RTPI Head of Policy, Richard Blyth, gave evidence to a leading committee of MPs examining DCLG's current consultation on national planning policy, and whether the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was working. Fielding a wide range of questions, on a panel that also included representatives from TCPA and CPRE, Richard highlighted new RTPI research into recent housing growth and set out two key amendments the Institute was seeking to the Housing & Planning Bill.
Monitoring of the impact of the NPPF
MPs were particularly interested in important RTPI research, commissioned from Bilfinger GVA, into patterns of housing growth in fifteen fast growing city-regions. This will provide much-needed analysis on how new housing proposals relate to jobs and infrastructure in different areas of the UK. The committee last year had complained there was no real monitoring of the impact of the NPPF.
The research project is mapping recent housing permissions against areas of major employment and public transport infrastructure in cities and their surrounding areas. Spatial analysis will then help to examine whether housing developments are located in sustainable locations in terms of access to employment and major economic centres, and whether new developments are of a sufficient scale to support the provision of infrastructure.
On the issue of allowing alternative providers for planning services, as set out in new clauses contained in the Housing & Planning Bill, Richard explained the amendment the RTPI was seeking support for, which would also allow local authorities to set planning fees.
He said our preferred solution, if the government believes fee flexibility is part of the answer to increasing the resources of planning departments, then it should introduce pilots allowing local authorities to trial fee flexibility. The majority of applications currently do not cover the cost of dealing with them. Pilot status would be conditional on authorities reinvesting the additional resources in planning and authorities would need to demonstrate improved service, innovation and better outcomes.
Permission in principle
MPs quizzed Richard on the government's plans for a brownfield register and 'permission in principle'. A key issue in enabling proper planning of the country, said Richard, is that sites should, when developed, be supported by infrastructure, with good access by public transport and to a range of places of employment. Many brownfield sites are so poorly located that their development would generate high volumes of car traffic and long commutes. The RTPI was seeking to get the Bill amended to reflect this.
Work to residential
Richard said he was 'deeply worried' by the suggestions that this change in permitted development rights should be made permanent, especially in places like London. This would lead to important displacement of employment opportunities.
Richard argued that local authorities should not be penalised on the issue of the five year land supply, where large housing projects meant that parts of sites might not be completed until after this timeline. He also argued that there was a need to incentivise those areas prepared to have the housing, with the accompanying need to provide proper infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and transport.
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