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NPPF fails to protect against unsustainable development, reports CLG committee

The communities and local government (CLG) committee has published the results of its inquiry into the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), warning that the framework "needs to do more to protect against unsustainable development in England".16 Dec 2014

In a report (68-page / 587 KB PDF) released this week, the CLG committee said that, while the NPPF had "brought a welcome simplification and consolidation of planning policy" on its introduction in 2012 and would require "several years to 'bed in' fully", there were significant concerns about the framework's operation. The committee found that it would be "ill-advised at such an early stage to consider tearing up the document and starting again", but suggested several changes to the NPPF and to the way it was applied.

The committee recommended several measures to ensure that development receiving planning permission was sustainable. It called for the environmental and social aspects of development proposals to be given the same weight as economic aspects; permission to be granted for development only if the necessary supporting infrastructure was included; and increased emphasis on protection of the natural environment in the planning process.

The inquiry found that developers were taking advantage of an absence of local plans and councils' inability to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land to "seek planning permission in areas that local communities do not consider suitable for development".

In order to address this problem, the committee recommended that the government set a deadline for councils to adopt local plans and called for "clearer guidance about how housing need should be assessed". It also called for councils to be encouraged to review their green belt boundaries and for the closure of a loophole allowing developers to challenge the inclusion of sites in local plans on viability grounds.

The report was critical of the government's approach to the protection of town centres. It called for an end to permitted development rights which allow buildings in other uses to be redeveloped into homes without planning permission. The committee's chair, Clive Betts MP, said in a statement that permitted development "is too random and is hollowing out the commercial heart of our town centres".

The committee said it agreed with the government that brownfield land should be used for housing development, but it was "not convinced the chancellor's local development orders policy will do enough to stimulate activity". It, therefore, recommended that a remediation fund be established to make brownfield sites suitable for development.

"The NPPF makes clear the importance of a plan-led system that delivers sustainable development," said the report. "We trust that the government will make the changes we propose to ensure that this principle is met and the NPPF becomes a document in which everyone can have greater confidence."