The Government has today published the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which comes into immediate effect for plan-making and decisions.
In a statement to MPs, Planning Minister Greg Clark announced that – under transitional arrangements agreed with the Local Government Association – councils would have 12 months from publication to adjust existing plans to ensure complete conformity with the framework. He added that he had also made it clear that weight could be given to emerging plans.
Clark said: “It has always been my intention that councils who have done the right thing and either adopted, or have made good progress towards adopting local plans, will not be disadvantaged by the change to new policy.”
The NPPF has been designed to reduce 1,300 pages of policy – contained in 44 different documents – to just 50 pages in a single booklet.
The framework still contains the controversial presumption in favour of sustainable development, which ministers insisted would be “powerful” and underpin all local plans and decisions.
Inclusion of the presumption in the draft NPPF published in July 2011 prompted attacks from a range of organisations, including the National Trust.
Clark said the final framework made it “crystal clear” that sustainable development embraced social and environmental as well as economic objectives and did so “in a balanced way”. It also refers explicitly to the five principles of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy, he said.
The Minister added that other key elements of the NPPF remained following the consultation, including the local plan being enshrined as the “keystone” of the planning system.
Clark insisted as well that the document guaranteed “robust protections for our natural and historic environment, including the Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest”. Relevant policies could not be overridden by the presumption, he argued.
The Minister also said the framework:
- Made it explicit that the presumption of sustainable development worked through, and not against, local plans;
- Recognised the “intrinsic value and beauty of the countryside (whether specifically designated or not)”;
- Made explicit “what was always implicit” – that councils’ policies must encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use;
- Underlined the importance of town centres, “while recognising that businesses in rural communities should be free to expand”;
- Took a localist approach to creating a buffer of housing supply over and above five years, and in the use of windfall sites;
- Allowed councils to protect back gardens; and
- Ensured that playing fields continued to benefit from the same protection they do now.
Clark said he had accepted either in whole or in part 30 out of 35 recommendations made by the Communities and Local Government select committee.
He added: "The new Framework has been strengthened by the responses to the consultation. We have confirmed the core reforms, sharpened the definition of the policies, and emphasised the essential balance that the planning system must achieve.
"These reforms will help build the homes the next generation needs, it will let businesses expand and create jobs, and it will conserve what we hold dear in our matchless countryside and the fabric of our history."
The neighbourhood planning regulations – which detail the requirements for designating neighbourhood areas and forums and preparing key elements of neighbourhood development plans, neighbourhood development orders and Community Right to Build orders – have been laid before Parliament. The Government’s intention is that they will come into force on 6 April 2012.