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The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The Government’s reform to the planning process has three fundamental objectives:

  1. Put power in the hands of communities;
  2. To better support growth;
  3. To protect places of value.

There is general agreement that the final document represents a significant improvement upon the earlier draft, not least that is provides a useful definition of sustainable development and provides transitional arrangements for local plans.


How does the NPPF treat the issue of ‘sustainable development’?

The report states that the purpose of the planning system is to “contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”.

The NPPF explicitly defines sustainable development firstly within the Brundtland 1987 definition (“meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”), but also builds on this by explaining the three dimensions of sustainable development, i.e. economic, social and environmental, and the role of planning in delivering this.

Further reference is made to the UK Sustainable Development Strategy Securing the Future, setting out five ‘guiding principles’ of sustainable development: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

The NPPF contains a somewhat controversial clause that “where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date”, the presumption in favour of sustainable development will kick in, i.e. the NPPF will apply where local plans do not.

Crucially, the delivery of sustainable development will be achieved through meeting the requirements of essentially the entire NPPF document, and it is within this principle that much of the controversy and inevitable future policy debates are likely to be centred.


What does the NPPF say about energy and sustainability?

The NPPF replaces all current planning policy, including PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development, the PPS1 Supplement: Planning and Climate Change, and PPS22: Renewable Energy.

The NPPF acknowledges the key role planning can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change, stating that “planning plays a key role in helping…to secure radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”, and that local authorities should plan for new development in ways which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Importantly, the NPPF states that “to support the move to a low carbon future, local planning authorities should, when setting any local requirements for a building’s sustainability, do so in a way consistent with the Government’s zero carbon buildings policy and adopt nationally described standards”. This makes it clear that when it comes to delivering sustainability, there is a key role for BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes within the new planning framework.

Some other key points from the NPPF relating to energy and sustainability are presented below:

  • Development with high levels of sustainability should not be refused on the grounds of incompatibility with the existing townscape (where mitigated by good design);
  • Local planning authorities should support energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings;
  • Development should comply with the  Local Plan requirements for decentralised energy supply;
  • Development should take account of landform, layout, building orientation, massing and landscaping to minimise energy consumption;
  • Local authorities should have a positive strategy for promoting energy from renewable and low carbon sources, and design policy to maximise renewable and low carbon development while ensuring adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily.


Transitional Arrangements for Local Plans

A transitional period of 12 months has been provided for the preparation of new Local Plans to be in full conformity with the NPPF. During this time, policies in post-2004 planning documentation will be given full weight, assuming they do not differ too greatly from the principles in the NPPF. Where a large degree of conflict exists, the NPPF will hold more weight. For policies in pre-2004 planning documentation, the amount of weight afforded will be dependent on how closely the policy reflects the NPPF principles. Decision-making may also give weight to emerging policy, again with regard to the level of consistency with the NPPF.

These transitional arrangements are intended to provide encouragement for local authorities to prepare up-to-date and consistent local planning policies, or face the prospect of local decision-making being taken outside their control and in line with national policy.

Where there is uncertainty surrounding local plan conformity, there is likely to be an increase in appeals going to the Planning Inspectorate.


Streamlining the Planning Process

While the NPPF is not without its detractors, we feel the NPPF offers a welcome improvement to a planning system which has in the past been demonstrably cumbersome and often contradictory. Paragraph 15 states “development which is sustainable can be approved without delay”, and this statement neatly summarises the key to delivering the positive economic benefits it is hoped the NPPF will bring, against the backdrop of sustainable development.

We will need to wait to find out how the NPPF will affect the determination of the day-to-day planning applications up and down the country, as it is these that will help stimulate nationwide economic growth.

Posted on April 4th, 2012