidance does not yet go far enough there, and we need to be very clear that we are not disposing of space unless there is a surplus of that use, or if there is not a deficiency in other open space uses, before that open space is allowed to be lost. That is where I think there is a legitimate role for national planning to set out those guidelines.

So it is going to vary depending on the issue. In that case the circumstances will vary and the policy should vary, but in terms of disposal there should be a single framework set out in the NPPF, which is then followed by local authorities.

Q186 Mark Pawsey: Can I put the same question about the localist agenda to each of the other witnesses?

Robert Sullivan: First of all, it is definitely a benefit in the broadest terms to have local decision-making people who understand their communities being empowered to do so, and football would support that. However, I would caveat that with the fact that football people are football people, they are not planning people.

Q187 Mark Pawsey: Only planning people are planning people.

Robert Sullivan: At the grassroots of the game, football is run by an army of 400,000 brilliant volunteers. They are the people who drive their kids to the games, who run the line, cut the oranges, make the phone calls and send the e-mails. They run the clubs and football owes a huge debt to them, but ensuring they are empowered with the information and guidance to represent the requirements for their clubs should issues arise is a big challenge. That is why we strongly support the role Sport England currently plays in that guidance, because they allow them that guidance and protection to have that kind of support and infrastructure there to help them when issues arise. If that was to be taken away, we would have a concern.

Mhora Samuel: I have two responses to that. Again, it is important to have local diversity, particularly when it comes to culture. In Baroness Hanham’s amendment in the Lords, she reflects social interests as being defined as cultural interests, recreational interests and sporting interests. Through the NPPF there is a section in the sustainable communities chapter that could helpfully have the words "cultural interests" incorporated into it. One can look at the responses received to see the reason for that. Brighton and Hove put in an excellent response to the NPPF; however, it made no mention of culture whatsoever. Brighton and Hove’s own cultural strategy says, "Culture is at the very core of Brighton & Hove. It has been our city’s driving force for hundreds of years. Culture is Brighton & Hove." So whilst a planner may respond to the NPPF document and not make one mention of it, it is at the heart of Brighton and Hove. So we need clarity and support for planners who are involved in the plan-making system.

Q188 Mark Pawsey: Where do you want the clarity to come from? Do you want the clarity in the NPPF or do you think the clarity can come from each individual authority’s local plan?

Mhora Samuel: I think the clarity can come from having some very clear lines within the NPPF, which then offer the flexibility and freedom for planners at a local level to pick up on the area and the guidance within the NPPF. The section on sustainable communities, which refers to open space, recreation and sport, could very easily incorporate the words "culture" and "cultural uses" and therefore offer clarity to local planners.

Q189 Mark Pawsey: So we are going to move a long way from tight documents; we will go back to masses and masses of pages of guidance.

Mhora Samuel: No, it is a much shortened statement now in the NPPF; it just does not have "culture" in it. It would align it to the Localism Bill as well.

Robert Sullivan: I think we are probably all asking individually for a few words here and a few words there. Hopefully that won’t extrapolate back into the kind of planning guidance we had previously.

Q190 Chair : Would it be 60 pages rather than 50?

Robert Sullivan: Maybe. For us specifically it would be about the guidance reflecting its relationship to the statutory consultee rights of Sport England. Getting clarification around that point would provide a lot of comfort to sport.

Stephen Wright: To my mind the NPPF is about setting a national framework of core policies. I do not think that means it deprives local authorities of the ability to set their own priorities within that national framework. There is plenty of scope within the NPPF for local authorities to reflect their local needs. It is absolutely right that the system should remain plan led, but the problem we have at the moment is that so few local authorities have a plan. Hopefully, this more positive attitude towards planning will encourage local authorities to have a plan and to plan for the right development in the right places. That is entirely localist, to my mind. I also think a more streamlined policy would hopefully be more accessible to neighbourhoods who want to get involved in neighbourhood planning, who will not have to wade through 1,000 pages but can hopefully see from 50 pages what they need to be drafting their neighbourhood planning around and the issues they need to consider.

Q191 Mark Pawsey: Do you subscribe to the theory of your colleagues that the NPPF needs to be bigger and with more detail, or are you happy with it as it is?

Stephen Wright: We are happy with the size of it; we think there are tweaks that can be made here and there to draw out some of those core principles and make them a little clearer.

Q192 Simon Danczuk: This is a question to each of you: is there anything wrong with the Government’s attempt to build the planning system around what they have termed "sustainable development"?

Tony Burton: Sustainable development is nothing new to the planning system; planning systems have been dealing with sustainable development since PPG12 was published in 1992. So there is quite a lot of fuss about something that has been part of the system for nearly 20 years, and that is partly because of the way it has been couched and partly due to the very loose definitions of it, which do not seem to be very economic in their emphasis. For us, sustainable development is a very legitimate purpose of the planning system. We do not think you need a presumption in favour of it; we think it is a purpose of the planning system, which you deliver differently, according to local circumstances, by having a presumption in favour of the development plan. The Brundtland definition of sustainable development is there and is helpful, but it is quite a long way from the coalface of planning. There is a need for some principles to bridge that gap. The 2005 sustainable development strategy was a pretty good stab at that and got a huge amount of basic endorsement from a wide variety of interests. I understand that this is a new Government who may not want to repeat something done under a preceding Government, and I can sort of respect that, but there was a lot of consensus about that and the key principles around social justice and environmental limits, which we think need to be embodied in the guidance. However, we should leave it there and not take it any further.

Q193 Simon Danczuk: Do you not think they are embodied in it at the moment?

Tony Burton: No, they are not embodied in it at the moment, and frankly it does not do justice to 20 years of international discussion about sustainable development. We can do better than this, but we can write less and provide the framework on the principles of sustainable development that will be helpful. They will not answer every question, and nor can they-that has to be done through interpreting it in local circumstances through the development plan.

Q194 Simon Danczuk: If it is as it is at the moment, what will be the impact? You said in your evidence that it will deter many communities from being involved in planning.

Tony Burton: The way it is currently couched is not sustainable development but economic development.

Q195 Simon Danczuk: What would be the consequence if it stays as it is?

Tony Burton: The consequences would be twofold. First, wrong-headed development will take place, or there will be a flurry of appeals and then the wrong-headed development will still take place because they will win on appeal, having created a lot of fuss around the system. Perhaps more importantly, for the Government to meet its objectives of supporting greater community involvement in the planning system, whether it be through local plans or actually taking on responsibility for development planning at the neighbourhood level, people have to believe the system is fair and they have to be willing to put their time and effort, as volunteers, into making it happen. I know from talking day in, day out with volunteers in the civic movement-who collectively are the most numerous participants in the planning system-that it is a harder sell since the NPPF has come out. I am finding it harder to sell to them the idea that neighbourhood planning is something they really want to do and want to spend their time and effort getting involved in. They are questioning the very basis on which the system is being established and the very purpose for which it is there. If we can address that through an NPPF that has a truly integrated approach to sustainable development and is plan led in its execution, then I think we have the opportunity to inspire people to see the opportunities here as something that gives them legitimate control over what is going on. At the moment it is a much harder sell than it was six months ago.

Q196 Simon Danczuk: You said it would result in more wrong-headed development as it is at the moment. Can you give me an example of the sort of wrong development that might take place as it stands at the moment?

Tony Burton: One of the fundamental gaps in the system is where there is no plan. A lot of plans will be relevant, even if they are not very up to date, but let us take as an example an area where we do not have a plan: unless significant harm is going to be caused-and the thing that is going to cause harm is already in the NPPF-it is pretty much a free for all. That is the language we used in our evidence. Take the example of trees: trees are a regular issue in most planning applications. You can deal with trees without saying, "We do not want any development." For example, if you are knocking down a big house and putting six houses in its place and you want to keep the mature trees there, where you put the houses has a fundamental impact. Trees don’t get mentioned in the NPPF unless they are veteran trees, so the kind of detailed negotiation that is the day-to-day business of the planning system locally is not going to be there. If I were a developer and I really did not care, and just wanted whatever worked for me and didn’t want that negotiation, I could just do that and wouldn’t need to take any notice of the views about changes to the houses or location by which you could actually save the trees and have the houses. Instead, I would just be able to do what I wanted and go to appeal, which is what the NPPF allows.

Q197 Simon Danczuk: Stephen, what is your view on the definition of sustainable development?

Stephen Wright: I am afraid I do not agree with Mr Burton on this. I think the NPPF does set out a Brundtland definition; it makes it clear it is about social, economic and environmental considerations. It is very difficult then to come up with a more technical and detailed definition that applies cross-sector and that will pass the test of time. So what is sustainable for the minerals sector might be very different from what is sustainable for the retail sector, the airport sector, or some of the other sectors from whom you will have received evidence.

Then there is the point about standing the test of time. If you talk about sustainability in terms of technical concerns such as zero carbon, being BREEAM excellent or 10% renewable energy, then just over the last five years some of those targets have been surpassed by far better tests of sustainability. To my mind it is better for the NPPF to stick to general principles of sustainability rather than a technical, detailed definition. However, I am well aware that I am not in the majority in that view.

Robert Sullivan: I would echo what I said earlier, which is we are absolutely in favour of sustainable development; in our view there is nothing wrong with it and everything right with it. We feel a more prominent role should be given to sport and sport’s role in helping communities be sustainable and grow and foster things that we want from our communities. Football is central to that and where football is played is at the core of that. So for us it is about whether sport and football could be better represented in the current definition of the Community Infrastructure Levy. It is not explicitly mentioned at the moment, and we think that would be a very small and discreet change that would give sport and football some support in the guidance, which we think would be appreciated.

