On the last day of the Parliamentary year – always a ‘good’ day for bad news – the government published the new National Planning Policy Framework. This is the set of rules that defines where houses are built, what type and how affordable. It sets the agenda for planners, Local Councils and developers. And most of the rule book is bad news for the countryside:

  • All developments are effectively sustainable – that criterion has gone. Only if they cause ‘unnecessary harm’ are they unsustainable and they cannot cause harm if they are meeting the needs for development.
  • Land has now become space awaiting development. It is not a precious landscape, an essential part of the social and environmental well-being of our lives, no, it is just a gap waiting for buildings.
  • A philosophy that means that we will get a planning regime that will result in outcomes that look very similar to those would get if there were NO planning system. One based on theoretical calculations of ‘demand’ based on market prices resulting in houses of the type wanted by developers being built in places where landowners want to sell.
  • Communities are disempowered from getting homes they need and that people can afford. The Government uses the ‘housing delivery test’ to set high targets for local councils to meet. If they fail to do so then local controls over planning will be removed. Almost all local plans will become out of date within two years. We have seen what that can mean for Bunbury where the lack of a local plan meant the neighbourhood plan was deemed out of date. Hill Close, Bunbury Lane (behind the retirement homes) and the field off Oak Gardens all were granted on the basis that Local plans were ‘out of date’ and therefore development must be permitted.

One important improvement is the reduction in harm of the ‘viability loophole’. This was a legal loophole that many developers saw fit to exploit. If they paid a high price for land they could claim exemption from the rules related to affordable housing by showing that profits would be uncompetitive. In many areas this resulted in affordable housing being squeeze out and a significant reduction in the numbers built. All part of the ongoing housing crisis!

Now the NPPF is saying that developers can no-longer use the high price of land as an excuse for not building affordable housing. Instead they must show what has changed since local plans were put in place that threatens the viability of any scheme. The onus of proof is on the developer not the local authority.

The CPRE sums this up as:

Without a local plan, councils and communities have little control over the location and type of developments that take place. This results in the wrong developments in the wrong places local communities’ needs are ignored and valued countryside destroyed for no good reason.’

About the Author

Peter Gorman ()

Now retired from teaching. Involved in supporting the Village Day Committee, Village websites and Secretary of the Bunbury Action Group.