National Planning Policy Framework

Hulton Park

15th March 2012

When the Government published its draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in summer 2011 it seemed unprepared for the uproar that followed. The document sought to replace existing planning policy guidelines with a single 50-page outline framework. It combined a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ with a seemingly one-sided focus on economic objectives.

It set off one of CPRE’s strongest campaigns in years. In Oxfordshire, we played our part, and we are happy to report that our campaigning has led to significant steps in the right direction.

The final document now includes a definition of sustainable development, has a renewed emphasis on using brownfield sites and, most importantly of all, recognises the intrinsic value of the countryside in its own right. But there is still a worrying focus on short-term economic objectives rather than long-term thinking. And the wording is still vague and imprecise enough to leave no one but lawyers entirely happy.

Local authorities have just 12 months to get their local development plans in place which may be a challenge for some Oxfordshire districts.

Ten things you need to know about the NPPF

1. Definition of sustainable development
This was one of our main demands, and is now included. It draws on the UK Sustainable Development Strategy’s five ‘guiding principles’: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly.

2. Recognition of the intrinsic value of the countryside
This was another of our demands. Planning must ‘take account of the different roles and characters of different areas… recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it’.

3. Green Belts & Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
With the Oxford Green Belt and three AONBs, protected landscape is of huge significance to our county. The NPPF says ‘the Government attaches great importance to Green Belts… the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence.’ It says ‘great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in… AONBs’. We are concerned that overall the wording is not as strong or as clear as previous planning policy.

4. Local Plans
The NPPF puts great emphasis on the importance of local decision-making, through the Local Plans (known as Core Strategies) developed by local authorities. However, many councils, including four out of five of Oxfordshire’s District Councils, do not yet have these plans in place. They now have just 12 months to push them through, otherwise the NPPF will theoretically take precedence over local views although ‘decision-makers may also give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans’. Oxford City Council does have a Core Strategy in place but this will need to be reviewed in line with the NPPF and may need to be revised. The process for undertaking this is not yet clear.

We broadly welcomes this move to decision-making at a more local level. We hope our local Councils will move quickly to get their plans in place but this should not be at the expense of appropriate public involvement and consultation.

5.  Five year housing supply
Local authorities should plan for sufficient housing to provide five years’ supply against their housing requirements. Crucially, the NPPF indicates that houses with planning permission count towards the five year supply, even if they are not yet built. This completely undermines the argument the Vale of White Horse District Council has used to justify its proposed Interim Housing Supply Policy, which plans to relax planning restrictions on greenfield sites to meet the five year supply target.

6. Windfall sites
Windfall sites are those which become available for development unexpectedly and are therefore not included as allocated land in a planning authority’s development plan. The NPPF says that local authorities can take windfall sites into account within their five year housing supply ‘if they have compelling evidence that such sites have consistently become available in the local area’. Last year, South Oxfordshire District Council’s draft Core Strategy was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate because it contained an allowance for windfall sites. It may be that the NPPF means this decision might have to be re-visited.

7. Affordable housing
The NPPF retains the rural exception site policy, which allows for affordable housing for local people on sites that would not normally be considered for development. However, it now also gives local authorities the power to allow ‘small numbers of market homes’ on these sites if that helps to facilitate the affordable housing. This may help bring forward land for development, but could risk pushing up prices out of the reach of organisations such as Housing Associations or lead to market development being pushed through via the back door.

8. Brownfield site and empty homes
Retaining the ‘brownfield first’ policy was another of CPRE’s main campaign asks. The final NPPF goes at least some way towards this, saying that planning should ‘encourage the effective use of land by re-using land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value. Local planning authorities may continue to consider the case for setting a locally appropriate target for the use of brownfield land’. It also says that local authorities should identify empty housing and buildings and bring them back into residential use.

9. Outdoor advertising
The wording on outdoor advertising remains weak in the final NPPF. Whilst it acknowledges that ‘poorly placed advertisements can have a negative impact on the appearance of the built and natural environment’, it goes on to say that ‘advertisements should be subject to control only in the interests of amenity and public safety, taking account of cumulative impacts’.

10. Local Green Spaces
The NPPF introduces a new designation of ‘Local Green Space’, green areas that local people identify as particularly important and that will be given similar protection to Green Belts. This will be an important, but very limited, tool for communities to protect the spaces they value. The designation confers no right for the public to access the land and there are severe restrictions on when it can be used. The NPPF itself says this ‘will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space’. In addition, Local Green Spaces can only be designated when a local development plan is prepared or reviewed. It is not clear what this means for the people of Oxford City, where the District Council already has a Core Strategy in place running until 2026.