When development decisions are made, we need to look at what protections are there currently that might be lost. I have a very similar example, where, with the current NPPF as it is, you would have an appeal that would be heard but, without any protection, ultimately sport and football could lose out in the protection of its fields and facilities. That is what the current system with the Sport England consultee right provides us with. If it is in the policy it is not explicitly referenced, and we would like to see it explicitly referenced to reassure people in the sporting communities that those protections can still be maintained.

Q198 Simon Danczuk: One of the pillars of the presumption in favour of sustainable development is social. So sports and theatres should, by definition, be fine under this NPPF. Surely that is what it is saying, isn’t it? That is what Stephen thinks.

Mhora Samuel: At the moment, with Baroness Hanham’s amendment, it is clear in terms of assets of community value that social interests and social wellbeing are represented by cultural interests, sporting interests and recreational interests. Because that is quite a recent amendment, what we do not have at the moment is the alignment between the Localism Bill and the NPPF, and that is what we need to have-we need to have more surety. I would just add that the 2005 definition of sustainable development explicitly said there should be "opportunities for cultural, leisure, community, sport and other activities". For some reason the only one missed off in the NPPF is cultural.

Q199 Simon Danczuk: So you are not satisfied with the definition?

Mhora Samuel: Only in that it does not reflect culture.

Robert Sullivan: I would add one more point: it is not a case of it being football fields or development; that is not a dichotomy I recognise. Some 1,400 developments go to Sport England statutory consultation a year, the vast majority of which come up with a solution that works for everybody. Sporting facilities are maintained and in a lot of cases improved, bettered, or changed for new ones, which is great, and the developments go forward. It does not have to be an either/or.

Q200 Mark Pawsey: You gave an example of something that is absent from the NPPF and spoke about trees. There is no proposal to do anything about tree preservation orders, as it is for local authorities to establish their own policies. So what would you like to see: just a few bland words saying how wonderful trees are, or do you actually want to see something specific and detailed included within the framework?

Tony Burton: I do not think any of us want the detail. You are hinting that we want to extend it back to 1,000 pages-we do not. Most of our issues can be addressed through relatively small changes. The ideal answer is to have a local plan, which has the policy on trees in it.

Mark Pawsey: We all agree with that.

Tony Burton: I cannot envisage that you could publish the final NPPF without a package of measures to ensure we do have local plans being prepared across far more of the country. Another absolutely classic example that is entirely missing from the NPPF-

Q201 Mark Pawsey: Let us stick with trees. What do you want-just a bland statement saying that trees are great?

Tony Burton: Well, yes; there are certain things that are just so fundamental. Trees are one and local amenities are another-they are the stuff that communities and residents feed into the planning process. However, the word amenity does not appear in the NPPF.

Q202 Mark Pawsey: So you just want to bung a few words in so it becomes a bit more acceptable?

Tony Burton: If you start with the approach the Government is taking, which I would not start with-whereby if you do not have a plan, then it is only if it has very significant impact and is in the NPPF that you can turn it down-then yes, you need a catch-all. I would not phrase it like that, so you would not get into the problem the Government has created for itself. However, you need the safety net of a reference in the NPPF if you are to adopt the approach the Government is taking where there isn’t a plan that is material or relevant to the planning application.

Q203 David Heyes: My question is particularly aimed at Stephen Wright, but any contributions from the other witnesses would be welcome. You said earlier that the draft was generally okay but needed a few tweaks here and there to the words. One of the tweaks we think you would like to look at is to move away from the relaxing of the emphasis on Town Centre First. That was in your evidence. Could you help us understand why you believe that? It is a bit surprising.

Stephen Wright: Our position is that we support and agree with the Town Centre First policies currently set out in PPS4 and the balance they achieve. It is not about town centres only but it is about town centres first, and I think the current position set out in PPS4, which has evolved but is much the same as it has been for the last 20 years, has been a mainstay of national planning policy and has helped to achieve investment in town city centres around the country over that period. So we are keen to arrive at a form of wording, albeit streamlined, that maintains that current balance. Like many of the other retailers, we have a balanced portfolio of shops and we have continued to grow over the period of the Town Centre First tests and will continue to do so.

Q204 David Heyes: So are you saying to us that this is a view shared across the retail sector?

Stephen Wright: If you look at the representations that have been made to the NPPF consultation by the likes of the British Retail Consortium, British Council of Shopping Centres, The National Retail Planning Forum, and even the Association of Convenience Stores, they are all making a similar point: that the current balance is there or thereabouts. There are differences in emphasis between the various organisations, but the substance is the same.

Q205 David Heyes: So we should move back to requiring Town Centre First rather than, as the draft says, preferring it?

Stephen Wright: If, as we understand it, it is Ministers’ intention to carry forward the existing policies to the new document, I think that is the corollary of that.

Q206 David Heyes: Is this not precisely an area where it is best for local authorities to decide, as they know their area best?

Stephen Wright: The benefit of having had a clear Town Centre First policy over the last 20 years is that local authorities have been able to use that as a springboard to encourage development in their town centres. Our concern is that, if there were to be a weakening of that Town Centre First policy, it would undermine the ability of local authorities to do that, especially in the system we find ourselves in at the moment, with so few local plan documents.

Q207 David Heyes: Are there any other views from the other witnesses on this? There don’t have to be.

Tony Burton: Fifteen years of the Town Centre First policy has demonstrated the benefits it has. I think it is really important to see it as more than just retail; it needs to be addressed in terms of offices-an area that has been more significantly weakened-cultural facilities and civic facilities. We talk about the civic glue that town centres provide, which is about much more than a retail experience. Civic life is what happens in our town centres. It gives you the certainty, consistency and confidence that local authorities, developers and communities are looking for from their town centres.

Q208 David Heyes: I would like to go back to Stephen to develop this a bit further. What role does national planning policy have in protecting the value of commercial investments already made? This is what you are really about, isn’t it?

Stephen Wright: I do not think it is primarily about protecting the value of commercial investments, but it is about creating a framework within which retailers and developers feel encouraged to develop in town centres. Town centre development is more expensive, often more time consuming and often more difficult than out-of-town schemes, and unless there is a policy framework that helps to deliver that, there would be less town centre development and more out-of-town development. So I think that helping to protect investment through the Town Centre First policies is one of the tools in the toolkit to achieve that. A scheme such as the Grosvenor scheme at Liverpool ONE took 10 years from inception to opening, and if there had not been the same Town Centre First focus, investments like that may well not have happened.

Tony Burton: I think it is important to recognise the public investment in town centres, not just the private. The economic deadweight of sprawl, which requires sewers, water supplies, transport links and all the rest of it, is huge additional economic cost. So there is a huge public investment as well as the private investment.

Q209 Chair : Regarding building in existing town and city centres, does the removal of the brownfield priority within the framework cause alarm bells to ring? Might that actually weaken the whole of the Town Centre First policy?

Stephen Wright: I am not sure I see that as a key threat to the Town Centre First policy. Whilst absolutely we would take the view that brownfield sites should be developed first as an overriding principle, there will be instances in which there are greener sites, closer to a town centre, that better support that town centre. So I think it is important to nuance that overriding statement.

Tony Burton: The loss of the clarity of Brownfield First is similar in terms of its psychological effect as a tenet of the system, which has demonstrated its value in the recent decades and has led to a very significant increase in the proportion of new housing within existing urban areas. There are important open spaces that should not be caught by that definition, but I think that Brownfield First has been really important. It is equally important that things like windfall sites should be embraced; it is odd to have a Brownfield First policy and then not embrace a source of significant supply of housing from brownfield sites in the way in which you are calculating and allocating housing land availability. Overall we think you need a clearer approach to site selection than is laid out at the head of the NPPF, but Brownfield First and Town Centre First are critical elements of that.

Q210 Chair : I want to try to tie two bits of guidance together before we move on: the sequential test, which was established for retailing, although frankly it was put there because of offices, which is probably an issue of concern to some; and the definition of sustainable development. Would it be possible to tie the two together and have the understanding that, if an application failed the sequential test, it would be deemed to be unsustainable?

Stephen Wright: That is almost exactly what we have suggested to the Department as a change to the text. We think that would be a helpful way, in the context of Town Centre First policies, of making clear and more explicit what is intended to be implicit within the document already. So if a scheme fails a sequential test or is likely to have a significant adverse impact on a town centre, it should not be considered sustainable, it should not benefit from the presumption and it should probably therefore be refused. That is the balance in the current PPS4 tests.

Mhora Samuel: I just want to add a caveat in relation to assets of community value, which as you know will be the assets put forward by local communities where they feel they have a particular community value. Again, this is coming back to cultural, recreational and sporting interests in particular. Theatres are sui generis, which means they always require a planning application to be raised if a change of use or any development is happening on them. One thing that would be very helpful is if that was extended to assets of community value so that, with any sequential tests that might be applied, there would be particular note taken of assets of community value. Otherwise, I fear that they may fail because other economic issues may arise that are seen to take precedent over the community interests.

