The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into existence in April 2012 and saw planning law changed with the aim of speeding up decisions and boosting housebuilding. The DCLG Select Committee inquiry report into how the NPPF is working in practice was published on 16 December 2014 (the Report). The Committee sought evidence particularly on the impact of the NPPF on planning for housing, town centres and energy infrastructure.

Delivering Sustainable Development

Although the Report finds that concerns about sustainable development appear to be less a problem of definition than of application in practice, it includes the recommendation for removal from the NPPF (1) the statement that the policies in paragraphs 18 to 219, taken as a whole constitute sustainable development, and that the definition on page 2 should stand alone.

The Report notes that a recurring theme of the evidence submitted to the Committee was that greater emphasis was being given to the economic dimension of sustainable development than to the environmental and social ones. It is recommended that appropriate steps are taken to impress publicly upon both the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) and local authorities (LAs) the importance of giving equal weight to each of the three dimensions of sustainable development, as required by the NPPF. The Report calls for PINS and LAs to set out clearly how all three factors have been considered as part of the decision-making process.

Infrastructure

In the Committee's view development can only be sustainable if it is accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; housing development is specifically mentioned. The Report calls for guidance to be issued for LAs and PINS. It also calls for reasons for approving development, to fully explain the consideration given to the impact on infrastructure and explaining how and where the decision-maker expects the infrastructure to be provided, and to what timetable.

Community infrastructure levy

The Report notes that LAs should be particularly mindful of the need to support infrastructure requirements identified in adopted neighbourhood plans. In light of the Government's commitment to carry out a review of CIL in 2015, the Report recommends that the Government revoke its decision to limit to five the number of planning obligations that can contribute to a single piece of infrastructure until after the review and that in the meantime LAs be given a free choice between the use of CIL and section 106 agreements for the funding of infrastructure.

Biodiversity and the natural environment

The Report states that LAs are missing an opportunity if they do not set out a clear vision for the biodiversity of their area. This may make it harder to resist the economic aspects of development taking a more dominant role. While the Committee falls short of making a specific recommendation it strongly encourages all LAs to make the natural environment an important theme in their local plans, even if that means that smaller authorities may need to tap into ecological skills available elsewhere.

Ancient woodland

The Committee agreed that woodland that is over 400 years old cannot be replaced and should be awarded the same level of protection as the built environment. It recommends an amendment of paragraph 118 NPPF (2) to state that any loss of ancient woodland should be “wholly exceptional”, and that the Government initiate work with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to establish whether more ancient woodland could be designated as sites of special scientific interest.