Communities need greater protection against unsustainable development

16 December 2014

Committee publishes its report on the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Government's flagship planning policy, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), needs to do more to protect against unsustainable development in England and ensure communities aren't subject to unwanted housing development, says the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in a report published today.

Protection from speculative development

The CLG Committee found that developers are taking advantages of loopholes in the framework to launch 'speculative' planning applications leading to unwanted developments contrary to the wishes of local communities.

Commenting on the Report, Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

"The NPPF has brought welcome simplification to the planning system but the Government must strengthen the planning framework to tackle emerging concerns about inappropriate and unsustainable development. The same weight needs to be given to environmental and social factors as to the economic dimension to ensure the planning system delivers the sustainable development promised by the NPPF."

The Committee welcomes the Government's efforts to simplify planning by reducing, in the words of the former Planning Minister, "over 1,000 pages of often impenetrable jargon to around 50 pages of clearly written guidance". However, the Committee is concerned that communities are at risk of unsustainable development due to the granting of planning permission to substantial housing development on the edge of towns and villages as a result of 'speculative' applications by developers. This problem was particularly acute when a local plan or five year supply of housing land was not in place. In these cases, developers take advantage of the absence of the plan or five year supply to seek planning permission in areas that local communities do not consider suitable for development.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"Councils must do more to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by moving quickly to get an adopted Local Plan in place. The NPPF is designed to work side by side with local plans. At the moment, 41% of local authorities do not have an adopted local plan which is simply not good enough. To put an end to councils dragging their feet on this issue, we call for the Government to make it a statutory requirement for councils to get local plans adopted within three years of the legislation being enacted.

We must also close the loophole that allows developers to challenge the inclusion of sites within a council's five year supply on the grounds of viability. We heard that developers were claiming sites were unviable in order to obtain planning permission on other, more lucrative sites against the wishes of the council and community. In doing so, they are undermining and delaying the local planning process. Requiring all sites with planning permission to be counted towards an authority's five year supply will help put a stop to this behaviour and give communities greater protection."

Assessment of land for housing

The Committee also recommends that clearer guidance is needed about how housing need should be assessed and that local authorities should be encouraged to review their green belts as part of the local planning process.

The Committee agrees that more homes should be built on brownfield land, but is not convinced the Chancellor's local development orders policy will do enough to stimulate activity. Given the biggest barrier to more building on brownfield sites is the availability of resources to make the land suitable for development, the Committee calls on the Department for Communities and Local Government to establish a remediation fund for brownfield sites.

Support for town centres

The CLG Committee also finds the NPPF and Government planning policies are not doing enough to ensure the health and vibrancy of town centres.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The internet has revolutionised the way we shop and yet too often the way we plan for our town centres seems preserved in aspic. Planning needs to develop greater flexibility to adapt to changing trends and be sharp enough to offer our town centres greater protection. The Government should scale back "permitted development" which allows shops and banks to become homes without planning permission. It is too random and is hollowing out the commercial heart of our town centres. Councils have to be able to plan strategically for the future of their communities."

Further information

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