Q211 Steve Rotheram: I would like to develop that a little further and take you back to your earlier point about Brighton and Hove. I am not from Brighton and Hove, as my accent might well belie, but I do know that culture and the arts can be used as a catalyst not just for regeneration and renaissance but also sustainability. Liverpool was very lucky in 2008 to get the European Capital of Culture, and we have more museums, galleries, art and theatres than anywhere outside of London. I hope that gets down as a plug. In your submission you stated that culture, the arts and theatres are not covered in the draft NPPF but were previously in the Planning Policy Statement 4. Do you think that is a change of Government policy, just poor drafting or that culture, the arts and theatres are no longer a Government priority?

Mhora Samuel: In the response DCMS made to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into arts and heritage funding last year, they said that culture and the arts were a Government priority. So I think they are still a priority for Government but the question is whether the connection has been made between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government. There is a body of opinion, certainly within local government, that culture, the arts and theatres make a huge contribution to our quality of life and the vitality of town centres. However, joining the dots can sometimes be quite hard for Departments to do.

The House of Lords, in terms of the amendment that came forward, also recognised that point and I know that local authorities do. In the case of Canterbury, they have just rebuilt their new Marlowe Theatre and one of the reasons they did that was that unfortunately, they did not get their bid for the European Capital of Culture, but on the back of that they then worked with the surrounding counties and districts and have rebuilt their theatre. The primary reason for that was to attract new investment into the town and it becoming a real destination, along with the Turner Contemporary in Margate and other initiatives in the south-east. So I think it is recognised; it is just about joining the dots.

Q212 Steve Rotheram: Does anyone else have a view on that before I ask a supplementary?

Robert Sullivan: I would just give our experience of the DCMS and DCLG situation, as that is relevant to us as well. I would say that DCMS have been working pretty hard behind the scenes to try to support sport and get our issues recognised in this structure. We accept that hopefully, there will be a few more twists and turns before the final policy comes out and we will have our chance, through our sponsoring Department and bodies such as yours, to get those arguments successfully across to whoever ultimately holds the pen.

Tony Burton: We would endorse that join-up-the-dots challenge. Heritage is another issue that is seen as a DCMS issue, and so DCLG does not really take on board the cultural side, and its social and economic value is not recognised. That is very clear in the NPPF, because that’s more a DCLG issue than a DCMS issue. Design is another point; design is a huge part of the economic agenda and yet we have just abolished the national advisor on design in CABE, which was jointly sponsored by both of them. So there are some challenges here that come from these classic departmental silos.

Q213 Steve Rotheram: Would you like to elaborate further on your views in the submission that the strength of the policy in PPS4 on culture in town centres is not specifically carried forward in the NPPF, and whether it needs to be?

Mhora Samuel: I believe it does because it gives clarity to planners involved in local and neighbourhood plan making, for some of the reasons you gave about local enthusiasts being involved in trying to put forward the case for a theatre or a cultural facility. I would also cite that when Aylesbury Vale was building its new theatre, it also specifically quoted the text on PPS6, which was the precursor to PPS4, as a rationale for the building of the new theatre. It actually replaces the Civic Centre but now provides a far greater cultural offer for the city. So it needs to be in there and it needs to be clear for planners. So either it is looking at how to bring back the phrase into the NPPF, or ensure it is in guidance.

Q214 Steve Rotheram: I would just like to pick up what you were saying, Mr Burton, with regard to departmental silos. Do the panel see a difference in policy on the arts and culture between DCLG and DCMS?

Mhora Samuel: I do not think the spirit is any different, but it is about how it delivers in practice. For example, there was a recent study looking at the importance of wellbeing, and in that report it makes explicit reference to the Taking Part Survey within DCMS. The spirit of the NPPF is about wellbeing and people’s quality of life. It is about pulling those references together and recognising that we are talking about the same thing but we need to make sure that it joins up.

Robert Sullivan: I agree with the spirit point, but there is also something of a bit more substance in this. For us, DCMS is a sponsoring department that provides investment into sports facilities that we work together to deliver. So they have skin in the game, if you like, in terms of protecting those facilities, and managing that relationship is really important. Ultimately, if planning guidance were to mean that, further down the line, we began to lose playing fields, people would turn to the Football Association and the Government as a partner to help reinvest in those facilities. So there is a connection there in that logic, and that also needs to be fully explored.

Tony Burton: DCMS is a bit of a shoestring Department, frankly, and its influence on this is pretty limited, which is why we are playing catch-up on sport, heritage, culture and design more than we should be. If they were going to be considered to be important they would be in the draft; it would not be up to NGOs, community groups and the Government’s agencies, such as English Heritage, to flag up where there are weaknesses. ’Twas ever thus, I have to say; it is not unusual for that to be the case. But it can help reassure people that the stated commitments on those issues are really understood and really embedded in the planning system.

Mhora Samuel: I should just add that the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, two executive bodies of DCMS, have both stated that the omission of culture in the NPPF is an important point that should be addressed.

Q215 Bob Blackman: I want to take this one stage further and look at the aspects of sport. I suggest the questions are to be picked up by Mr Sullivan, but if anyone else wants to take them up, they may. One of the risks in the urban environment is that there has been a loss playing fields and open space, and clearly there is an issue where there could be a risk under the NPPF that more playing fields disappear. Would you like to outline what you think the risks are under the current document?

Robert Sullivan: I would answer that question by saying it is not actually clear; that is one of the substantive points we are trying to make. Until we have a better understanding of the role of Sport England as a statutory consultee and whether that will remain in place, I wouldn’t like to give a true definition of what the impact might be. If they were to be removed, they would estimate themselves a loss of anywhere between 100 and 200 playing pitches a year based on the fact that developers would be able to ride out any complaints or issues around loss of sporting provision by pointing to the new framework as ultimate support for their position. At the moment, Sport England have the ability to say that a development can go ahead but like-for-like replacement or improvement of other existing facilities must be in place as a trade-off. If Sport England and the sport bodies lose that ability to have a trade-off with developers, and there is no call on them to provide any support to sports facilities, you could be looking at between 100 and 200 playing fields a year being lost without any provision in place. If you extrapolate that impact into football, cricket, rugby union, rugby league and other big participation sports, that is pretty considerable. As a national governing body, we take that to be a pretty serious issue.

Q216 Bob Blackman: I just want to be clear: so your view is that within the NPPF it has to be specific and clear that Sport England have this role?

Robert Sullivan: Exactly. We would very much welcome a tweak, which is a word that has been used a few times.

Q217 Bob Blackman: I think this is a bit more than a tweak.

Robert Sullivan: I would happily provide the Committee with some specific wording on how we might do that.

Q218 Bob Blackman: That would be very helpful from our perspective.

Robert Sullivan: The role of Sport England as a statutory consultee and the provision of a like-for-like replacement clause in any review for us, alone, would reassure us that the existing level of sporting facilities could be maintained. We are not talking about future sporting facilities-sadly, that will have to be an argument for another day-but at the moment we are looking at what we can do to have what we hold. For us, that would be a really positive change to this document.

Mhora Samuel: I would just add that it is a similar case for the loss of theatres. One of the issues is that the replacement of a facility when a development goes ahead can, in the context of the current NPPF, potentially be used as a reason for "undermining the viability of a development proposal". One of the things that we have suggested in our response to the NPPF is that that should not be the case, and that a like-for-like replacement should be a like-for-like replacement and should not have an impact on the viability of the scheme, because you have effectively lost an important community asset in relation to that development. That is particularly the case when you are looking at the provision of new homes. You are looking at increasing the number of people living in that area, and potentially you are not making any provision at all for community, cultural or sporting facilities. So it is a really important point that needs to be put across.

Tony Burton: I would like to make two supplementary points on the loss of playing fields. I think the statutory consultee role is an important one, but I think it needs to go beyond that. I think there needs to be clarity about the disposal of open space. That should not be happening unless there is clear evidence of a surplus regarding its current use, and there is no shortage of the potential use of that open space for other open-space activity. So allotments, parks and sports facilities are all open spaces. There is also a welcome commitment in the NPPF to the coalition Government’s commitments to protecting urban open space, but they have been rather restricted to neighbourhood plans. That is great and welcome, but neighbourhood plans are not going to be happening everywhere, despite our efforts, and we see no reason why communities with local plans cannot benefit from those provisions. So we do not see why that could not be introduced as a local plan mechanism as well as through the neighbourhood plan mechanism. That would be an important additional protection for these sorts of open spaces.

Q219 Bob Blackman: So can I ask you what your reaction is when the comment is made about the needs and benefits of the development on playing fields outweighing the loss?

Tony Burton: We would much rather have all this set out in the local planning policies, rather than being left with dealing with the NPPF.

Q220 Bob Blackman: I can understand that, but does that mean that every planning authority in the country is going to have to include this in their local plan, or otherwise there will be a presumption in favour of development on their open spaces?

Tony Burton: Yes, where a local authority has a concern about the loss of valued open spaces to its community-whether it be sports facilities or other open spaces, and an awful lot of them do have that-that should be reflected in their local plan policies.

Q221 Bob Blackman: So why shouldn’t that be in the national framework, rather than having to force every local authority to do it?

Tony Burton: In our view it should. The disposal of open space is an area where there would be real value in having clarity in the NPPF. That would then be applied through local plans and, where relevant, neighbourhood plans.

Robert Sullivan: In an example such as that, where a local authority may decide that the need outweighs the loss and is pro the development, at present that development on a playing field would not take place without some element of reinvestment or like-for-like replacement, and that is the kind of factor that is brought into the existing development structure. Developers know that and understand that. Very rarely does Sport England have a developer who says they are not going to do that; it is part of a known status quo. So taking that away seems to be a minus position that we do not actually need to create, given that we have a development industry that almost factors in that replacement or reinvestment into any development they may make on playing fields and open space.

