Operation of the National Planning Policy Framework - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The usual arrangement of listing conclusions and recommendation in the order they occur in the report has not been followed. Instead, in order to assist those reading and using the report, the conclusions and recommendations are grouped into categories starting with recommended revisions to the NPPF. A few straddle more than one category and these conclusions and recommendations have been placed in the first applicable category.

Revisions to the NPPF

1.  We recommend that the Government remove from the NPPF the statement that the policies in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a whole, constitute the Government's view of what sustainable development means in practice. The definition on page 2 of the NPPF needs to stand on its own. (Paragraph 13)

2.  We recommend that the Government amend paragraph 118 of the NPPF to state that any loss of ancient woodland should be "wholly exceptional". We further recommend that the Government initiate work with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to establish whether more ancient woodland could be designated as sites of special scientific interest and to consider what the barriers to designation might be. (Paragraph 27)

3.  We recommend that the Government amend the NPPF to make clear to local authorities that they should be looking to reduce the complexity and increase the accessibility of their local plans. This should be accompanied by guidance about the key elements plans should contain. We also consider it incumbent upon planning inspectors to advise local authorities at an early stage against producing excessively lengthy plans. (Paragraph 32)

4.  We recommend that the Government amend the NPPF to include a section setting out the expected responsibilities of developers. (Paragraph 42)

5.  We recommend that the Government strengthen the NPPF to make clear that, as a matter of good practice, local authorities should review their local plans regularly to ensure they are up-to-date. We further call on the Government and the Planning Inspectorate to develop an expedited process to ensure local authorities can carry out a light touch review of all aspects of their plans. (Paragraph 43)

6.  We recommend that the Government amend the NPPF to make clear that all sites with planning permission should be counted towards the five year supply of housing land. (Paragraph 68)

7.  We recommend that the Government amend paragraph 89 of the NPPF to make clear that development on sites allocated in an adopted neighbourhood plan, and which has the approval of the local planning authority, does not constitute inappropriate development for the purposes of the green belt. In addition, where neighbourhood plans, ahead of the local plan, make proposals to change the green belt, local authorities should have a duty to consider them as part of the local plan production process. (Paragraph 80)

8.  We recommend that the Government restore to the NPPF the policy on disaggregation, so that local authorities are required to ask developers for evidence of flexibility as to whether a proposed retail development can be broken down into specific parts on separate sites. (Paragraph 85)

9.  We recommend that the Government remove from the NPPF the statement that needs for retail, leisure, office and other main town centre uses should be met in full in the local plan. It would be more sensible to say that councils should allocate sites to meet needs over the first five years, with regular reviews to keep the supply of sites up-to-date thereafter, taking into account the expectation of considerable changes in retail habits. Such an approach would help councils to keep their planning policies up to date with the rapidly changing dynamics of the retail sector and town centre environments. (Paragraph 90)

Additional practice guidance

10.  We recommend that the Government take appropriate steps to impress publicly upon both the Planning Inspectorate and local authorities the importance of giving equal weight to each of the three dimensions of sustainable development, as required by the NPPF. Both the Planning Inspectorate and local authorities, when they make their decisions on planning applications, should set out clearly how all three factors have been considered as part of the decision-making process. (Paragraph 15)

11.  We recommend that the Government issue guidance reminding local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate of the importance of timely infrastructure provision to delivering sustainable development. In setting out the reasons for approving development, decision-makers should fully explain the consideration they have given to its impact on infrastructure and explain how and where they expect the infrastructure to be provided, and to what timetable. (Paragraph 16)

12.  We recommend that the Planning Inspectorate produce a document setting out lessons learned from the examination of local plans since the launch of the NPPF. (Paragraph 38)

13.  We recommend that the Government, by March 2015, issue clearer guidance on what constitutes co-operation. (Paragraph 49)

14.  We recommend that the Government issue guidance making clear that assessments of site viability should consider not only current prices and costs but projections of prices and costs over the next five years. The guidance should state that assessments should be transparent, that is 'open-book', so that the developers' finances in relation to the specific site are open to scrutiny, and consider developers' own projections for future viability. In addition, the Government should work with local authorities and the house building industry to agree the wording of new guidance setting out a standard approach to determining viability. (Paragraph 67)

15.  We recommend that the Government work with local government and the house building industry to revise its guidance on strategic housing market assessments and produce an agreed methodology. Inspectors should then be required to test SHMAs against this methodology. (Paragraph 70)

