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.

Town Centres and retail

Disaggregation and the sequential test

The Committee views the absence of disaggregation as a ‘loophole’ in the sequential test and endorses evidence heard that it has become easy for developers to argue their developments are too large to fit in town centres. The Committee considered that this was having a detrimental effect on councils’ efforts to protect their town centres.

It recommends that the NPPF be amended (8) to restore the policy on disaggregation, so that LAs are required to ask developers for evidence of flexibility as to whether a proposed retail development can be broken down into specific parts on separate sites.

Planning to meet retail and leisure needs

The Report recommend removal from the NPPF (9) of the statement that needs for retail, leisure, office and other main town centre uses should be met in full in the local plan. The Committee's view is that given the rapidly changing dynamics of the retail sector and town centres it is not sensible for councils to plan for all retail needs during the plan period. The Committee suggests that it would be more sensible for councils to allocate sites to meet needs over the first five years, with regular reviews to keep the supply of sites up-to-date thereafter, taking into account the expectation of considerable changes in retail habits. Such an approach would help councils to keep their planning policies up to date with the rapidly changing dynamics of the retail sector and town centre environments. The Committee was concerned to ensure that out-of-centre developments are not justified on the basis of significant estimates of future retail growth which cannot be accommodated within the town centre.

The Report also notes that LAs should take care not to preserve primary retail areas that are too large for modern needs, the report stops short of making a recommendation on this issue.

Permitted development rights

The Committee concluded that the changes should be driven by the local planning process and recommends that the Government revokes the permitted development right that allows changes of use from Classes A1 and A2 to C3.

Research

The Report recommends the Government should commission research and gather evidence. Firstly, to gather evidence about the operation of the sequential test and the extent to which planning policies, both local and national, are giving sufficient protection to town centres.

Secondly, it recommends that the Government commissions research into changing retail dynamics as they relate to planning policy. It should aim to commission this research by the end of the parliament, and to publish it by the end of 2015

Further, the Committee recommends that the next Government, by the end of 2015, launch a consultation on how the NPPF should be amended to bring it up to date with modern retail habits.