On 6th March, Planning Minister Nick Boles MP announced the launch of the new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) for England. The guidance has been in draft ‘Beta’ format since 28 August 2013. It follows a review of planning policy guidance undertaken by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor which began in October 2012.
So what’s in it?
In all it contains 41 categories; from ‘Advertisements’ to ‘Water supply’. Each category contains sub-topics which when clicked on reveal a series of questions and answers. It is designed to be accessible and user friendly and it succeeds to some degree. However, users should be wary that the topics are not entirely self-contained. Research on some matters, for example housing need and supply, will involve browsing a number of the topics.
A raft of old guidance has been cancelled and practitioners should be careful to consult this list before relying upon any historic guidance document.
The Minister’s written statement suggests that the Government is intent on sticking to its ‘localist’ approach to policy and guidance: “Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials.”
And what’s new?
In line with recent Secretary of State decisions and parliamentary pronouncements the website confirms a significant degree of protection for the Green Belt. It states that unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying the inappropriate development.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, in light of recent weather conditions, the website contains strict guidance on how local authorities should act on flood risk assessments. It states that the tests as set out in the NPPF should be followed and where the tests are not met, new development on flood risk sites should not be allowed.
The PPG contains sections on ‘housing and economic development needs assessments’ and on ‘housing and economic land availability assessment’. Interestingly, these are not included under the ‘Local Plan’ section, as such it is fair to surmise that they relate both to plan-making and to decision-taking.
The ‘need’ part of the guidance contains a detailed methodology as to how the objectively assessed need should be calculated. Anyone preparing for a local plan examination or indeed a planning appeal, where 5-year supply is in issue, is advised to read this section of the website with care. Some key points to note here are: student housing, housing for older people and the re-use of empty homes can be included when assessing housing need.
Further, it may bring to an end the ‘Sedgefield’ vs ‘Liverpool’ argument once and for all. It states: ‘Local planning authorities should aim to deal with any undersupply within the first 5 years of the plan period where possible.’ siding with the Sedgefield approach and therefore with the weight of appeal decisions. The guidance also states that in assessing need ‘consideration can be given to evidence that the Council has delivered over and above its housing need in previous years.’
As for supply, practitioners should note that the website makes clear that windfalls can be counted over the whole Local Plan period. Otherwise, the guidance follows the requirement for ‘compelling evidence’ in paragraph 48 of the NPPF. Further, when assessing the deliverability of a housing site the guidance states that ‘plan makers will need to consider the time it will take to commence development on site and build out rates to ensure a robust five-year housing supply.’
The need for providing adequate infrastructure in Local Plans is emphasised. A plan should, for at least the first five years, make clear what infrastructure is required, who is going to fund and provide it, and how it relates to the anticipated rate and phasing of development.
The guidance also suggests that Local Plans may pass the test of soundness where authorities have not been able to identify land for growth in years 11-15 of their Local Plan, which, as recognised by Nick Boles, can often be the most challenging part for a local authority.
The clarity offered by the guidance in relation to these should be welcomed. Ultimately, however, the efficacy of the website and whether it has achieved the stated aim to simplify the planning system will only become clear as it begins to be applied.
What’s the effect?
It is clear that in many areas of planning this ‘national guidance’ takes national policy a step further. Parts of it are designed to support the current government agenda and to combat the fears of potential voters, for example in relation to the green belt. Other sections are a direct response to issues which have arisen out of the NPPF and have been the subject of much debate at the level of decision taking, i.e. the support of the ‘Sedgefield’ approach to addressing housing shortfall. The clarity offered by the guidance in relation to these should be welcomed. Ultimately, however, the efficacy of the website and whether it has achieved the stated aim to simplify the planning system will only become clear as it begins to be applied.
About Victoria Hutton
Victoria is a Barrister at No.5 Chambers. She acts in a wide range of planning and environmental law matters and is also a qualified mediator. She graduated from Oxford University with an MA in Modern History before completing her law conversion course and bar exams. She then gained her LLM in public international law from the London School of Economics.
The article is a version of a blog that first appeared on the No.5 Chambers blog.