Q222 Bob Blackman: So do you think that requirement for a like-for-like replacement where sports fields and open spaces are built on should be in the national framework?

Robert Sullivan: Absolutely, and a specific reference to Sport England’s continued role as a consultee to deliver that is powerful, because the feedback we get is that that isn’t going away. But without that being clearly and explicitly referenced in the guidance, there will be confusion and delineating it would be helpful.

Stephen Wright: I would absolutely agree that the headline principle of a statement that replacement facilities should be provided maybe does have a place in the NPPF, although that is perhaps subject to the important rider of: "except where there is a clear over-provision". I am slightly nervous about the like-for-like language. I absolutely understand the need for replacement open spaces where those are being used and needed, but I think it comes down to a local plan level and for a local authority to really understand the use and need and call for open space in their area. They can then understand whether like-for-like replacement is right or whether different facilities are actually better suited. So I think the like-for-like wording is something to be considered.

Robert Sullivan: Can I come back on that point? Part of the provision of Sport England’s consultee right is that they must do an assessment of supply and demand and answer that question. You have to pass some tests before the assumption is for like-for-like replacement, so they do that role of assessing the need and answering the question.

Mhora Samuel: At the moment, with the lack of any reference to culture in the NPPF, culture cannot even be considered in that framework. So we do not even have anywhere where that discussion can happen at the moment within the NPPF.

Q223 Chair : I would just like to get my local point in, like Steve. In Sheffield Hallam the FA wrote to me about these issues, and I was quite astounded to find that there were 3,700 teams playing regularly in local leagues on the pitches we are interested in protecting, which was quite a staggering figure. I would just like to come back to the issue of simplification. Could you give us one or two examples of where the NPPF is written in language that is not as clear as the existing policy, to highlight some of the problems?

Tony Burton: I don’t see why there is a double presumption in favour of development-you have a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is locked in through a presumption in favour of the development plan. We should just stick with a presumption in favour of the development plan, which is the current situation. The weasel wording around designated heritage assets-there is very clear guidance in PPS5 about the presumption in favour of their conservation, which is thrown into doubt by the rewriting. Those are two examples that cause concern to us.

Stephen Wright: We have already referred to making explicit what is implicit in terms of the sequential test and the impact test and how that relates to the presumption in favour. That is embedded in the text but it needs to be made clearer. There is also a point around the impact test when it comes to retail, leisure and office development. The draft NPPF proposes looking at impact over a 10-year period, which we think is potentially too long for a lot of development. A lot of the impacts of development need to be assessed over a shorter time frame as well to pick up the real impact on local communities. As has been suggested already, I am very happy to provide a draft of the proposals we have suggested if that would be helpful.

Q224 Chair : Yes, anything like that would be more than helpful, and if anybody else has any other specific wording we would be happy to receive that from you. I think that covers most of the subjects you raised with us very adequately. Thank you all very much for giving your evidence to the Committee.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Emmalene Gottwald, Senior Policy Officer, WWF-UK, Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Stephen Joseph, Executive Director, Campaign for Better Transport, and Roger Harding, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs, Shelter, gave evidence.

Q225 Chair : Good afternoon and thank you all for attending our third evidence session in the inquiry into the Draft National Planning Policy Framework. Could you, for the sake of our records, begin by introducing yourselves and saying the organisation you represent?

Shaun Spiers: I am Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Roger Harding: I am Roger Harding, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs at the housing and homeless charity Shelter.

Emmalene Gottwald: I am Emmalene Gottwald, Senior Planning Advisor at WWFUK.

Stephen Joseph: I am Stephen Joseph. I am the Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport.

Q226 Chair : You are all welcome. Thank you for the evidence you sent in writing so far. The Government has brought about the draft NPPF and said that we really need these changes and really need reform to the planning system because we need more growth and more development, and the planning system is an obstacle to it. Do you agree with that?

Shaun Spiers: It would be wrong to suggest that planning cannot be improved and there are not instances in which the way the planning system currently works slows down or impedes development. However, the idea that the planning system is the main thing preventing economic growth, or even a really significant thing preventing economic growth and the provision of the housing we need, is mistaken. Clearly, there would be a short-term burst of growth if you considerably weaken planning control, because you would end up giving approval to a whole lot of things that previously would not have been approved and probably, in the CPRE’s view, should not have been approved. So the relationship between planning and economic growth is much more complex than has been suggested in a lot of the rhetoric around this and CPRE, together with other NGOs, has commissioned some research into this that we hope will be ready quite shortly. Actually the research the Treasury is relying on is very old and, we think, quite thin.

Q227 Chair : Could you make that research available to this Committee? Do you have any idea when it will be available?

Shaun Spiers: Hopefully within the next month.

Roger Harding: From Shelter’s point of view it is very clear that the overall system is failing. There is a completely unmet need for new housing at the moment, and home ownership levels have been dropping for over eight years and look ready to drop for another 10 years. We highlighted just last week that private rents are now unaffordable for a typical family in over 50% of local authority areas, so it is very clear that more needs to happen and the overall system is failing. However, on the flipside, it is hard to place all of that blame at the door of planning. Undoubtedly there are changes that could be made to planning, and once those changes are made it is important we have a more stable planning system and give some predictability to developers. Overall, in terms of the housing debate, there is a useful role the Committee can play. Successive Governments have failed on housing and it is going to take stability of policy, political consensus on the solutions and a long-term commitment to housing to get it in a better stead. A crossparty Committee is a good place to start developing that consensus.

One area I am glad the Committee will be looking into in the future is the need for more housing finance, which has been seriously absent. There has been a series of changes to the planning system since the Second World War. Private development has been remarkably consistent during that period; there are slight peaks and troughs depending on the economic cycle, but it is remarkably consistent. In fact it got to its highest levels in the 1960s, when public investment was at its highest. So whilst some planning changes could make an important difference, undoubtedly what we ultimately need is more investment both from the public sector but also more state-facilitated private investment as well.

Emmalene Gottwald: I agree with what Shaun said in some ways: you never have a perfect system. There is always a need to review it, monitor it, manage it, and to update it in accordance with changing circumstances. So in some ways to argue that reform is or is not necessary is a bit strange, because you always need to reform your policies in some ways to deal with the changing circumstances.

The planning system is never static, it is always dynamic, and should be changed to accord to the different things it needs to take into account over time. Having considered that, we then need to think about what reforms are required, what timing is required to introduce those reforms, and also what their impact is going to be. That is where I have concerns about the current reforms. I do not know if we have the evidence that comes from looking over reforms in the past, seeing how they were implemented over time, and assessing whether those were good or bad reforms and what needs to happen beyond that to make the current reforms we are going through better and improve the system. Or are we just taking this very quick analysis and wanting to respond to the immediate economic crisis and change a system that is very easily changeable through reform?

I think we need to assess the current situation in terms of economic growth and how the planning system can respond to that, but also look at the other challenges that we are facing and how the planning system needs to respond to that as well. If we say that the planning system needs purely to respond to economic growth, then what about the other challenges we face, like climate change, loss of biodiversity or some of the social challenges such as deprivation and sustainable communities? We cannot really focus the planning system on one particular element; we need to look at all the different challenges and allow the planning system to respond to all of them rather than just focusing on one.

Stephen Joseph: We do need growth but not at any cost, because that will not be sustainable growth. What we need is smart growth that respects limits, including not just limits on planning but the limits of road space and the ability of a densely populated island to accommodate levels of traffic. Our concern is that, as currently drafted, the NPPF will actually choke economic growth by producing more car-based development and therefore more traffic congestion. Even in its own terms, this NPPF as currently drafted will not help the economy.

Q228 Chair : I would like to pick up on one or two of those points, starting with the last point. Is that an argument for saying that it is an appalling document and there is nothing right with it, so we should throw it away, stay where we are and nothing will change? Or is it about saying that you see what the Government are trying to get at, but there may be ways you could help them alter the wording or provide greater clarification to make it a workable document in your terms?

Stephen Joseph: I know we said in our evidence that it was an appalling document, but I think there are things that could be done with it. In particular there are some severe threats in relation to transport in the way the thing is drafted. The first is the removal of office and commercial development from the Town Centre First policy. Those are large traffic-generating developments. If they are located in places that cannot be easily reached by public transport and you get large-scale, single-occupancy car users commuting to those places, you will get significant congestion. We did some modelling of what would happen if you put business parks next to the M1, where there are already some business parks, and you get an increase in congestion of around 16%, which would be enough to tip it over into permanent peak-time conditions.

Secondly, there is the removal of requirements for transport assessments, travel plans and parking standards. They are mentioned as things that can be provided but are not required. Thirdly, there is a strong severity test on refusal of development on transport and traffic grounds. Taken together, those amount to significant threats, although it is possible to rewrite them and perhaps we will come on to how we might change them. The response we have made, and the response made by other groups concerned with transport, suggests that you can deal with this and create a planning framework that genuinely promotes sustainable development in transport and other terms without lengthening it.

Q229 Chair : We will move on to detail in a little while. Are there any other views?

Emmalene Gottwald: It depends on what you see as the role of the National Planning Policy Framework. You could just tweak things now, remove some of the threats and make it a bit clearer and more workable, or you could be aspirational and take a whole new approach to a National Planning Policy Framework, which would require a rewrite. So we have other organisations in the past, like the RTPI and the TCPA, who have been saying that what we need is a national strategic spatial framework for England that would assess the different needs at a national level and provide more strategic guidance on how these could be delivered through local planning. That requires a very different approach to this national policy document that we have now, which is much less strategic and much more summarising of some of the existing policies.

