Taking stock of the NPPF
It doesn’t seem five minutes since the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF) for England was the ‘new kid on the block’. Yet, it is now over two years since it was published in March 2012, so it seems reasonable to take stock of how well it is doing in practice, and suggest any refinements that might be necessary.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee of the House of Commons is currently doing just that. Chaired by Clive Betts MP, the Committee is currently conducting a wide ranging inquiry into the operation of the NPPF in its first couple of years of life.
The Committee is focussing on three main areas of enquiry:
- Planning for housing
- Town centres
- Planning for energy infrastructure (excluding projects covered by National Policy Statements).
Of course, each of these is highly topical. Consequently, the Committee has already received many written submissions from a wide range of interest groups. It is now starting the process of hearing oral evidence from selected parties, with the first two sessions being held in early June.
As Clive Betts put it in a recent interview with ‘The Planner‘ magazine, “At a time when we are in desperate need of more homes, effective planning is more important than ever. But it is also essential if our town centres are to become thriving community hubs and if our long-term energy needs are to be met in a sustainable way”. If there are themes emerging already from the evidence submitted so far, perhaps the fundamental one seems to be the need to set up a longer term evaluation framework. Both the BPF (British Property Federation) and the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) have raised this point. Planning is a long term, as well as a short term, business. Created in a time of austerity, it remains to be seen whether the NPPF works equally well during a sustained period of growth. For example, we need to understand the true impact and consequences of decisions made under the new regime, not just how many decisions are made or how quickly.
A good example of this is its effects on the delivery of housing. Everyone agrees that we need more housing, and the NPPF strongly urges prompt delivery. So far, so good. Yet the key question is whether the NPPF has actually made a real difference. Current planning performance targets do not tell the whole story, or at least not yet. It isn’t just how many Local Plans are adopted, or the number of planning decisions taken within a set period that really counts. Simple statistics like these can mask both good and bad outcomes. It is the actual number of homes built at the right time, in the right place, that will be the true measure of whether or not the NPPF has really helped make a practical difference.
If significant changes to the NPPF do arise from the Committee’s recommendations, however, it is unlikely that these will be put in place until after the General Election in May next year.
The latest independent Scottish planning review and its impacts
27 June 2016
An independent review of the Scottish planning system has seen that further change is required to make the system fit for the future.
Changes to permitted development rights
16 March 2016
The Government has published additional and revised ‘permitted development rights’ to allow change of use of property without planning permission, coming into force on 6 April 2016.