This is entry number 266, published on 4 August 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today’s entry reports on the implications for infrastructure of the draft National Planning Policy Framework.
Last week, the government published a draft of its long-awaited National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The purpose of this document is to replace the existing series of 30 Planning Policy Statments, Planning Policy Guidance and Minerals Policy Guidance and 15 letters to chief planning officers (although PPS10 (waste) is to survive for the moment, until the arrival of the National Waste Management Plan). This will condense 900,000 words into a mere 16,500. It will certainly be more readable, but will it be comprehensive enough?
The 'practitioners' advisory group' draft NPPF published a couple of months earlier (and reported here) was clearly used as the starting point for the government version - the structure is the same, and some paragraphs are retained verbatim, e.g. paragraph 38. There are quite a few amendments, however - mainly additional text. A section on sustainable communities is entirely new, and one on waste has been removed. The length has increased by about 1000 words net. I am also glad to see the addition of a contents page and paragraph numbering.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development previously published is retained in the NPPF (paragraph 14), although the first sentence has reverted to the practitioners' version.
[UPDATE: the Planning Inspectorate has produced a useful summary of the differences between the NPPF and existing planning policy at Annex B of this document]
Implications for infrastructure
This is planning policy aimed at local authorities, and so the series of National Policy Statements (NPSs) for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) will continue to exist separately. Paragraph 6 of the NPPF mentions this, saying that NPSs are part of the overall framework of planning policy - so despite its name, the NPPF is also just a part of an overall framework.
Although NPSs deal with NSIPs, the NPPF does refer to them, saying (at paragraph 31) that local authorities should take account of the need for nationally significant infrastructure in their areas. Since the now-designated energy NPSs say that energy infrastructure of all kinds is urgently needed, and other than the Nuclear Power NPS doesn't say where it should go, it is difficult to see how local authorities should comply with this.
Below the nationally significant thresholds, infrastructure projects will often be decided by local authorities. Paragraph 23 of the NPPF says that local authorities should set out strategic priorities to deliver the provision of infrastructure for transport, minerals, waste, energy, telecoms, water supply and water quality. Those are more or less the same as the types of NSIP, although telecoms infrastructure has been added.
Paragraph 31 goes further and says that local planning authorities should work with other authorities and providers to assess the quality and capacity of transport, water, energy, telecommunications, utilities, health and social care, waste and flood defence infrastructure and its ability to meet forecast demands. That is an even wider list of infrastructure, and presumably this assessment should happen before setting out the strategic priorities in paragraph 23.
Paragraph 48 says that local plans - local authorities' planning policies - should take unmet demand for infrastructure, even from neighbouring areas, into account, where sustainable. In other words if infrastructure will serve a larger area it could be a good idea, as long as this doesn't have additional impacts such as bringing materials in from further away.
Paragraph 152 instructs local authorities to plan positively for renewable and low carbon electricity generation and to consider identifying areas where it should go, so there should be a bit of spatial planning.
One Localism Bill related item that I spotted that might be controversial is that 'community right to build orders' override the presumption against building on the green belt. CRBOs are introduced by Schedule 11 of the Localism Bill and are a type of permitted development that can be promoted by a community organisation.
Consultation on the draft NPPF is now open until 17 October. I haven't seen them do this before, but the government would like responses to be conveyed via SurveyMonkey.