Government’s Response to NPPF Report
The Select Committee Chairman, Clive Betts will be fuming at the Governments’ response to his Committee’s report, as most of the recommendations have been rejected.
The Select Committee’s Report into the effectiveness of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) 2 1/2 years after its introduction was a concise and thoughtful piece of work by this cross- party committee. But most of its 42 recommendations have been rejected or are not being carried forward in the Governments’ response, just published.
Key concerns included the length of time taken to produce Local Plans. Interestingly the Committee sought the introduction of a statutory requirement to have Plans in place, with sanctions (financial included) if this wasn’t achieved. The Government sees this as unnecessary, as the pace of plan-making has picked up over recent years. But there is still only 62% coverage of adopted Local Plans more than 10 years since the legislation was enacted! And whilst there is certainly more plan making underway today, some pre NPPF Plans need urgent review to remain relevant and up to date, so there’s certainly no room for complacency. Perhaps recognising this, the Government says it will keep a close eye on the situation and may announce further measures if necessary.
One of the main drivers for the Select Committee’s inquiry was the feeling that developers were riding roughshod over local authorities and communities wishes, and planning by appeal was becoming too commonplace. But for a Plan-led system to function as it should you do need to have a Plan!
Some would argue that losing appeals and having development happen in locations not chosen by the Authority would be sanction enough to spur the production of a new Local Plan. After all its the first line of defence. Maybe that’s why the Government shied away from more legislation, preferring instead for the absence of a proper plan to be emphasised simply through outcomes of the appeals process.
Councils finding a policy vacuum exists are strongly encouraging local communities to produce Neighbourhood Plans, and the Government’s response sees this as a useful “stop gap” in the absence of an up to date local plan. The Committee called for the relationship between Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans, which is confused to put it mildly, to be clarified. No help on this topic either regrettably, other than to note that Neighbourhood Plans can run ahead of Local Plans and if they do then the Local Authority will need to take them into account in their plan-making. This is neither sensible nor positive planning. Local Plans should come first, setting the strategy and dealing with key issues such as the scale and broad locations for development, to be fleshed out by Neighbourhood Plans at the very local level. To press ahead with these first, without a proper, relevant and agreed strategy for a Borough being in place is lunacy.
With an election only weeks away the Government’s response was never going to be ground breaking. At best, certainly in the area of Local Plans, it’s pretty anodyne and is unlikely to satisfy local communities, many of which have been feeling the underdog since the NPPF emerged. For developers there’s some clear messages that the system isn’t likely to be changed or even tinkered with, and its “steady as she goes” in terms of national policy. That might all change after May 7th of course.