If you want to say the planning system is really about delivering sustainable development, what I have suggested in our response to DCLG is to look at the principles from the sustainable development strategy, use the same framework as in PPS1 and use that as the whole format for the NPPF. So you would have the principles of living within environmental limits, a just and fair society, a sustainable economy, good governance, and using sound science. You could use those to provide your framework and to move around some of the policies and have more of an integrated approach. The whole document would then be looking at how you deliver sustainable development, looking at all the different topic areas and different policies you need across the planning system. In that way you could have a very different document, really aimed at the purpose of achieving sustainable development.

Roger Harding: Given the pace of change on this and several other things, at Shelter we focused, within the confines of what the Government has put forward, on looking at ways in which we can improve it and have been unable to take a full historical look at this system versus another one. However within this, and looking to improve the NPPF, what has been missing in a lot of public debates has been the focus on the social. There has been a lot of focus on growth, the economy and some of the environmental challenges put to the NPPF, and sadly, as I say, the social has been neglected. There are important areas there that need to be looked at again and tightened up. For example, the definition of what qualifies as affordable housing has been changed quite substantially, and potentially in a way that allows housing to be brought forward that is classified under the NPPF as affordable but is not genuinely affordable to the people who live there. There are important clarifications that need to go into the guidance related to the NPPF on needs assessments to inform local authorities’ plans on affordable housing. There are a couple of other areas as well that really need to be looked at on the social sector to bolster that more.

More generally there is a need to look at clarifying a few terms within the document, because while a drive towards simplicity is admirable, there is always a danger with simplified documents that they are in effect a simplified document underpinned by a forest’s-worth of court judgments that make up the real document but are not technically bound within it. So if certain terms are not clarified in the NPPF, I think we will be doing that over the next couple of years or more in the courts.

Then finally, beyond the NPPF, there are some tweaks that need to be made to the transitional arrangements to make sure there is not a flurry of potential court judgments or applications brought forward while local authorities adjust to the new system that might not be in keeping with the long-term needs of the community and the NPPF itself.

Shaun Spiers: The CPRE thinks at this stage the important thing is to get the document right, not to start again, and we do need certainty in the planning system. We have made some detailed suggestions in our modest, 60-page submission, and if most were taken on board I think it would be a pretty good document. I do not think it is impossible to make it a good document.

The last couple of months have been quite entertaining for those interested in planning, but it is regrettable that we have had this huge storm. It is interesting that in Scotland, where they went through a similar process of compressing planning guidance into about 80 pages, that was done through consensus, and when the draft document was released there were arguments around the detail but not the fundamentals. The really important thing now is that the Government is listening but the Treasury is standing back. The document is facing both ways in all sorts of areas-the good intentions outlined by Greg Clark in his foreword are undermined consistently by this neurotic impulse to say "and economic growth" at every point.

So if the Government is listening and DCLG is in control, then it is possible to get a document that will get broad support from the various parties concerned. However, what would be really useful for the Government would be to have some sort of accelerated second round of consultation at the end of the current round. The way the document was put together-without a Green Paper, White Paper or any evidence that submissions from organisations on the Practitioners Advisory Group draft were taken on board-made this storm we’ve had totally predictable. What’s needed now is more than tweaks, so I think a second round of consultation would be very useful for all concerned.

Q230 Bob Blackman: The current view is that the NPPF will set the broad strategy and will be supplemented by local plans, which will be determined by local people as to what is going to happen at their level. What concerns do you have, if any, about achieving sustainable development and the differences in interpretation that may take place between local authorities?

Emmalene Gottwald: If we look at some of the practice now, there has been inconsistency in how sustainable development is applied at the local level. Some people look to one pillar more than the others, and develop their policies around that pillar to fulfil what they see as their local needs, and they will not necessarily look to the other pillars. You also have particular organisations that have more of an environmental focus, which will focus on really pushing the environment, and then you have other organisations that focus on pushing something else, and you do not end up with an integrated approach.

So what we are pushing for, in terms of greater clarity of definition at the national level, is to provide a framework in which local authorities can work, knowing there is some certainty and consistency across the board. So they start from that initial framework, and then they look to their local circumstances to work out how they can contribute to those greater needs across England and make sure they are working together to achieve those. Sustainable development is not just about local issues; it is about connecting the local with the sub-national, with the national and with the global. All of our actions, even at a very local level, may have an impact on a global situation, so we need to connect all of those things and make sure we are acting within each of the frameworks that regulate that.

Q231 Bob Blackman: We have had evidence that says sustainable development is a well-known and well-understood principle, and therefore there does not need to be any greater clarity of definition. You seem to contradict that view, and I just want to be clear what your evidence would be as to what that definition should be.

Emmalene Gottwald: We put in our evidence and our submission to DCLG that we think the definition within the NPPF should be the Brundtland definition, but also the principles from the sustainable development strategy that are consistent with what was in PPS1 and understood within the planning system now. That provides a good framework at that higher level, which is still flexible to be used at the local level to take into account the different circumstances at the local level.

There has been lots of good debate. I have worked a lot on the Localism Bill, trying to get different provisions within the Bill looking at sustainable development. There has been lots of good debate in that about what sustainable development means, and each time there have been lots of people coming forward and saying sustainable development means different things. Actually, if we sat down and talked about it, we could probably come up with a definition that we would all agree with. We have these documents that put forward the definitions we all know, such as the Brundtland commissioned report-

Q232 Bob Blackman: Sorry-without exploring all those issues, which I think we are quite clear on, your position is that a clear statement and definition should be in the NPPF?

Emmalene Gottwald: Yes, I think so.

Q233 Bob Blackman: In the evidence you presented to us, you suggested that local plans would be out of date as a result of the NPPF. What do you mean by that?

Emmalene Gottwald: "Out of date" is a term that is used within the NPPF itself, hence my using that term. I would actually prefer that it not be used, because it could lead to inconsistency at the local level. I have suggested that what should be used is terminology that we already know throughout the planning system, which is "consistent". So at the moment the test of soundness will check whether a local plan is consistent with national policy, and I think that is much better terminology. Regarding what out of date means, if we look at the changes being made to the current system, we have the Localism Bill, which will make changes in terms of neighbourhood planning and regional strategies, and introduce a duty to cooperate; and then we have a revision of national policy.

So when it comes to a decision or an application being decided, the current presumption is that you look to the development plan unless there are material considerations to indicate otherwise. So if there have been changes in the planning system or policy since the development plan was adopted, they would be material considerations. The national policy, particularly at the moment, is a material consideration. So if the national policy is a more recent document and is different from the development plan, that means that should be a material consideration that would make the development plan out of date, and therefore the decision would be decided in accordance with the material considerations, rather than the development plan. Does that make sense?

Q234 Bob Blackman: Yes, I understand the issues. Does anyone else want to come in on the issue of local versus national plans?

Roger Harding: In terms of what could vary locally if the NPPF goes ahead as it is currently, one concern we have at Shelter is the assessment of local housing need.

Q235 Bob Blackman: Can I just be clear: is that quality, quantity or both?

Roger Harding: It’s the methodology and process that has to be used by a local authority’s planning office, basically, to pull together an understanding of the housing demand in an area and the housing need. At the moment, under the old system, they have to set out how many affordable homes they intend to build over a given period and also break down whether that is social rented homes, intermediate rent, low-cost home ownership homes and so on.

At the moment, as the NPPF requires, local authorities have to pull together a strategic housing market assessment, which is that vehicle that pulls together all this data on housing need. While there is national guidance, local authorities have applied that in quite varying ways. They have tended to use differing methodologies and have often tended to outsource it to consultants, which is quite expensive, and there has been a mini-boom for some of those consultants, pulling those together using a national process rather than flexing it to the local authority area. You find that, when you put a lot of those housing market assessments together, a lot of the areas they cover end up overlapping, so it becomes quite hard to get an assessment of the need in an area beyond the local.

What we would like to see is improved guidance, and Shelter, Campaign to Protect Rural England, and many of the planning bodies are already working on this. This would set out a clearer methodology for assessing this need at a local level. Assessing the need at a local level in a more accurate way is exactly what is needed to make the case to people locally that more housing is needed.

Q236 Bob Blackman: So you think there should be national guidance on how these local plans are put together and the standards that are applied?

Roger Harding: National guidance and national support on what data local authorities use to inform their local plans-I know that seems potentially contradictory, but this is national support almost to facilitate localism. There are a lot of benefits of local authorities getting together to use similar methodology, and in fact it is something that local authorities recognise themselves. Shelter commissioned some research from the University of Cambridge that is published today, showing that over 80% of local authorities would welcome more guidance on the assessment of housing need in their local area.

Q237 Bob Blackman: So that is published and in the public domain?

Roger Harding: Yes, as of today. I can send the Committee a copy of that. They recognise that is a more efficient process for collating need and understanding need. It is also a system that helps them collaborate across borders. If you are all using a similar methodology, you can understand the trade-offs, and it facilitates the discussions that need to happen between neighbouring local authorities as to where housing is going to be built, particularly if one local authority has some significant land-supply constraints.

