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planning law news – August 2011

Government unveils draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

On 25 July the Government published its draft NPPF for consultation. At 58 pages long it represents a significantly less voluminous suite of national planning policy than the current documentation it is designed to replace, which runs to more than 1,000 pages. It seeks to set out the Government's key economic, social and environmental objectives for England and the planning policies to deliver them.

The Government remains committed to:

  • protect the green belt, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest
  • facilitate a new generation of renewable energy projects
  • protect the nation's historic environment and cultural heritage
  • protect peat bogs
  • tackle noise and light pollution
  • allow communities to earmark important local green spaces for special protection
  • promote growth for the telecommunications industry
  • secure an adequate and steady supply of indigenous minerals needed to support sustainable growth
  • ensure that councils work closely with each other, communities and businesses
  • help deliver homes, jobs and infrastructure needed for a growing population while protecting the environment.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development is central to the policy and is designed to send a strong signal to all those involved in the planning process about the need to plan positively for appropriate new development, so that both plan-making and development management are proactive and driven by a search for opportunities to deliver sustainable development, rather than barriers.

The counter-balance to the presumption is the shift to local community planning. These two elements are the new concepts in balancing private and public interests, although the RTPI believes their relationship remains unclear.

The draft NPPF has been criticised by a number of bodies. The RTPI has expressed concern that it would undermine local plans and the CPRE consider that "major problems remain". The importance of the document has been underlined by the House Builders Federation which called it the "most important planning document since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947".

The consultation closes on 17 October 2011 and the Government aims to adopt the NPPF in April 2012.

local planning regulations: consultation

As a consequence of the proposed reforms in the Localism Bill the Government is consulting on amendments to the regulations concerning the preparation of development plans by local planning authorities. Views are sought on whether the revised regulations are fit for purpose, and in particular:

  • consolidation of the regulations into one document
  • a list of bodies to whom the new duty to co-operate applies
  • simplifying the definition of Development Plan Documents (DPDs) to omit terms such as Local Development Framework, Core Strategy and Area Action Plan to reduce confusion among the public and business alike
  • allowing councils to decide what they want to include in their DPDs
  • allowing councils to review policy more quickly
  • removing the regulations on Local Development Schemes, so councils need only report information of greatest relevance to local people
  • maintaining the requirement to keep the public informed about the status of planning documents.

The consultation closes on 7 October 2011.

valuing nature

Summer has seen the Government publish a white paper entitled "The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature" which includes a response to the Lawton Review. Findings of the recent UK National Ecosystem Assessment were also fed into the white paper.

The Lawton Review was commissioned in September 2010 and set out 24 recommendations. It considered that England's designated and non-designated wildlife sites represented an incoherent ecological network and concluded existing sites were too small and isolated.

The white paper sets out the Government's aims for the next 50 years. Principal aims include valuing the economic/social benefit of the natural environment, putting natural capital at the centre of economics and enabling greater local action to create a green economy. To achieve these aims the Government is specifically proposing:

  • new designations of Nature Improvement Areas (NIA) to join fragmented ecological sites and local green spaces allowing communities to protect areas that are important to them
  • to extend the use of "biodiversity offsetting"
  • to reform the planning system through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
  • to establishment Local Nature Partnerships (LNP) to complement Local Enterprise Partnerships at a strategic level
  • to publish a new Biodiversity Strategy for England
  • to create an independent body called the Natural Capital Committee (NCC)
  • to require annual statements of "Natural Capital" in the UK's annual accounts
  • to publish a road map for a green economy.

Some of the proposed changes may in fact be imminent. The proposed local green spaces designation is to be introduced by April 2012. The Government wish to give it the same level of protection as green belt land and it is seen as a more flexible mechanism balancing the rigidity of town and village green designation.

hazardous waste

On 14 July 2011 DEFRA published a consultation on a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) for major new infrastructure for hazardous waste. The purpose is to ensure that more hazardous waste is sent for recycling and recovery than is at present.

New facilities will aid the implementation of the new waste hierarchy, recently introduced as a result of the Revised Waste Framework Directive, which places greater emphasis on ensuring that waste is dealt with in the priority order of; prevention, preparing for re-use, recycling, other recovery (for example, energy recovery) and finally disposal. As part of that strategy a more streamlined planning system for obtaining planning consent will, it is thought, provide a greater degree of certainty to potential developers and allow nationally significant infrastructure to come forward more quickly.

The consultation closes on 20 October 2011.

energy planning reforms approved by MPs

MPs have voted to approve the final set of six national policy statements (NPSs) for energy infrastructure that are intended to speed up the planning process for major energy projects. Progress of the energy NPSs was reported in our July bulletin.

new London Plan

On 22 July 2011 the Mayor of London published the new London Plan, designed to provide an economic, environmental, transport and social framework for London's growth to 2031. It fully replaces the London Plan (consolidated with alterations since 2004) and is now the principal document with which the local plans of London Boroughs need to be in conformity.

View the link to download the new London Plan.

For further information on any of the issues raised above, please contact Keith Lancaster in our Planning law team in Oxford on 01865 253 295 or email