Cross party committee of MPs blast the government’s draft NPPF

The government’s proposed reforms to the planning system will allow unsustainable developments to go ahead and needs “significant” alterations, according to a report by MPs.

A highly critical communities department select committee report on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), says that the government needs to remove references to the default answer to planning applications being “yes”.

It calls for the government to drop references to planning applications being approved unless the adverse effects “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits,” and calls for a bias in favour of brownfield development to be re-introduced.

It also says that the government needs to strengthen the definition of sustainable development, and tighten up drafting in a number of key areas in order to avoid fuelling a system of “planning by appeal”.

The publication of the NPPF in July 2011 was designed to reduce more than 1,000 pages of planning guidance to a single 60-page document, introducing a presumption in favour of sustainable development to the planning system. It followed the abolition of Labour’s Regional Spatial Strategies, which had sought to enforce development through centralised targets.

As currently worded the framework would introduce several ambiguities that are more likely to slow down the planning process

Clive Betts MP, chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said: “The way the framework is drafted currently gives the impression that greater emphasis should be given in planning decisions to economic growth.

“This undermines the equally important environmental and social elements of the planning system. As currently drafted the ‘default yes’ to development also carries the risk of the planning system being used to implement unsustainable development.

“As currently worded the framework would introduce several ambiguities that are more likely to slow down the planning process. Gaps or contradictions in the document are likely to fuel a system of ‘planning decision by appeal’ instead of the local decision making that ministers advocate,” he says.

The report finds that the introduction of viability testing in the draft NPPF is also likely to undermine the environmental quality of developments as currently drafted.

It supports the principle of a presumption in favour of sustainable development, but offers its own definition of sustainable development based on the principles of the Labour government’s 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy designed to balance economic, environmental and social factors.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said welcomed the MPs conclusions. “Sustainable development must be at the heart of the planning system, and a principled and measured definition, such as that contained within the 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy, is pivotal to delivering the kind of inclusive, attractive and resilient communities we want to see both now and in the future,” she said.

The report also adds that the presumption in favour should be consistent with any existing local plan, to avoid the NPPF and local plans ending up in conflict.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said the BPF also supported many of the recommendations in the report.

However, she added: “We could support the committee’s definition of sustainable development and re-worded ‘presumption in favour’ as long as local authorities were compelled to produce a local plan. As it stands, only 47% of local authorities have got around to producing one and the committee’s suggestion risks a complete development hiatus in the remaining 53% of areas.”