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MPs demand significant changes to 'unhelpfully vague' NPPF

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Ministers have called on the government to redraft its controversial reform of the planning rules and get rid of the ‘unsustainable’ default ‘yes’ to development

The cross-party, communities and local government select committee also said that the government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is attempting to cut down 1,000 pages of policy to a ‘punchy’ 52 to speed up the process, was ‘unhelpfully vague’ and that critical wording had been lost as a result.

The report warns that in the short term the proposed changes could, conversely, slow down the process by introducing ‘confusion’ where previous detailed guidance ws missing causing a further boom in ‘planning by appeal’ (see AJ 02.12.11).

An explicit commitment to develop brownfield sites before greenfield plots was also demanded by the MPs.

In response decentralisation minister Greg Clark (pictured), who is overseeing the proposed planning reforms, said he was pleased the committee had agreed there was a need for the system to be simpler an that the local plan should be the starting point for all decisions. He added: ‘The government will consider carefully each of the suggestions that have been made, along with all responses to the consultation.

‘We are determined that the National Planning Policy Framework will put power into the hands of local people, through a simpler, clearer system, which safeguards our natural and historic environment while allowing the jobs and homes to be created that our country needs.”

Key points

  • The sentence ‘decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes’, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in this Framework” should be removed from the NPPF. The exhortation to adopt a ‘default yes’…and the ‘significantly and demonstrably’ test for evidence against development, all seek to tip the balance of decisionmaking too obviously towards development that may be unsustainable.
  • The committee felt the NPPF could be increased in length if that resulted ‘in a more comprehensive and less ambiguous document’. The NPPF did ‘not achieve clarity by its brevity; critical wording had been lost and what remains is often unhelpfully vague’.
  • The NPPF’s focus on economic growth [and the benefits test] weakened policies such as brownfield development first and Town Centre First.


Tony Burton, director of Civic Voice ‘There has been widespread concern about the Government’s planning reforms which would bias decisions and put everyday England at risk. This select committee report should be heeded by the Government to take the heat out of the controversy over planning reforms and bring sensible improvements to planning policy.’

Ministers must stand up and be counted and explain exactly what certain sections of the NPPF will mean in practice

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation ‘This report and much of the rhetoric surrounding the NPPF exposes the vast disparity of views when interpreting the framework. Ministers must stand up and be counted and explain exactly what certain sections of the NPPF will mean in practice.

‘Many of the committee’s findings we have long supported, such as the reintroduction of a brownfield first policy. The commercial property industry, by-and-large, already develops on previously used land in town and city centres. We could support the committee’s definition of sustainable development and re-worded ‘presumption in favour’ as long as local authorities were compelled to produce a local plan. As it stands, only 47% of local authorities have got around to producing one and the committee’s suggestion risks a complete development hiatus in the remaining 53% of areas.

Kate Henderson, TCPA chief executive ‘We are pleased to see the committee has made a number of recommendations around [our] central concerns on the draft NPPF, such as the definition of sustainable development, transitional arrangements and the vulnerability to litigation from imprecise language.’

Anna Scott-Marshall, head of external affairs, RIBA ‘The select committee highlights many issues that need to be resolved before publication of the final NPPF. The RIBA supports, in particular, the select committee’s recommendations that new guidance developed by practitioners should be endorsed by the government to ensure a consistent approach. The RIBA is happy to work with other organisations to look at guidance needed to support the NPPF, provided that local authorities and communities are clear about where and how this guidance is developed and that it has government support.’

The select committee members

Clive Betts MP (Labour, Sheffield South-East) (Chair)
Heidi Alexander MP (Labour, Lewisham East)
Bob Blackman MP (Conservative, Harrow East)
Simon Danczuk MP Rochdale (Labour, Rochdale)
Bill Esterson MP (Labour, Sefton Central)
Stephen Gilbert MP (Liberal Democrat, St Austell and Newquay)
David Heyes MP (Labour, Ashton under Lyne)
George Hollingbery MP (Conservative, Meon Valley)
James Morris MP (Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis)
Mark Pawsey MP (Conservative, Rugby)
Heather Wheeler MP, (Conservative, South Derbyshire

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