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.
Land supply and housing
The Report notes that the allocation of sufficient and appropriate sites for development is a crucial element of the plan-led system, but states that the requirement for a five year supply of housing land has emerged as a problematic issue.
The Committee agreed that LAs should be identifying land in their local plans to meet their needs for five years and beyond, but was concerned that the requirement, as it is phrased in the NPPF, may be leading to unexpected and negative consequences.
In particular the Report identifies the footnote to paragraph 47 of the NPPF as giving rise to particular concerns. The effect of the qualification is that sites which would take longer than five years to build out may not be counted in the five year supply. In the Committee's view this has had a disproportionate impact in practice. By restricting when sites with planning permission might be counted, with the effect of removing from some authorities the protection of a five year supply, the effect on the community could be to leave it exposed to speculative development. The Committee stated that this was undermining confidence in the NPPF and recommend amendment of the NPPF (6) to make clear that all sites with planning permission should be counted towards the five year supply of housing land.
A further concern centred on viability. The concern was that the NPPF currently provides that sites with planning permission should not be considered deliverable if “they will not be viable” within five years. The Committee, while it accepted that the future direction of the housing market is difficult to predict, was of the view that if there is a credible estimation that sites will be viable within five years, they should be included within the five year supply. The Committee was also concerned that the question of viability is becoming a battleground between developers and LAs with the potential to undermine the process of local plan adoption. To resolve these tensions the Committee recommends that the Government issue guidance that site viability assessments should include consideration of price and cost projections over a five year period, that assessments should be ‘open-book’, and consider developers’ own projections for future viability. Additionally, the Government should work with LAs and the house building industry to agree the wording of new guidance setting out a standard approach to determining viability.
Assessment of housing need
The Committee expressed concern about the apparent widespread unease surrounding the results of SHMAs and considered it unhelpful that developers and LAs should each be commissioning their own SHMAs. Further the Committee's view is that the Planning Practice Guidance on SHMAs is too vague. It recommends that the Government work with local government and the house building industry to revise its guidance on SHMAs and produce an agreed methodology. Inspectors should then be required to test SHMAs against this methodology.
The Committee noted that it was hard to assess how effective the brownfield policy in the NPPF has been, because the Government has not published national data on building on previously-used land since 2011. The Committee was unconvinced that the current support for development on brownfield was sufficient to meet the Government's objective to see more homes built on brownfield land. The Committee identified the availability of financial resources to remediate land as possibly the biggest barrier to more building on brownfield sites. It recommends that Government establish a fund to enable the remediation of brownfield sites, and set out a prospectus for how this fund will operate.
The Committee notes that while the new Planning Practice Guidance (October 2014) for the most part reiterates the wording of the NPPF, it has arguably increased the protection given to the green belt. While councils should not look to alter the green belt when making individual planning decisions, the Report notes that this does not mean that the green belt should stick forever to its existing boundaries.
The Committee encourages all councils, as part of the local planning process, to review the size and boundaries of their green belts and to make any necessary adjustments in their local plan.
The recommendation is for an amendment to paragraph 89 NPPF (7) to make clear that development on sites allocated in an adopted neighbourhood plan, and which has LPA approval, does not constitute inappropriate development for the purposes of the green belt. Further, where neighbourhood plans, ahead of the local plan, make proposals to change the green belt, LAs should have a duty to consider them as part of the local plan production process.