It also helps people hold their local authority to account. If the need data are robust, they can point to those and say to their local politicians, "Why is it that you are not building sufficient houses at the moment?"; whereas there is a danger at the moment that local authorities are setting their own needs assessments or have the ability to, to some degree. So there is a danger that, if they feel they are going to be unable or unwilling to deliver more housing, they could use a definition of housing need that produces a somewhat lower figure than is the actual reality on the ground. So that is an important area where national guidance would help to stop some negative deviation at a local authority area.

The second area for me is the definition of affordable housing. There are many reasons why local authorities may potentially get to a situation where they are either not building affordable housing or they are building affordable housing that is not genuinely affordable for the people who live there. That may be for political expediency, or due to developers using their lobbying power to make the case that certain affordable housing is not necessary on the development they are bringing forward. Under PPS3, affordable housing is defined as being housing the eligibility of which is set according to people’s ability to pay-the cost of it, whether to buy or to rent, should be a cost that is affordable to local people. Under the NPPF, the eligibility for affordable housing simply has to have reference to local incomes. That is a small change but it is a very important change.

Furthermore, the NPPF does not place any duty on local authorities to set out how much affordable housing they intend to build over a given period of their local plan. That is not to say that we need national targets on affordable housing, but it should be right that local authorities very clearly set out their ambition in terms of affordable housing: how much they intend to build over a local plan period and, within that, what types of affordable housing. These would be important tweaks that would help collaboration between local authorities but would also make their performance more transparent and more accountable to local people.

Q238 Bob Blackman: Mr Spiers, you seemed to suggest in your evidence that this Certificate of Conformity should pressurise local authorities to go beyond the requirements of the law. Could you explain why and what the impact would be?

Shaun Spiers: In terms of the strains between local and national, we welcome the aspiration to be more localist. We are concerned that if the local plan has to be in conformity with the NPPF-we think the NPPF is weighted in favour of development: a local authority must show that the adverse impacts of development significantly and demonstrably outweigh the beneficial impacts, and so on-then the scope for the local authority to take the decisions that we, or they, might want to take is severely constrained. So I think that is the real problem. There are some detailed questions about the way the Certificate of Conformity would work that were raised in our legal advice, which you have. I think those are good questions for the Government.

The other aspect of the ability for local authorities to benefit from the new planning framework that needs some attention is cultural change and resources in local planning authorities. There is a sometimes a sense in discussions that we have a perfect system, and if you free up planners to plan positively and not just to be concerned with development control all the time, and if reasonable people act reasonably, then good outcomes will emerge. Planning is a hugely contested area, which provokes great passions and involves a considerable amount of money. If you are doing it in the context of a definition of stable development that is so vague that one could make almost anything of it, but the impulse is all the time to say "Support development", there are real questions about whether local communities are going to be able to benefit from this new framework.

Q239 Bob Blackman: Unfortunately, we did not see this until the Committee was literally about to start.

Shaun Spiers: Didn’t see what?

Q240 Bob Blackman: The legal advice.

Shaun Spiers: My apologies for that.

Q241 Bob Blackman: So I have not had a chance to study it in detail. Are you suggesting in this that in some way, shape or form, the NPPF would be unlawful?

Shaun Spiers: No. On the question on sustainability, what the NPPF says is that the sustainable development is the 52 pages. What our lawyer, John Hobson, says is that the problem with this is that the "key sustainable development principles are not easy to identify or extract from the text of the NPPF".

Q242 Bob Blackman: Which we would all agree with.

Shaun Spiers: He is more or less saying it is going to be a field day for lawyers, and he and his colleagues are probably going around in disguise at the moment.

Q243 Bob Blackman: Mr Joseph, do you want to comment?

Stephen Joseph: What we would want to see are some key principles of what transport means in terms of sustainable development actually written into the document. You can do that from an evidence-based point of view. We produced a document three years ago called the Masterplanning Checklist, which went through 120 references of what sustainable transport would actually look like in planning terms. I notice the Passenger Transport Executive Group have recently updated that and done some case studies of what that looks like in practice. There are some clear principles here: provide development that is needed in the most sustainable pattern locations; promote more sustainable communities and neighbourhoods where all day-to-day services are highly accessible and reduce the need to travel; support provision of sustainable transport; and reduce emissions. Those are main principles of policy that can and should be set down, not in a little section marked "transport" but in the main bits of the document. We want to see that mainstreamed into the vision for growth at the start of the document.

Q244 Bob Blackman: My colleagues will come on to talk about transport a bit further, but can I just clarify one issue that you raised earlier, on car parking standards? You seem to have an issue about the Government’s relaxation of the rules on car parking standards.

Stephen Joseph: The lesson from when we had locally set car parking standards is that, in conditions where you had a lot of economic growth and a lot of demand, councils were played off against each other on car parking, and development that was mobile tended to migrate to the place where they could get the highest standards.

Q245 Bob Blackman: Can I clarify: do you think there should be a national standard on car parking, or do you think local authorities should determine the car parking standards that they wish to have and local people should have their say on what those standards should be?

Stephen Joseph: Ideally, there should be a national maximum that local authorities can go beyond if they want to in certain locations. I accept that that doesn’t accord with localism, so the next best thing would be to make sure-as the draft policy currently doesn’t-that local authorities do set maximum standards that they are happy with, rather than leaving it up to them whether to set car parking standards at all. The reason for that is simple: certainty for developers; then they will know that every authority will have maximum standards and they can work with those. I think this is more about commercial development, by the way, than residential development.

Q246 Heidi Alexander: We are talking about sustainable development in the round, and I just wonder whether, in your view, to crack sustainable development in the UK we need a national spatial plan?

Stephen Joseph: Other countries have such plans and they integrate transport and spatial planning, which we have never done. The classic story on this is Milton Keynes. The decision to designate Milton Keynes as a new town was announced by the Minister for Housing and Local Government in the 1960s in the same week as the Minister for Transport announced the closure of the Oxford-Cambridge railway line, which went through the site of Milton Keynes.

Arguably, other countries’ economic success is built on the fact that they integrate transport and spatial planning effectively at national, regional and local level. Through that, they are able to get development focused around transport. We have recently done a car dependency scorecard comparing UK capitals with other capitals in the rest of Europe, and the result is other countries have higher GDP with less car use, because it is made easier for people to live in places without cars. There are notable developments in parts of Freiburg and Stockholm where the majority of movement is not by car. It is possible to aspire to that in new developments and indeed in refurbished old developments. So we need some kind of spatial planning at a national level that integrates those. A current issue, for example, is high-speed rail; if we do not have some kind of spatial planning associated with high-speed rail, it will not produce, we would argue, the regeneration of places in the north, Birmingham and Manchester. Instead, it will enlarge the London commuter belt to places like Birmingham, Sheffield and so on. Every other country that has done high-speed rail has integrated it with a spatial planning policy.

Emmalene Gottwald: A spatial plan at a national level is a very useful tool for determining whether co-ordinated efforts across England are helping us to contribute as a whole to sustainable development. In some ways, it is the process you go through to develop that plan that is the most important. It is giving that visual dimension to it and having to map things on a plan that allows you to identify what the different needs are and where they are; the different limitations we are facing in terms of land; the different opportunities that may be there for development or a different use of land; the competing interests that may overlap or not; and how we can identify integrated delivery of all the needs that we have. So by going through that process of having a plan and then looking at the spatial implications of policies by mapping on that plan, you can then come up with some answers as to what we need to do to achieve sustainable development.

Q247 Heidi Alexander: So I have heard two yeses. What would you say Mr Harding? Actually, let me put this question slightly differently to you: are the affordable housing needs of London going to be solved in London alone?

Roger Harding: That is exactly what I was going to say. I was going to answer that question by saying that they cannot be, unfortunately. As I understand it, we will become the only European country without an above-local level of spatial planning, so it is certainly quite an experiment. There are some quite important issues in there to consider, such as the London issue of affordable housing.

There has been a lot of discussion, post the credit crunch, of rebalancing our economy, not just in terms of industries but also geographically. We are going to have to have more of a think than we have currently had about how we are going to have to use planning to enable that kind of shift. It is also worth saying that in the research we have done, one of the biggest reasons why people tend to oppose development in their area is a fear over the impact on local infrastructure, particularly roads and transport. If that is not linked up, it can make it understandable why people are blocking developments-even though I come from a prodevelopment organisation-because those needs have not been properly considered. So if we want to get to a situation where more people are far more welcoming of development-and can see that, far from degrading their area, it will actually improve their area and negate their concerns about dropping house prices-we will have to link up things like transport and housing planning far more closely than we currently do.

Shaun Spiers: I agree with the previous speakers, but we are not going to get a national spatial plan so the important thing is to make the duty to co-operate not just a duty but an opportunity. From the CPRE’s point of view the other concern is that if the Local Enterprise Partnerships stand proxy for the regional assemblies, they are actually less transparent and less democratic than the regional layer that has been got rid of, and they have almost no regard to sustainable development principles. So to the extent the LEPs fill the gap, there has to be work done on making them more transparent and less narrowly business focused, so they can take account of some of the other things we have been speaking about.

Q248 Mark Pawsey: I want to raise some questions about protection of the environment, so these are probably geared more towards Mr Spiers and Ms Gottwald than the other two witnesses. Mr Harding said that there was lots of focus on the economic and environmental aspects within the NPPF but the social had been missed out. Do you agree with him? Is there enough on the environmental protection?

Shaun Spiers: We are particularly concerned about the loss of any recognition of the intrinsic value of the ordinary countryside for the first time in planning guidance in over 60 years. We think it will be harder to deliver the aspirations of the natural environment White Paper without something along the lines of the wording currently in PPS4, although there have been other formulations over the years. That is a particular concern.

