Tuesday 27 March 2012

The National Planning Policy Framework

I work in a planning department at an English university so I'm duty bound to blog today on the new National Planning Policy Framework for England. It might sound a bit boring but it's likely to have significant implications for the built environment for years to come and it represents the biggest change to the planning system in England in a generation (or more).

What are the main changes? Well, much has been made of the reduction of planning policy guidance from more than 1,000 pages to around 50. That's one of the most obvious changes and there is certainly a good deal of simplification associated with the NPPF. It has 13 main sections (image below), from 'Building a strong, competitive economy' to 'Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals'. It also covers 'Protecting Green Belt land', which is something I've written about recently on this blog in relation to data.

I was interested to see that the Glossary (excellent as it is in many ways) does not include a definition of 'sustainable development' (the NPPF's key guiding principle). Instead, it says on p. 2 that:

"The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The policies in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a whole, constitute the Government's view of what sustainable development in England means in practice for the planning system."

Paragraphs 18 to 219. That's quite a lot, but I didn't really expect it to be defined, given the inherent difficulties associated with defining it. To be fair, the Government could not really be expected to define this but it does seem strange that their view of the core principle of the NPPF cannot be articulated in fewer than 200 paragraphs.

Other interesting snippets I noticed so far...
  • Section 3 on 'Supporting a prosperous rural economy' is only 157 words long (much shorter than, for example, Section 7 on 'Requiring good design' - which gets 840 words)
  • The word 'regeneration' appears 3 times in the NPPF
  • Among the documents the NPPF replaces is the 1990 PPG on 'Development on Unstable Land' - the NPPF mentions the word 'unstable' once
  • The 'Plan-making' section from p. 37 says that 'Local plans are key to delivering sustainable development'
  • Local planning authorities have to prepare a Strategic Housing Market Assessment and Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment
  • Parishes and 'neighbourhood forums' can use neighbourhood planning to 'grant planning permission' through Neighbourhood Development Orders (p. 44)
  • Related to the point above, the NPPF states that 'Where a Neighbourhood Development Order has been made, a planning application is not required for development that is within the terms of the order' (p. 46)
  • But, NDOs and Community Right to Build Orders 'require the support of the local community through a referendum' (p. 47). 
  • Annex 2 (p. 50 to 57) is the Glossary and v. useful
  • Annex 3 (p. 58 to 59) details the documents replaced by this new NPPF
The ministerial statement on the NPPF from Greg Clark is on his website and all other NPPF materials can be found on the CLG website. The NPPF pdf doesn't take long to read! It will be 'interesting' to see how all this plays out in practice over the next few years. Perhaps it will not be as good or as bad as people think...

A final point of reminder here - the NPPF applies to England and not the whole of the UK.