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Property industry welcomes transfer of planning power in the UK

The draft NPPF puts local plan making at the heart of the planning system, meaning for the first time that democratically elected local authorities, rather than unelected regional quangos, will have the final say over what development should take place in their areas.

Under the proposals, a planning application would only be judged against the principles set out in the NPPF in the absence of an adopted core strategy, giving local authorities a strong incentive to plan positively to meet the needs and aspirations of their area while paying full regard to the principles of sustainability.
Currently almost 70% of local authorities do not have an adopted core strategy, seven years on from the legislation instructing them to do so.

‘The extra powers that will be given to communities are welcome, but with power comes responsibility. Although resources are stretched, preparing and maintaining an up to date core strategy should be seen as one of the most important functions of any local authority. For whatever reason most local authorities haven't produced a strategy. At the very least the NPPF should incentivise them to prepare one,’ said Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation.

In its response the BPF again reiterated its support for the changes, believing they should lead to a framework which will be clear and succinct, help to create urgently needed jobs and homes and take into account the principles of sustainability.

The BPF also suggests that there should be an explicit reference to a brownfield land first policy to help allay concerns expressed by green groups that it would lead to the despoliation of the countryside.

‘We do not believe that the draft NPPF seeks to undermine environmental concerns but if greater clarification would allay these fears then we would be happy to see some changes. We want to see as much new building as possible take place on brownfield land, accepting that in some cases brownfield land may be of greater environmental value than greenfield sites,’ explained Peace.

The BPF welcomes the presumption in favour of sustainable development and believes that although it is not the radical change some have claimed, it will produce better outcomes for local authorities, communities and the development industry.

‘While the presumption is an important aspect of the emerging NPPF, we do not see it as marking a radical change to the existing planning system. The crucial point, which so many of those attacking the draft NPPF have ignored, is that the presumption should not be exercised in a vacuum but within the context of a local plan drawn up by an elected local authority following extensive consultation with their local community,’ said Peace.

The BPF said that the presumption would help local authorities plan positively for growth, but would not mean that those without a plan would find unwelcome and inappropriate development thrust upon them.

‘The suggestion that if there is no up to date plan then anything goes is an inaccurate interpretation of the Government's proposals. If an up to date local plan is not in force, then decisions about planning applications will be made in accordance with the principles set out in the draft NPPF,’ added Peace.

She also explained that the BPF believes that the definition in the NPPF is widely accepted, but is happy to agree to a different form of words if this would allay the fears of environmentalists. ‘The definition of sustainable development in the draft NPPF uses the classic Brundtland definition and talks appropriately about balancing economic, social and economic considerations. The Brundtland definition has the merit of familiarity. However, we recognise that it was designed to cover a wide spectrum of issues relating to the development of nations rather than built development per se and we are not wedded to this definition if a better form of words can be found,’ she added.

Malcolm Chumbley, head of UK Development Agency, Cluttons, said that the government must not succumb to the pressure being applied by voices of objection which do not represent the views of the majority.
‘At the moment, developers are in limbo, and this cannot continue if we are to tackle the housing crisis we are facing. The time for action has come, and we need to see viable plans to house the nation implemented. The alternative is a crisis which will freeze the house building sector and cripple UK growth,’ he explained.

‘We must recognise that for our country to prosper we need to see change. Now that the consultation period is over, we are keen to see this delivered within a sensible and stable framework. Brownfield land should continue take priority over greenfield sites for development, and if local authorities and the government can proactively work together to ensure suitable space is brought forward for housing, we can take the first step to solving one of the nation’s most concerning problems,’ he added.