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.

Emerging concerns

The report notes some emerging concerns: "that the NPPF is not preventing unsustainable development in some places; that inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications; and that town centres are being given insufficient protection against the threat of out of town development."  Whilst it considers the NPPF's renewable energy provisions to be sound, it recommends that, "the Government take appropriate steps to speed up the process of taking decisions on recovered planning appeals."  The Committee also says it found no evidence to suggest the Secretary of State was doing otherwise than determining recovered appeals in accordance with Planning Policy.

The key recommendation is that, before the end of this Parliament, the Government consult on proposals to place a statutory requirement on councils to have an adopted local plan in place within three years of the legislation coming into force, together with possible penalties for non-compliance. The Report notes that the Planning Inspectorate figures appear to show that as at the end of October, 41% of authorities do not have an adopted local plan. The Report then states that, "for a plan-led system to work, plans need to be in place. The NPPF cannot be truly successful until every local authority has an adopted, up-to-date local plan."

The Report's highlighted findings are:

  • Ensuring that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension; that permission is only given to development if accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; and that the planning system places due emphasis on the natural environment.
  • Provisions in the NPPF relating to the viability of housing land are leading to inappropriate development: these loopholes must be closed. There also needs to be clearer guidance about how housing need should be assessed. In addition, local authorities should be encouraged to review their green belts as part of the local planning process.
  • Changes should be made to ensure the NPPF gives greater protection to town centres. The internet has changed the way we shop; town centre planning policy must therefore evolve too. We call for an end to permitted development that allows shops and buildings used for financial and professional services to become homes

The Committee considers that many of the concerns raised are significant, but that they point to a need for adjustment, rather than a complete overhaul of the NPPF.  Recommendations are made for specific revisions to the NPPF together with further recommendations for additional guidance.

Overall the conclusion is that the NPPF needs more time to bed-in.  The Committee also found that the absence of proper monitoring (particularly town centre and out-of-town development and the proportion of homes built on brownfield land), is making it difficult to assess how successful the relevant policies have been and how they may need to change.

Further detail on the Committee's recommendations is set out via the links below:

Delivering sustainable development 
Local Plans
Land Supply and Housing
Town Centres and Retail

What happens next

It is usual for the Government to publish a response setting out its proposed actions and indicating if it proposes to act on the recommendations that have been made.

In relation to a number of matters the Committee has called for consultation and it is therefore possible that the new year will see consultations relating to, proposals for a statutory requirement on councils to have an adopted local plan, options for incentivising LAs to meet the duty to co-operate, and the relationship between neighbourhood plans and local plans.

It also remains to be seen if the Government will act on the calls for various additional or revised guidance including on, guidance to LAs and PINS relating to infrastructure for development, key elements of local plans, clearer guidance on what constitutes co-operation, assessment of housing need, new guidance setting out a standard approach to determining viability, and on SHMAs and an agreed methodology for these.