We are concerned about the environmental impacts of all sorts of things in this plan, including, for example, the loss of Brownfield First, which has been hugely important not only for regeneration of towns and cities but also for protecting the countryside. I am sorry you only just got our legal advice, but we are concerned that removing the presumption against develop in the green belt, coupled with the overall presumption in favour of sustainable development, will actually weaken protection of the green belt. I do not believe that is the Government’s intention; I believe the Government is very serious about wanting to protect the green belt, but the effect the NPPF will have, unless amended, will be to weaken greenbelt protection. This will be the case even in areas of outstanding natural beauty and National Parks; unless there is more regard for the setting of protected areas, they will also be weakened.

So I do not disagree with Roger’s point about the need to take the social very seriously as well. However, we are concerned that, sometimes inadvertently, as with green belt-sometimes we are not quite sure if it is inadvertent or not, as with the loss of the recognition of the intrinsic value of the ordinary countryside-environmental protections are being weakened in this document.

Emmalene Gottwald: I would agree. We support the fact that there are some policies within the environment section itself that retain protections, and we understand that. In some ways, those protections always had to be taken forward because they are required by other legislative measures, particularly in relation to European designated sites and SSSIs. However, I think it is about what is outside those areas; it is about looking at the NPPF as a whole, not necessarily some of the policies within the environment section.

Let’s look at the presumption itself-if that is to apply-and then take a look at the benefits and the adverse impacts. If you were to refuse a development, those adverse impacts have not only to be significant but also demonstrable, and that is quite a high margin to meet. It is much higher than the present test, which asks if, on balance, the adverse impacts outweigh the benefits. So we are establishing a higher test for environmental impacts to influence decision making than would previously have been the case. Also, the presumption is repeated in the environmental protection policies, so that the application of those policies is somewhat subject to the application of the presumption. So you then get this stronger economic focus throughout the environmental policies themselves.

In preparation for this, I actually went back and looked at the draft consultation document on the Planning Policy Statement that was prepared before the election, which combined three PPSs dealing with the natural environment. I looked back at the objectives for that and I feel that we have lost a bit of the really good objectives that were developed within that draft PPS. These are simple things like the natural environment being integrated into the strategic vision of communities; policies and decisions being based on an understanding of nature; the extent and value of the natural environment; and recognising its importance. I think we have lost some of those elements with this; it is all about stopping impact.

Q249 Mark Pawsey: Have you got any thoughts about how those have been lost? Mr Spiers suggested that the intention is there but the result is something rather different. Do you think it is because of this economic fixation the Government seem to have-that economic growth is massively important-that all these other ideas have been put on one side: because of the desperate need to achieve economic growth in the present climate? Do you think that that is where the Government have gone wrong?

Emmalene Gottwald: I think there are a couple of factors, and yes, that is one. The predominant focus is on the economy and the idea that the planning system should be about sustainable economic growth, rather than integration of social, economic and environmental factors. However, the summarising of environmental policies means that you have not necessarily transferred across some of the important objectives, because they have just been shortened and you have lost some of the really valuable wording and intention behind what the objectives were in the first place.

Q250 Mark Pawsey: Do you agree that protection of the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty, which is set out very clearly in the NPPF and the Government’s objectives, has been lost or is not clear enough?

Emmalene Gottwald: Those protections are still there but they are weakened by the focus on and presumption in favour of economic growth. So you would seek to apply those policies, but if the impact on the green belt or the environment generally was not so significant or demonstrable as to outweigh some economic benefit from the development, then a local authority would be obliged to say they would grant a development that would impact on those things.

Q251 Mark Pawsey: Mr Spiers, have I summed up your position-that you think the intention is there but the execution has gone wrong somewhere?

Shaun Spiers: I think the intention is there on green belt. One of the problems is that it is not clear what the intention is reading the document as a whole; it would be difficult to read the document as a whole and think the intention is to strengthen protection of the natural environment. The overriding thing that comes across reading the document as a whole is that the intention is to weaken the planning system to give a short-term burst to economic growth, hoping that that does not harm the environment too much. I do not think people wake up in the morning and think about how they can draft a planning policy that will really weaken the environment; but the impulse has not been to strengthen the environment and produce a document that is really serious about sustainable development, and that gives equal weight to the social, the environmental and the economic. It is quite clear to almost anybody who reads this document that the priority is in favour of the economic. So the definition of sustainable development here is actually not sustainable development; it is economic development.

Q252 Mark Pawsey: You obviously do not like the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Would you rather that applicants had to demonstrate the sustainability of the proposals they are bringing forward-in other words, twist it round? Would that be better?

Shaun Spiers: If you had a proper definition of sustainable development, that might not be necessary, but it would be interesting to find out what the Government thought might be unsustainable.

Emmalene Gottwald: I would prefer criteria that set out what is sustainable, to be applied-

Q253 Mark Pawsey: So you would like a massive, long definition?

Emmalene Gottwald: I do not think it has to be that detailed. The whole process of weighing up benefits and impacts is not necessarily a test of sustainability; it is actually looking at what the benefits and impacts are, and they may not mean that a development is sustainable. That is done in the normal planning system anyway. I think we could probably establish some key tests for each of the pillars of sustainable development, which would need to be put within the NPPF and against which development could be tested. For example, if we look at housing, it could be that they accord with the zero carbon homes policy. If it is to do with transport, you could look at things like accessibility requirements.

Q254 Mark Pawsey: But would you like all of this prescribed within the NPPF? Would you like developers to demonstrate the sustainability of their projects? What impact do you think that would have on the number of houses built in the next few years?

Emmalene Gottwald: I think they should be doing this anyway. These are current Government policies that we could be making more explicit as the test of sustainability. We already have policy within the NPPF dealing with each of the topics, so I cannot see that it would be difficult to pull out one in particular for each topic, saying it is the absolute thing that must be met if the presumption is to apply.

Shaun Spiers: PPS1 sets out tests for sustainability in about 15 pages. You could do it a bit more succinctly than that-it does not have to be a hugely long document-but there are tests that exist and there are principles, including the principle of respecting environmental limits. All of that has been lost here, and it is so vague that it is effectively useless as a definition of sustainable development.

Q255 Mark Pawsey: Mr Harding, would you like to take the advice of your colleagues and bring those additional restrictions into the NPPF?

Roger Harding: I was going to make a more general point, which is that, while Shelter would largely support the Brownfield First proposal, I think there is a danger that that and the wider debates get caught up into thinking it is either brownfield only or majority brownfield. We have to recognise that the last Government set a brownfield target that was significantly exceeded; we built on an awful lot of brownfield land and we built on a lot of the good stuff, so there is not so much good brownfield land available for development. If we are to build more family homes, as we all now recognise we did not do enough of, and if we are to stop building the smallest homes in Europe, we are going to need to bring on-stream much more land than we currently have. I am afraid that means having to build on much more greenfield land, and probably majority greenfield land over the longer term, so I think that is worth noting.

Some recent analysis produced by Vicky Pryce at FTI Consulting highlighted that you could certainly use housing to bring forward economic growth through housing investment-mainly public, but also facilitated private-but that doing it through the planning system would only have a medium to long-term impact. It is hard to see how changes to the planning system would affect our economic growth over the next couple of years. So if we want to use housing to push forward our overall growth and GDP, we are going to have to look at bringing forward more investment into it.

Q256 Mark Pawsey: Mr Joseph, what are your thoughts on environmental protection?

Stephen Joseph: The problem is that the last bit of paragraph 14 in the current draft, which talks about how "all of these policies should apply unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole", will have more weight than any individual bit of the NPPF. That means you can put in nice words about green belt or heritage, but such wording, inserted at the behest of the Treasury and so on, will set a very high bar against which any other consideration in short-term economic development can be judged.

As I have said, I think it is possible to put down some principles that make transport sustainable, and sustainable in all three terms. It is worth saying that car-based development, or development built on the outskirts of a number of cities that has been built as affordable housing, has resulted in very large public and private costs in terms of wider social problems and people not being able to access key facilities. Therefore, less car-based development-both homes and other development-is critical for economic, social and environmental purposes in reducing emissions, social problems and congestion.

Shaun Spiers: The stock of developable brownfield land has actually grown in every region, including the south-east, in recent years, and we will send you some data on that if it would be helpful.

Chair : That would be helpful; thank you very much.

Q257 Heidi Alexander: I would like to return to the transport impacts of the NPPF, and this is perhaps more to Mr Joseph and Ms Gottwald. How would you characterise the impact on transport patterns of the NPPF as currently drafted, and what would be the impact on carbon emissions as a result of the impact on transport patterns?

Stephen Joseph: For the reasons I have already mentioned-the removal of office and commercial development from the Town Centre First policy, the severity test for opposing things, and the removal of transport assessments for major new development-it seems to us there is the danger of significantly car-based development and increased congestion. I think there is a misunderstanding of some of the evidence. As I have mentioned, we have done some research, and every business park you add to the M1 adds 16% to congestion. That is not an attractive proposition. We worked out-just for the sake of doing it; not that we think it is likely to happen-that if you add a business park at every motorway junction between London and Sheffield, you would lengthen the journey time from London to Sheffield by 50 minutes. That is not going to add any economic growth whatsoever.

