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Policy News

The Communities and Local Government Committee’s report on the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF)

“Significant changes must be made to improve draft Planning Framework”

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF) currently contains a default answer of 'yes' to development, which should be removed, says the Communities and Local Government Committee in its review of the draft framework.

The phrase 'significantly and demonstrably' must also be removed from the presumption that all planning applications should be approved unless the adverse effects ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweigh the benefits, say the MPs because it adds a further barrier to the achievement of truly sustainable development.

The concern is that the plan places too much emphasis on economic development at the expense of social and environmental issues.

Launching the report of an inquiry that examines the draft NPPF, Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee said:

"The way the framework is drafted currently gives the impression that greater emphasis should be given in planning decisions to economic growth. This undermines the equally important environmental and social elements of the planning system. As currently drafted the 'default yes' to development also carries the risk of the planning system being used to implement unsustainable development.

The document omits any reference to 'brownfield development first'. We welcome the Government's openness to reinstating the familiar and well understood term 'brownfield development' in the NPPF. For similar reasons the NPPF should be revised to reflect the ‘Town Centre First’ policy."

Sustainable development is inadequately defined

The committee warns that, as currently drafted, the NPPF defines the phrase 'sustainable development' inadequately and often conflates it with 'sustainable economic growth'.

"We take reassurance from the fact that Ministers have accepted that a cogent case has been made for expanding and strengthening the definition of sustainable development within the NPPF. To assist the minister we offer a more inclusive definition of sustainable development"

added Clive Betts.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that he believes 'that sustainable development has environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension, and that the Government fully recognises the need for a balance between the three' (stated in a letter to the National Trust, set out at paragraph 63 of the report). We

also believe that a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' should be a golden thread running through the planning system. We therefore welcome the planning minister Greg Clarke's reassurance that he is minded to make changes to address this risk."

NPPF should reflect “supremacy” of Local Plans

The committee also concludes the NPPF should unambiguously reflect the statutory supremacy of Local Plans, in accordance with the 2004 Act. MPs therefore call for the NPPF to require local planning decisions to be taken in accordance with the presumption in favour of sustainable development consistent with the Local Plan.

In its review of the draft NPPF, the Committeee makes clear recommendations about how to resolve potential conflict between the framework and Local Plans. The committee also shares the Government's view that it is unacceptable that so many parts of England have yet to develop and adopt a new Local Plan.

The MPs are also warning that clarity within the NPPF has suffered in the pursuit of brevity. Left unchanged, inconsistent drafting could create gaps in planning policy or guidance that MPs predict will lead to a huge expansion in the size of Local Plans - as local authorities attempt to plug those gaps.

Clive Betts said that although the Government wanted to simplify the planning system, as currently worded the framework would introduce several ambiguities that were more likely to slow down the planning process, with gaps or contradictions in the document likely to fuel a system of 'planning decision by appeal' instead of the local decision making advocated by ministers.

Clear and realistic timetable

The MPs also call for a sensible transition period with a clear and realistic timetable to give local authorities time to put Local Plans in place where they have not already done so.

The Committee said:

"The published, final NPPF will be a significant document, with far-reaching consequences. It must be balanced, comprehensive and adequately linked to other relevant central and local Government policy documents. Now is the opportunity to take on board the suggested changes we are recommending, based on the evidence we have received, to produce a well crafted, effective document, used to inform planning decisions made locally across England that will address social, environmental and economic demands on land supply on an equal basis."

Public Accounts Committee Report on Flood Risk Management in England

The Public Accounts Committee, last week, made public its report on flood risk management in England. The report (no 64) was based on information obtained from both Defra and the Environment Agency on how they manage flood risk in England.

The report summarised that flood protection is a national priority and features on the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies. According to the

Committee, the annual cost of flood damage has been £1.1 billion and is set to rise, with 5.2 million homes at risk of flooding. In 2010-11 Defra spent £664 million on flood and coastal risk management, 95% of which went to the Environment Agency.

There have been significant changes in funding arrangements for flooding. In 2009 the Environment Agency projected that its flood risk management budget needed to rise by 9% during the spending review period (2011-12 to 2014-15) simply to maintain the status quo However during the same period the Agency’s flood risk management budget has been reduced by over 10%.

Defra’s proposal is to increase local funding from £13 million to a £43 million by encouraging funding from local sources,

including private companies and from local authority levies. These commitments have not yet been secured and the proposal is

described by the committee as ‘over-optimistic’.

“We are concerned that there is no clarity about where the buck stops.”

The Committee went on to say:

“We were very concerned that the Department did not accept ultimate responsibility for managing the risk of floods. The Department told us it shared responsibility with the Agency and local bodies.

We are concerned that there is no clarity about where the buck stops. It is not acceptable that local people do not know clearly where responsibility for decisions lies and which body is answerable when things go wrong.”

It said that Defra relies on inconsistent and unstructured intelligence on local flood risk management performance. Local authorities are producing risk assessments but the Department does not have plans to assess their quality. The Department needs reliable information to inform its decisions on when and where to intervene if local risk management plans are inadequate.

As local communities are being asked to pay more towards flood protection and take on more of the risk, the Agency needs to improve how it involves them in the decision-making process and improve the skills of its staff in this regard. Localism is not just about devolving responsibility to local bodies but also about engaging the community in the decision- making process. At present consultation arrangements on flood defence proposals are not consistent across the country and some people feel the Agency is not listening to their concerns.

The agreement between the Department and the insurance industry that insurance cover will be provided to households at risk of flooding ends in 2013. In some areas premiums appear to have risen as a result of growing uncertainty over local levels of protection. Defra does not monitor insurance charges but it still needs to come to an early revised agreement with industry in order to reduce uncertainty for affected householders.

Click Here to download the full Committee report http://www.publications.parli elect/cmpubacc/1659/1659 02.htm


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