The coalition government’s flagship planning reforms are failing to prevent unsustainable development and are forcing ‘inappropriate and unwanted housing’ on some communities, watchdog MPs have warned.
A new report by the Communities and Local Government select committee says that while the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has simplified guidance, it had also made it easier for developers to push through speculative projects.
The committee said it was particularly concerned about the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ used to override refusals for new housing schemes in areas where councils do not have an adopted local plan and cannot not demonstrate a five-year housing supply.
It also called for the closing of a loophole that allows developers to challenge the inclusion of particular sites in five-year plans on the grounds of their viability.
Committee chair Clive Betts said panel members believed communities were at risk of unsustainable development because ‘substantial’ housing schemes on the edge of towns and villages were winning approval as a result of ‘speculative’ applications by developers.
He said the problem was particularly acute when a local plan or five-year supply of housing land was not in place as developers could use the situation to their advantage, and that councils should be obliged to introduce local plans to stop the practice.
‘Councils must do more to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by moving quickly to get an adopted local plan in place,’ he said.
‘The NPPF is designed to work side by side with local plans. At the moment, 41 per cent of local authorities do not have an adopted local plan, which is simply not good enough.
‘To put an end to councils dragging their feet on this issue, we call for the government to make it a statutory requirement for councils to get local plans adopted within three years of the legislation being enacted.’
Other recommendations from the committee include a reversal of permitted-development rights in relation to the conversion of town-centre shops and banks to residential use, and more government help for the remediation of brownfield sites.
AJ reported earlier this year on statistics that showed developers were increasingly winning planning appeals relating to housing-scheme refusals in areas that did not have an adopted local plan.
Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said the select committee report was the first real review of the NPPF and represented an ‘important first step’ to understanding whether the framework was creating more homes and economic growth.
He said surveyors supported MPs call for a framework to evaluate the operation and impact of the NPPF, but believed that ending permitted development rights for the conversion of shops and offices for residential use was ‘foolhardy’.
Blackburn added: ‘Support for local plans also mirrors what RICS has called upon government to do and a future government should make the adoption of up to date local plans compulsory with any local authority failing to keep plans up-to-date being classed as underperforming and placed into special measures where required. This will greatly help with the legitimacy of development for local communities.’
Ed Cooke, director of policy and public affairs at the British Council of Shopping Centres, said the organisation was ‘significantly concerned’ that too many councils did not have adopted local plans in place, and that the situation offered ‘insufficient protection’ for town centres.
‘The NPPF must be strengthened yet further but local councils continue to drag their feet in relation to local plan making,’ he said.
‘This means unplanned out of town development as judged under the NPPF will continue to be proposed.’
Planning and housing minister Brandon Lewis insisted the NPPF offered ‘strong protections’ for the open countryside and the Green Belt.
‘The simple way for councils to send speculative developers packing is to have an up-to-date local plan - 80 per cent of councils now have a published local plan and slow-coach councils should be held to account by local voters for dragging their feet, he said.
The full report and recommendations can be read here.