Planning For Growth

By: John Adams & Simon Ricketts
Source: Estates Gazette
Published: 10 September 2011

Draft NPPF Sustainable development can be compatible with increased development. John Adams and Simon Ricketts explained how the government intends to use the planning system to deliver better local communities

The draft national planning policy framework (NPPF) deals with the delivery of sustainable development, which, it makes clear, is not about maintaining the status quo. It is all about using the planning system to ensure that sufficient land is brought forward to deliver growth, and more housing. Growth is at the heart of the government’s definition of sustainable development. A strong economy and healthy communities are prerequisites to sustainability.

Role of communities and "yes" approach

The draft NPPF indicates, in para 17, that neighborhoods have to plan positively. They should “develop plans that support the strategic development needs set out in Local Plans, including policies for housing and economic development” and should “plan positively to support local development, with the power to promote more development than is set out in the local plan” (emphasis added).

As a counter-balance, developers should respond to the needs of communities by ensuring that development is "of good design and appropriately located".

The draft NPPF states that "planning should proactively drive and support the development that this country needs" and, in para 19, that "decision makers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is 'yes' except where this would compromise the key sustainable principles set out in this Framework".

Paragraphs 20, 39, and 54 list other key passages in the "yes" approach:

plans should be prepared on the basis that objectively assessed development needs should be met, unless the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.

To enable a plan to be deliverable, the sites and the scale of development identified in the plan should not be subject to such a scale of obligations and policy burdens that their ability to be developed viably is threatened. To ensure viability, the costs of any requirements likely to be applied to development, such as requirements for affordable housing, local standards, infrastructure contributions or other requirements should, when taking account of the normal cost of development and on site mitigation, provide acceptable returns to a willing land owner and willing developer to enable the development to be deliverable.

Local authorities need to "approach development management decisions positively - looking for solutions rather than problems so that applications can be approved wherever it is practical to do so” and “attach significant weight to the benefits of economic and housing growth".

The draft NPPF is already a material consideration in the determination of planning applications. Many plans will not be consistent with the framework. If they do not meet an area’s development needs, the NPPF will take precedence on appeal.

The draft NPPF changes the tests of soundness applied to local plan documents:

The plan should be prepared based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirements, including current requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is practical to do so consistently with the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Plans must be deliverable and based on joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities. This gives developers and inspectors the tools to challenge local planning authorities (LPAs) if cross-boundary co-operation is inadequate.


"The Government's key housing objective is to increase significantly the delivery of new homes": para 107. The draft NPPF sets out tools for LPAs to ensure the delivery of increased housing, including:

Long-standing employment land protection policies are abolished (para 75):

Planning policies should avoid the long term protection of employment land or floor space, and applications for alternative uses of designated land or buildings should be treated on their merits, having regarded to market signals and the relative need for different land uses.

Business space, retail and hotels

Proposals for office development are no longer subject to sequential testing, that is, the “town centre first” approach. This move has implications for out-of-centre business parks, particularly when linked to the urgency the government is attaching to delivering growth.

Another positive change for developers and occupiers is the removal of the PPG 13 car-parking caps for non-residential uses. These car-parking standards will be set locally but should not compromise the viability of proposed schemes: para 39.

LPAs should ensure that “retail and leisure needs are met and are not compromised by limited site availability”. This is a potentially important passage given previous uncertainties with PPS 4 and its predecessors as to how much flexibility is required for retailers in respect of store size and format in applying the sequential test.

The effect of retail and leisure proposals in out-of-town or edge-of-centre locations on town centre vitality and viability must be considered over a 10-year period (rather than a five-year period). Shorter-term effects caused by development will have accordingly reduced relevance.

Regional shopping centre are not singled out for special attention as they are in PPS 4.

The sequential test applies to leisure but no reference is made to hotels. Given that hotels fall within a separate use class (C1) to use Class D2 within which leisure uses fall, it can be inferred that hotels are no longer subject to the sequential test

Sustainable communities

The draft NPPF emphasizes the need to deliver sustainable development and attaches greater importance than earlier guidance to: (i) creating an environment to enable social interaction; (ii) providing infrastructure to meet local needs; and (iii) ensuring access to green and open space to benefit communities.

Key sustainability headlines include:

Of particular note is the attempt to draw greater consistency between planning policy and the building regulations trajectory on the energy and carbon performance of new development. The draft NPPF outlines the promotion of the government's zero-carbon policy, which, in respect of the development of new buildings, endorses the energy hierarchy approach of first improving energy efficiency and then considering the use of renewable. In the view of Jon Lovell, head of sustainability at Drivers Jonas Deloitte, this signals a central nudge away from the commonly adopted but narrow focus on renewable energy promotion through local development policies (that is, the "Merton rule") towards a focus on fabric and systems efficiency in the first instance. This could have short-term positive effects for development viability where cheaper carbon reduction solutions can be justified, rather than the costly focus on low-and zero carbon energy generation technologies enshrined in some local planning frameworks.

Despite this the prospective requirement for zero-carbon new buildings through regulations will require high level of fabric efficiency renewable energy generation and in many cases addition "allowable solutions" to offset the balance of carbon emissions arising from regulated energy use.


Although the draft NPPF generally maintains existing green-belt policy, LPAs should consider whether releasing land from the green belt could produce a more sustainable outcome than development outside the green belt.

Concluding thoughts

The draft NPPF takes a more pro-growth approach to development than the previous policies in PPS 1. An emphasis is placed on the planning system supporting sustainable economic growth, which is best highlighted in para 11:

There is no necessary contradiction between increased levels of development and protecting and enhancing the environment as long as development is planned and undertaken responsibly.

John Adams is the head of planning at Drivers Jonas Deloitte and Simon Ricketts is the UK head of real estate at SJ Berwin LLP