Planning changes ‘could let through unwanted housing’

16 Dec 14
The government’s National Planning Policy Framework does not do enough to protect communities from unwanted housing development, MPs have warned.

By Richard Johnstone | 16 December 2014

The government’s National Planning Policy Framework does not do enough to protect communities from unwanted housing development, MPs have warned.

Examining the coalition’s planning reforms, which in March 2012 brought in a presumption in favour of sustainable development, the Commons communities and local government committee said ministers needed to ensure that developments were based on the needs of communities.

The new presumption meant developers were taking advantage of loopholes in the framework to launch ‘speculative’ planning applications, which could lead to unwanted housing developments.

Committee chair Clive Betts said that, although the NPPF had simplified the planning system, there were emerging concerns about inappropriate and unsustainable approvals.

‘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,’ he said.

In particular, the committee warned the framework could lead to the granting of planning permission to substantial housing development on the edge of towns and villages.

Under the rules, councils have to agree local plans, including proposals for a five-year supply of land for housing.

However, where this is not in place, speculative applications from developers were seeking planning permission in areas communities did not consider suitable.

Betts called on councils to do more to protect their communities by quickly adopting a local plan, while the government should consider making these a statutory requirement to stop any ‘foot dragging’.

‘The NPPF is designed to work side by side with local plans,’ he added. ‘At the moment, 41% of local authorities do not have an adopted local plan, which is simply not good enough.’
Responding to the report, planning minister Brandon Lewis said the reforms had ensured strong protections of the open countryside and the green belt, while also abolishing regional strategies.

‘Our locally-led planning reforms are working, as 240,000 badly needed new homes received planning permission in the last 12 months,’ he said.

‘But the simple way for councils to send speculative developers packing is to have an up-to-date local plan – 80% of councils now have a published Local Plan and slow-coach councils should be held to account by local voters for dragging their feet.’

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said that it was vital that planning decisions were made in line with the wishes of local communities. ‘Councils work hard to engage with residents and consult on plans for development,’ he added.

‘Local plans provide a framework for development in communities but getting a local plan right can take time.

‘This is not the right time to change the NPPF and rather than make changes or issue new guidance, we need the government to provide developers and communities with certainty over the system and give the framework time to bed in.’


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