So we think there are principles that can be brought back in. In Planning Policy Guidance 13, there is a paragraph at the start that should be brought into the start of the NPPF. It sets out clear principles for sustainable development, accessibility of development, and co-location-you yourself commented on that in last week’s debate, which I am sad enough to have read some of. David Miliband once talked about putting things within "prampushing distance" and having key facilities within walking distance from people’s houses. It is possible to design development like that, but we do not do it because we never ask people to do it.

Q258 Heidi Alexander: So you think that the NPPF will mean car journeys up, carbon emissions up?

Stephen Joseph: Absolutely.

Q259 Heidi Alexander: Would you agree with that?

Emmalene Gottwald: I do agree with that, because I think you are not necessarily going to have the same strength of policy to encourage mixed-use development, making sure that you have suitable design within development to encourage walking and cycling, and demand-management of transport issues. So in terms of what WWF does in transport policy more generally, we look at some of the technology issues to reduce emissions but we also look at the demand-management side of things. We need to be moving towards more policy that is addressing demand and ways of reducing demand, rather than just focusing on the technological side of things. We seem to be getting a weakening of that in national policy, which is pretty much saying that you can decide what is relevant for the local area, keeping in mind that we need development that brings economic benefit; that may bring more cars as people need to travel to that development. We need to look more at the demand side of things and how we can encourage policy on that.

Q260 Heidi Alexander: How do you feel the document copes with giving local authorities the ability to refuse development on transport grounds? Some people suggest there is a weakening of the ability of a local authority to turn down development as a result of transport assessments, and I just wonder how you feel about that. What specifically would you like to see changed in the document to correct that, if you do see it as a problem?

Stephen Joseph: The particular thing is the test in the transport section about severity. You have to prove that the impacts of transport and traffic are severe before you can turn something down. That is a very high bar and will, I can see, require lots of appeals and huge employment of transport consultants on all sides to be able to prove that. It would be much better to use the transport assessments and travel plan requirements that are the basis in PPG13 and elsewhere, and to do that, as I have said, as part of a broader framework that has clear principles at its heart about locating development where it can be well served by public transport. So the location of development is the core point of this, both accessibility and focusing development on strengthening town centres, rather than weakening them. We have seen in the Merry Hill Centre in Mr Pawsey’s constituency-no, it is not your constituency.

Q261 Mark Pawsey: That is not in my constituency.

Stephen Joseph: Sorry, it is another Member. I got that wrong. Out-of-town shopping centres from the last round of development in the 1980s have weakened town centres, and we need to move away from that.

Q262 David Heyes: Just staying with housing, I have a couple of clarification questions. The CPRE are unhappy about the additional 20% requirement on the five-year housing land allocation. Can you expand on that-why is that your view?

Shaun Spiers: We think that having a five-year land supply plus 20%, minus windfalls, will put irresistible pressure on local authorities to release greenfield land unnecessarily. That will undermine the sustainability principles behind the framework as a whole and simply enable developers to cherry-pick greenfield sites. We have already seen some developers, Bovis Homes for instance, saying in their published six-monthly results that there is now a nod and a wink from Government that we will be able to develop more greenfield sites. So we feel the 20% is unnecessary and will undermine sustainability.

Q263 David Heyes: I think Mr Harding said it was Shelter’s belief that the direction of travel pushes towards more building on greenfield, and potentially greenbelt, land.

Roger Harding: If we are to meet the level of housing supply that we need in this country, and we are to make housing more affordable, reduce overcrowding and allow future generations of families to live as their parents have, then we are going to have to face up to the fact that we will have to build on some greenfield land. That is not to say we should ignore brownfield land; we definitely should build on that. We should also recognise that building on greenfield is not necessarily a detrimental thing; a lot of it is low-grade agricultural land with zero biodiversity because it has been subject to constant pesticides for the last 50 years. So actually, by creating good, suburban family housing, it could improve both the environmental aspect and the social aspect.

Q264 David Heyes: I think Mr Spiers wants to come back on that.

Shaun Spiers: I think the aspiration for building new housing should be win, win. We should actually improve the environment, and that is mostly done through developing on brownfield land.

There is no doubt we have a housing crisis and there is no doubt we are building many fewer homes than we need to. The frustration with this debate is it is implied that this is about the planning system, whereas actually the private house building industry has never built more than 200,000 houses a year since the 1930s. There is no real evidence that they are either willing or able to do so. If you talk to the major housebuilders, they would always prefer margin to volume.

I gave a speech to a housebuilding conference a couple of weeks ago, where I was so conciliatory it almost hurt. I was giving examples of CPRE branches supporting housing, including redrawing greenbelt boundaries and saying that I recognise that sometimes we could be seen to be supporting housing in the abstract, but I thought there was a real task for us to show evidence of where we thought the houses could be built. I would like to work with Shelter on that as well, because they have done some interesting research on why people oppose housing. However, the housebuilders need to do something on that as well to show that they are serious about developing Brownfield First, that they were serious about space standards, quality, master-planning and meaningful engagement. I hope that is within a framework that gives people confidence, because if we do not get the framework right we will just carry on with battles about housing across the country.

In response to that speech, the chief economist for the Home Builders Federation said that it was clear from what I had said that quality and standards was the new nimbyism. Well really, if the housebuilding industry is not prepared to engage in a serious debate about how we get the housing we need at a quality we need and in places we need, then I am afraid, whatever planning framework you have, you are going to carry on with pitched battles about housing across the country. People will not have any confidence that the houses being built are of the right quality and in the right places.

The problem goes well beyond planning. Planning is an important framework for all this-I do not think this framework is the right one-but if you have a decent planning framework there would still be major problems with the housing market we have. I agree with Roger’s opening statement about that, except that I think it puts too much blame on the planning system.

Roger Harding: I was going to agree that there are many other areas that need to be looked at in addition to planning. There is a temptation on the part of some to look at this as a typical market, and if we just remove the dead hand of regulation, the private developers are ready and willing to up their supply of housing. As has been said, and as I mentioned at the start, the private development industry has never built the number of houses we now need per annum. There is no crowding-out effect, either; the private sector has tended in the past to build more when the public sector has also stepped in.

I am glad the Committee’s next inquiry is on housing finance, because I think that is really important. I really hope that the Government, in its housing strategy due out next month, sets out a long-term vision for supply that goes well beyond planning and looks at finance and the roots of getting the most value out of public investment, but also leveraging in much more private investment. Potentially, it could look at the structure of the construction industry. That is what we need and, as I said at the start, it is an area where we really need to see some cross-party consensus. Housing is unfortunately one of those areas where we need the three main parties to work together and we need the three main parties to look quite long term. We are not going to solve this crisis in a Parliament and we are certainly not going to solve it if each new Government changes the planning system, the investment framework and so on. So it is really an area where all three parties need to come together.

David Heyes: That is very good. Unless the other witnesses want to add to that, I have nothing further.

Q265 Chair : As happens in all our evidence sessions, we have had a long discussion about sustainable development: trying to define it, trying to get it right, worrying that it is not right and worrying that it is unbalanced. Do we actually need a presumption in favour of sustainable development at all? If we took that out, would it not solve a lot of problems?

Shaun Spiers: I think we would prefer a presumption in favour of the plan. In a way, sustainable development is a proxy for a bigger question about what the purpose of planning is. Is the purpose of planning to get a whole lot of development because we are in the economic doldrums; or is the purpose to ensure the wise use of land for ourselves and future generations, meeting social, environmental and economic needs? I think this document faces both ways; it is inconsistent. The Treasury’s mark on it is saying that we need the development and should forget the rest of it, whereas other parts of it are fine and follow on from the aspirations in the Minister’s foreword. However, it does need more than tweaks; it needs a fundamental rewrite to make it consistent with the aspirations set out in the Minister’s foreword.

Roger Harding: I think it is right to have an incentive-or perhaps even a stick-for local authorities to bring forward their local plans to avoid them stalling, particularly in areas where there is much-needed development. However, I think that ultimately needs to be combined with better transitional arrangements than we have at the moment. We are asking local authorities to take on quite a new role in planning. The Government has said that it intends this to be a fundamental shake-up of planning. That is clearly going to mean a new role for local authorities, so it is right that you give local authorities sufficient time to plan for that change. We have a period of hiatus at the moment, as the Committee has highlighted, between the system of the previous Government and the new system coming on-stream. There is a danger that we could have another such period, with this new system coming on-stream but local authorities not having the nuts and bolts, such as local plans, in place to make that system work. So I think that needs to be looked at again by the Government.

Emmalene Gottwald: We would agree that we would prefer a presumption in favour of the plan, but simply pulling out the presumption in favour of sustainable development is not necessarily going to resolve some of the issues. A lot from PPS1 has not been transferred across to the NPPF in terms of how you plan for and deliver sustainable development at the local level. So there would need to be a rethink in the chapter on sustainable development or the principles and policies that are actually included in the NPPF, to guide local authorities on how to deliver it at the local level. So it not just the presumption; yes, that is a huge impact, but we still need a better framework and better policies, and a principled approach to delivering sustainable development at the local level.

Stephen Joseph: The previous planning guidance also gave us some presumption in favour of development in accordance with the plan, and we have to make sure it is the right sort of development in the right locations. That is irrespective of whether we have a presumption in favour of sustainable development or not; we need a presumption in favour of development, but in the right places and designed in the right way. Otherwise, you will end up with dumb growth, rather than what the Americans call smart growth.

Chair : Okay; thank you all very much for your evidence this afternoon.

Prepared 28th October 2011