Consultation and gathering of further information

16.  We recommend that the Government consult on options to allow for the partial adoption of local plans, if necessary through a change in statute. In the meantime, the Planning Inspectorate should do what it can within the existing framework to ensure local authorities do not find themselves in the frustrating position of having their plans found unsound-especially if earlier advice from planning inspectors could have stopped this happening. In particular, inspectors should give councils as much advice and support as possible during the early stages of plan production. Moreover, while the action taken by the inspector in the case of the Dacorum local plan was determined by local circumstances, nevertheless inspectors should be encouraged to learn from this example and consider the potential for innovative and flexible approaches that will enable councils to get their plans adopted, even if the need for an early review is identified. (Paragraph 37)

17.  We recommend that, before the end of the parliament, the Government start consultation on proposals to place a statutory requirement on councils to have an adopted local plan in place within three years of the legislation coming into force. At the same time, the Government should consult on possible penalties for local authorities that fail to comply with the requirement. One option would be to restrict at the end of the three year period the payment of the New Homes Bonus to housing built on sites allocated in an adopted local plan. Once a statutory requirement is in place, the Government should ensure that the Planning Inspectorate has sufficient resources so delays do not occur while councils wait to have their plans examined. (Paragraph 40)

18.  We recommend that, as part of the consultation on local plans proposed above, the Government consult on options for incentivising local authorities to meet the duty to co-operate and where they fail to co-operate what penalties they may incur. It should consider whether there are particular grants that could be linked to co-operation, whilst recognising that there might be difficulties identifying who in fact was responsible for the failure to co-operate. (Paragraph 45)

19.  We recommend that the Government examine measures to encourage local authorities to group together to produce joint core strategies. With the Planning Inspectorate, the Government should consider drawing councils' attention to examples of good practice. (Paragraph 47)

20.  We recommend that the Government consult on how the relationship between neighbourhood plans and local plans could be clarified. The consultation should include the option that neighbourhood plans should not be adopted until an adopted local plan is in place. (Paragraph 56)

21.  We recommend that the Government take steps to gather data about the operation of the sequential test and the extent to which planning policies, both local and national, are giving sufficient protection to town centres. We invite the Government to set out the data it has gathered in its response to our report.
(Paragraph 84)

22.  We recommend that the Government commission research into changing retail dynamics as they relate to planning policy. It should aim to commission this research by the end of the parliament, and to publish it by the end of 2015. We further recommend that the next Government, by the end of 2015, launch a consultation on how the NPPF should be amended to bring it up to date with modern retail habits. (Paragraph 88)

23.  We recommend that the Government expand its consultation on land availability data to cover a set of data that can be used to monitor the overall effectiveness of the NPPF. It should set out what it sees as the principal aims of the NPPF, and for each of these aims propose a small data set to be collected from local authorities and collated nationally. Once a clear set of data has been agreed upon, it should be updated annually. (Paragraph 95)

Wider recommendations to the Government and the Planning Inspectorate

24.  We recommend that the Government revoke its decision to limit to five the number of planning obligations that can contribute to a single piece of infrastructure until the proposed 2015 review of the Community Infrastructure Levy has taken place. In the meantime, local authorities should have a free choice between the use of the Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 agreements for the funding of infrastructure. (Paragraph 20)

25.  The Secretary of State has the power to recover planning appeals relating to wind energy projects, and to determine them in accordance with Government policy. We found no evidence to suggest that he was doing otherwise. We do, however, consider that he could make decisions faster, in line with his own expressed views about the importance of reducing planning delays. Investors will be deterred if wind energy projects continue to spend upwards of two years in the planning system. We recommend that the Government take appropriate steps to speed up the process of taking decisions on recovered planning appeals. If necessary, it should allocate more resources to the team supporting the Secretary of State on planning decisions. (Paragraph 25)

26.  We recommend that the Government place a duty on combined authorities to co-ordinate the production of a joint core strategy for the area they cover. (Paragraph 48)

27.  It is important that neighbourhood planning does not become the preserve of the middle class. We recommend that the Government take steps to promote and support neighbourhood planning in all areas, particularly those with significant levels of deprivation. It should ensure that some of the £23 million funding for neighbourhood planning is targeted at encouraging take-up and building capacity in more deprived communities. (Paragraph 51)

28.  We recommend that the Department for Communities and Local Government establish a fund to enable the remediation of brownfield sites. It should set out a prospectus for how this fund will operate. (Paragraph 74)

