A national planning system under which half the local plans in England are powerless to actually plan their areas doesn’t really deserve the moniker ‘national system’. But that’s just what’s happening, starting today.
The National Planning Policy Framework comes into effect today. Thousands of pages of planning guidance built up over forty years have been swept away for a 52-page document of unclearly defined policies that are meant to guide local authorities in drafting their local planning policies.
The policies were announced last March, but councils were given one year to throw out their existing local plans and replace them with NPPF-compliant ones. That deadline expires today.
On the day of reckoning, many councils find themselves without up-to-date plans. Less than seven per cent of local authorities now have plans which have been certified as compliant. Just over 48 per cent of councils have adopted new plans, but the vast majority of those are untested.
The numbers are particularly striking in London. Only five councils have had their plans approved by an inspector in the past year, meaning the vast majority of London’s local plans were published before we knew what was in the NPPF. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not compliant, but it certainly doesn’t help.
The problem is that, where local authorities have plans which don’t comply, the plans become little more than material considerations. In their place is a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development.
Some of the things are so ill-defined that it gives a field day for lawyers.
The presumption means that, unless there are air-tight reasons why the application falls afoul of the NPPF, the local authority must approve the development. Even if it completely flies in the face of the wishes of local people, or even of the emerging local plan.
No wonder countryside organisations like the Campaign to Protect Rural England have called for a delay to the implementation of the NPPF.
This government has made clear it’s all in favour of deregulation. But turning over 52 per cent of England to developers with no local plans to stop them is simply beyond the pale.