Winckworth Sherwood partner comments on edited National Planning Policy Framework

Karen Cooksley, partner and head of planning law at Winckworth Sherwood, has commented on the simplified National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) — which marked its first anniversary on 27 March 2013.

The NPPF stripped down around 1,000 pages of previous national policy, which was often vague, inconsistent or ambiguous, to about 50 pages with a much more readily understandable message.

Cooksley said: ‘The anti-development lobby regards the NPPF as a charter for a building free-for-all — conveniently and/or misguidedly overlooking the fact that it is merely policy. Safeguards for protecting green spaces, heritage assets and ecologically sensitive species are given by statute and therefore have greater force in law.’

The NPPF gives strong guidance to local authorities, developers and communities that they should be working together to bring forward development of the kind the country needs in order for the economy to grow and for people to have the homes and jobs they require.

Cooksley added: ‘Importantly, the NPPF places a very firm responsibility on each local authority to comply with its legal duty to bring forward a development plan for its area and to have a proper evidence-based housing needs assessment. That is a duty that many authorities have neglected or failed to comply with.’

The NPPF makes plain the consequence for local authorities of failing to comply with their plan-making duties, including that of identifying a supply of sites with a realistic prospect of viable delivery of housing on site within the next five years.

‘If the relevant five-year housing land supply is not identified on a rolling basis, then the authority’s local plan will not be considered up to date,’ said Cooksley. ‘And where the “development plan is absent or silent or relevant polices are out of date”, there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development.’

Since 27 March 2013, the presumption in favour of sustainable development has taken full effect where an authority has not updated its local plan to comply with the NPPF.

According to Cooksley, there has already been a string of appeal cases this year where the secretary of state has granted planning permission on the basis of proven housing need, where the authority’s policies did not conform with the requirements of the NPPF.

‘For those who view the NPPF with trepidation as a “builder’s charter”, there is a straightforward answer: if local authorities comply with their plan-making responsibilities in a way that accords with the housing and employment requirements of the people to whom they are democratically accountable, then they will not be penalised on appeal,’ she said. ‘If, however, authorities fail to provide for their people, the government will then step in to approve housing where schemes are otherwise acceptable in sustainability terms.’