Saturday, 25 April 2015

Councils have 12 months to ensure their plans fit with new framework

Minister’s warning over local plans

Councils that are unprepared for long-awaited planning reforms will have to accept growth in their area, a government minister has warned.

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Following the publication of the national planning policy framework this week, local government minister Bob Neill said councils had ‘no excuse’ not to have put together local plans, which dictate how much development there will be in an area over a set number of years.

However, 60 per cent of councils don’t have a local plan in place leaving them at risk of having to approve development their communities do not want due to a pro-growth bias ingrained in the new framework, which came into effect on Tuesday.

In cases where local authorities don’t have a post-2004 local plan, the NPPF - which aims to simplify the planning process and put decision making in the hands of communities - will influence planning decisions. Councils have 12 months to ensure their local plan fits with the NPPF’s objectives.

There is a requirement in the NPPF for local authorities to find a five-year land supply, plus an extra 5 per cent. If a council has consistently under-built it would be asked to find an extra 20 per cent.

Mr Neill insisted the NPPF, along with government incentives such as the new homes bonus, which rewards councils that build new homes, would ensure authorities meet their area’s housing needs.

‘Because the [local] plan is the dominant factor in this it has to be found sound by the planning inspectorate. If it doesn’t meet the need for affordable housing it won’t be signed off,’ he said.

Philip Skill, head of planning at Stroud Council, which has a local plan, admitted the authority would find it ‘very difficult’ to refuse development under the NPPF.

The new system was largely welcomed by developers.

Steve Turner, head of communications at the Home Builders Federation, said: ‘Since the election there has been a policy vacuum in planning which has clearly influenced our members’ decisions to make applications. Now we finally have certainty in the system they are more likely to place applications.’

Paul High, managing director of Orbit Homes, the development arm of 37,000-home Orbit Group, said: ‘If we’ve looked at a piece of land where we felt the planning position was uncertain, and was likely to be uncertain until the framework was issued, we’ve tended to steer clear of it. [The NPPF] will open up those areas.’

Environmental groups welcomed a tightening of the definition of a contentious ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ which remains in the NPPF, but without a clause indicating a default ‘yes’ response to development in absence of a local plan.

The document also now encourages development on brownfield sites ahead of green belt.

Key points: national planning policy framework

  • Extra land supply requirement reduced from 20 per cent to 5 per cent for most councils
  • Councils have 12 months to get local plans in place
  • Brownfield land should be used before greenfield
  • Intrinsic value of the countryside included in definition of ‘sustainable development’

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