Sun, 09 Mar 2014
By Victoria Hutton
Planning Practice Guidance: An Overview
On 6 March Nick Boles announced the launch of the new Planning Practice Guidance (‘PPG’). 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. This note is intended to provide a brief overview of the guidance and some of its key features.
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 introduction to DCLG’s written statement, heralding the introduction of the new guidance, states:
‘The Coalition Government is committed to reforming the planning system to make it simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, allowing local communities to shape where development should and should not go. Planning should not be the exclusive preserve of lawyers, developers or town hall officials.
We are also committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded, and devolving power down not just to local councils, but also down to neighbourhoods and local residents.’
The above statement suggests that this government is intent on sticking to its ‘localism’ rhetoric despite the overwhelming opinion of planning professionals and commentators that the introduction of the NPPF has not put decision-making in the hands of the populace. It remains to be seen whether the continued use of this phraseology in relation to the PPG is mere political gainsaying or whether it will be backed up by the gloss that the PPG will place on the NPPF.
The PPG 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. 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.
It is impossible in the space of this note to review all parts of the PPG but some of its key features are worth highlighting.
In line with recent Secretary of State decisions and parliamentary pronouncements the PPG 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 PPG 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 PPG 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, the PPG 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 PPG 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 NPPF. Further, when assessing the deliverability of a housing site the PPG 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 PPG emphasises the need for providing adequate infrastructure in Local Plans. The 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 can 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 can be the most challenging part for a local authority.
Re-Use of Empty and Underused Buildings - Permitted Development Rights
The Written Ministerial Statement introducing the guidance also announced changes to permitted development rights. The changes focus heavily on the re-use of empty and under-used buildings it states: ‘Further reforms will save time and money for applicants and councils, encourage the re-use of empty and under-used buildings and further support brownfield regeneration while ensuring regard to potential flood-risk.’ The measures introduced include:
· Allowing the change of use from shops (A1) and financial and professional services (A2) to houses (C3) (NB this does not apply to National Parks, the Broads, ANOBs, Conservation Areas, World Heritage Sites);
· Allowing better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings. It allows for up to 450sqm of agricultural buildings on a farm to change to provide a maximum of three houses. Again this doesn’t apply to National Parks, the Broads, ANOBs, Conservation Areas, World Heritage Sites;
· Allowing the change of use of agricultural buildings (up to 500sqm) to state-funded schools and registered nurseries).
It is clear that in many areas of planning the PPG 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 is welcome. Ultimately, however, the efficacy of the guidance and whether it has achieved its stated aim to simplify the planning system will only become clear as it begins to be applied.
Please click here to view Victoria Hutton's proifle.
National Planning Practice Guidance
List of Documents Cancelled by the NPPG
Written Ministerial Statement, Nick Boles 6 March 2014
 E.g. Land to the South of Manor Road APP/F0114/A/13/2195351; Letter from Nick Boles MP to Sir Michael Pitt 3 March 2014