Planning Law - There are Changes Afoot....

On 27 March 2012 the Government set out its controversial reforms of the planning system with the new National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”).  The new framework simplifies a previous 1300 pages of policy in 44 separate documents into one 50 page file.  Is the lifelong ambition of the planning system becoming simplified and less cumbersome therefore now finally upon us?

There are three objectives to the reforms:-

To put power in the hands of communities
To support better growth
To ensure that the countryside, towns and cities are bequeathed to the next generation in a better condition than they are now

These objectives lie alongside the fundamental principle of the planning system; “sustainable development”.  The new NPPF suggests that Local Planning Authorities (“LPAs”) observe a presumption in favour of development whereby all planning applications should be approved unless there would be adverse effects (for example the development causing a substantive detrimental effect on a neighbouring property or in the countryside)  which “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh the benefits of the development taking place. 

The new system also shifts the onus on to the LPAs to prove that a scheme will not cause “significant harm” to the locality by being undertaken rather than the onus being on the developer to prove that the benefits of any development outweigh any potential harms being caused. 

Planning Minister Greg Clark has stated that “we are determined that the new NPPF will put power into the hands of local people through a simpler, clearer system which safeguards our natural and historic environment whilst allowing the jobs and homes to be created which our country needs”.  Whilst the NPPF suggests that the re-use of “brownfield sites” will preserve and enhance the natural environment, this is looked at sceptically. 

Whilst the protection of the natural environment is an objective of the NPPF, the framework does not place any clear limitations on where it is appropriate to build therefore leaving the door wide open for developers to submit any application they so wish and leave the LPAs to try and prove that the proposed scheme will not cause  significant harm.  This seems like heavy burden of responsibility for the LPA to bear but no doubt developers will be shouting for joy!

In order for the NPPF to achieve its objectives planning policies must now be adjusted in order to achieve a simple and focussed system where the countryside remains protected whilst the LPAs still permit development in appropriate areas.  At present, there are significant gaps in the NPPF which will allow lawyers and planning consultants to manipulate the policies to fit the case of a developer! 

A simplified and less complicated system...not quite yet it would seem!