MPs have warned that the Government’s flagship National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is not doing enough to protect communities from unsustainable and unwanted development.
According to the Communities and Local Government Committee of the House of Commons, “loopholes” in the framework allow developers to secure speculative applications for large housing schemes on the outskirts of towns and villages.
This is especially problematic in areas where there is no Local Plan for a five-year supply of housing land, according to the report. Developers are taking advantage of the lack of a defined land supply in these cases to seek planning permission for areas that communities do not consider suitable for house building.
Currently, 41% of councils lack an adopted Local Plan, which committee chair Clive Betts described as “simply not good enough” The committee is urging the government to make it a statutory requirement for local governments to adopt a Local Plan within three years of the legislation’s passage.
The report also urges action to close a loophole that allows developers to challenge the inclusion of sites in five-year supplies on the basis of viability. According to evidence presented to the committee, some claim sites are unviable in order to secure planning permission on other, more lucrative, sites, despite the wishes of the local council and residents.
According to the committee, communities should be better protected by requiring that all sites with planning permission be counted toward the five-year supply.
MPs also called for clearer guidance on how councils should assess housing need, as well as more encouragement for local governments to review their green belts as part of the planning process.
While the committee agrees that more homes should be built on brownfield sites, it is “not convinced” that Chancellor George Osborne’s policy of local development orders will be sufficient to spur activity. Instead, it asks DCLG to create a brownfield site remediation fund, citing the fact that finding the resources to make land suitable for development is currently the most significant barrier to development.
Finally, the committee calls for changes to the NPPF to better protect town centres, such as the elimination of permitted development rights, which allow shops and offices to be converted into homes without requiring planning permission. According to MPs, the policy may be “inadvertently undermining councils’ ability to plan successfully for the future of their town centres”
“The internet has revolutionised the way we shop, but all too often, the way we plan for our town centres appears to be frozen in time.” “Planning must become more adaptable to changing trends and sharp enough to provide greater protection to our town centres,” Betts said.
“The government should limit ‘permitted development,’ which allows shops and banks to be converted into homes without requiring planning permission.” It is too haphazard and is eroding the commercial heart of our town centres. Councils must be able to plan strategically for their communities’ future.”
In response to the report, a spokesman for the Local Government Association stated, “The committee is correct in recognising that permitted development rights are not working, and we urge Government to listen to the committee’s call to end them.”
“It is absolutely vital that planning decisions are made in line with the wishes of local communities.”
However, planning minister Brandon Lewis stated that by simply adopting a Local Plan, “slow coach” councils could “send speculative developers packing”
He added that the NPPF has resulted in the approval of 240,000 new homes in the last year, as well as “strong protections” for open countryside and the demise of top-down regional strategies.