29.  We recommend that the Government revoke the permitted development rights allowing change from classes A1 and A2 to C3. (Paragraph 92)

Matters for local government

30.  Local authorities should be particularly mindful of the need to support infrastructure requirements identified in adopted neighbourhood plans. We strongly encourage parish and town councils and neighbourhood forums that have an adopted neighbourhood plan to request from their local planning authorities a share of infrastructure proceeds from section 106 agreements, where the Community Infrastructure Levy is not in place. We encourage local planning authorities to give full consideration to such requests. (Paragraph 19)

31.  The NPPF provisions on the natural environment have an important role to play in ensuring sustainable development is delivered. Local authorities are missing an opportunity if they do not set out a clear vision for the biodiversity of their area. Moreover, if they do not set out clear policies in respect of the environmental aspects of sustainable development, it may be harder to resist the economic aspects taking a more dominant role. We strongly encourage all local authorities to make the natural environment an important theme in their local plans. To do so, smaller authorities may need to tap into ecological skills available elsewhere, be it in other local authorities or the Planning Advisory Service. (Paragraph 26)

32.  For a plan-led system to work, plans need to be in place. The NPPF cannot be truly successful until every local authority has an adopted, up-to-date local plan. Unfortunately, progress in getting local plans adopted remains far too slow. (Paragraph 28)

33.  We understand the financial pressures councils are under, but we would contend that planning is a fundamental responsibility of councils and therefore they should treat planning as a front line service and not see it as an easy target for spending reductions. In particular, it is vital to the future sustainability of our villages, towns and cities, that councils ensure resources are channelled not only into development control but also into proactive plan making. We further encourage all councils to put in place strategies and policies to promote the development of planning skills and to retain experienced staff. (Paragraph 31)

34.  We call on local government (including parish and town councils), the development and property industries and the voluntary sector to work together to produce a new 'planning users' concordat' setting out the respective responsibilities of each group. (Paragraph 42)

35.  We emphasise that it is vital to the success of the NPPF that all local planning authorities have in place an adopted, up-to-date local plan. Councils that fail to produce a plan surrender their ability to influence the future development of their local areas. Moreover, they leave their communities exposed to the kind of speculative development about which we have heard so many concerns. The Government should take the steps we propose to encourage swift and effective plan making. We emphasise, however, that the onus to get plans in place should be squarely on local authorities themselves. Councils without a plan are letting their communities down.
(Paragraph 57)

36.  We encourage all councils, as part of the local planning process, to review the size and boundaries of their green belts. They should then make any necessary adjustments in their local plan. The rigorous requirements of public consultation, examination by an inspector and adoption by the council will ensure that any changes have been subject to thorough consideration. (Paragraph 79)

37.  We do not propose the inclusion in the NPPF of a needs test for development control purposes. Nevertheless, it is important that local authorities thoroughly assess and set out the need for retail development as part of the local planning process.
(Paragraph 86)

38.  It is important that councils, in their local plans, recognise the changing nature of retail in England. In particular, they should take care not to preserve primary retail areas that are too large for modern needs. (Paragraph 89)

General conclusions

39.  It is still early days for the NPPF. Given it represented a major consolidation of planning policy, it will doubtless take several years to 'bed in' fully. We have considered the concerns raised with us about its operation. Many are significant and need to be tackled, but they point to the need for adjustment, rather than a complete overhaul of the NPPF. It would be ill-advised at such an early stage to consider tearing up the document and starting again. (Paragraph 9)

40.  We are supportive of neighbourhood plans, and commend those communities who have got, or are working to get, a neighbourhood plan adopted. (Paragraph 50)

41.  Nothing could do more to undermine confidence in neighbourhood planning than for a view to pervade that neighbourhood plans are being ignored in planning decisions. (Paragraph 52)

42.  Instead of objecting to policies in neighbourhood plans, house builders and developers should be working with communities to ensure that development meets local needs. (Paragraph 53)

43.  We welcome the Government's decision to consult on making land availability data more accessible. Data about the future availability of land are not, however, enough on their own. We also need to understand where development in recent years has taken place. In particular, the absence of recent data about town centre and out-of-town development and the proportion of homes built on brownfield land is making it difficult to assess how successful the Government's policies have been and how they may need to change. This creates a risk that the Government will be making future policy decisions 'in the dark'. (Paragraph 94)

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Prepared 16 December 2014