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The National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill aims to give local communities more of a say in planning decisions and to amend the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to redress the balance between the rights of developers and those of local communities. The abolition of permitted development rights for using community assets may be good news for local communities, but might contradict the government’s aims of freeing up and speeding up the planning system.
National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill
The National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill (the Bill) was introduced by MP Greg Mulholland and received its first reading in the House of Commons on 30 April 2014.
The Bill aims to:
amend the NPPF, which according to the government ‘has not got the balance right between the rights of developers and the rights of local communities and is not being properly implemented—or, it seems, even understood—by some local authorities which undermines this further’
The Bill proposes to abolish the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). PINS is currently responsible for national infrastructure planning, processing planning and enforcement appeals, and holding examinations into local plans and community infrastructure levy charging schedules. It also deals with a wide variety of other planning-related casework, including listed building consent appeals, advertisement appeals, and reporting on called-in planning applications.
Specifically, the Bill proposes to abolish the right for developers to override local planning authority (LPA) decisions by appealing to PINS. At the moment, PINS has the power to overturn local decisions even though it may have little knowledge of the local area.
Currently communities and LPAs have no right to appeal. The Bill proposes to redress the ‘great imbalance’ in terms of the powers available to developers and the powers available to communities by giving developers and communities equal powers of appeal.
In doing so, scrapping the PINS’ budget should also save £50m a year of taxpayer’s money.
Paragraphs14 and 49 of the NPPF provide that where an LPA's policies may be out of date, or if it is unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply, there should be an automatic presumption in favour granting planning permission. According to government figures, only half of all LPAs currently have a local plan in place. The Bill proposes to amend the NPPF to require that developers must still meet local policy objectives. Such an amendment is hoped to ‘respect the planning objectives of local people’ and take into account the fact that an LPA may be in the process of updating its relevant policies.
The NPPF requirement that LPAs should allocate an additional 20% 'buffer' of deliverable housing sites if the LPA has consistently under-delivered on housing in the past is proposed to be abolished.
According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, under-delivery of housing by LPAs is often due to a ‘deliberate drip-feed of housing from developers’ and the buffer requirement results in the need to allocate greenfield sites for development.
There is a provision to give LPAs the power to refuse applications on 'prematurity' grounds. Annex 1 of the NPPF explains how weight may be given to policies in emerging plans. It currently states that it may be justiﬁable for LPAs to refuse planning permission on grounds of prematurity where a local plan document is being prepared or is under review, but it has not yet been adopted.
The amendment aims to take into account the fact that local and neighbourhood plans can often take a long time to develop. ‘It is therefore only right that while communities are hard at work to put together a plan that works best for the area they call home, that developers respect this process.’
The government argues that despite the NPPF’s provisions that building on brownfield sites must be prioritised, this is not being enforced locally. Developers are deliberately not bringing forward proposals for brownfield development, to increase their chances of getting permission for greenfield and green belt sites.
The Bill proposes a requirement on developers and LPAs to prioritise brownfield sites through controlling, or phasing, the order in which allocated sites become available for development. LPAs will also have the power to refuse applications on greenfield sites until brownfield sites have been developed.
There is a provision to replace LPA plans panel systems with ‘a genuine hearing, chaired by an independent non-local authority chair and with equal time for both proposers and opposers to put their case’.
Certain permitted developments rights, that allow local assets and services to be changed for use without community say, may be removed by the Bill.
This will be done by revising use class orders, including a new separate one for community pubs. This would mean that not only would any change of use of a pub have to go through the planning process, but it would also allow specific rate relief for pubs, to ‘properly acknowledge their community value’.
The Bill will bring in a ‘genuine community right to buy’, although details on how this would work have not yet been specified. It would also tighten the legislation and guidance so that LPAs don't unreasonably deny communities the right to list local assets.
The Bill appears to have conflicting objectives. It aims to free up and speed up the planning system by removing restrictions, but measures like introducing further permitted development rights will actually create more work for developers and slow down procedures.
Greg Mullholland MP was emphatic that the Bill should not discourage growth or hinder housing supply, but the housing provisions including the removal of a 20% buffer where LPAs have under-delivered may well have that exact effect.
It is a difficult balance to strike between streamlining and allowing a fair system for both developers, communities and LPAs, and it is inevitable that the new provisions will not please all parties.
The Bill is currently being prepared for publication. The date for second reading for the Bill has been nominated as Friday 6 June 2014.
This article was written by Jen Hawkins, planning solicitor in the Lexis®PSL Property and Environment teams and was first published in LexisPSL Property on 7 May 2014. Click here for a free one week trial of Lexis®PSL Property.
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