CPRE planner Richard Thompson asks whether a welcome policy aspiration risks becoming just another developer-led tick-box exercise
Ask the public whether the above house is well designed and they are most likely to say yes, it is. Ask the same question to an architect, they are much more likely to dislike iti. So who is right? What criteria should be applied in making this assessment? Are we just considering how the individual house looks, or how it relates to other houses? Could this design be considered locally distinctive in Kent? If not, why not and what is locally distinctive? Does what looks good in the centre of a town work equally well in the suburbs? If not, where should that line be drawn? These are all questions that communities, local authorities and anyone else involved in the development industry will be grappling with over the coming months should proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework come to fruition. Specifically, the proposed changes being consulted upon state that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on designii. To inform this, “all local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code and which reflect local character and design preferences. These provide a local framework for creating beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and high-quality standard of design”iii. A proposed National Model Design Code is also being consulted on alongside the NPPF. Importantly, “all guides and codes should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations for the development of their area”. On the face of it, such proposals are welcome and it is heartening to see recognition of the role effective community engagement will have in this policy’s success. It is this engagement, and the local knowledge that comes with this, that will be key to grappling with the complexity posed by questions such as those above. It is therefore extremely disappointing that there are no detailed guidance or proposals among the consultation documents as to how effective community engagement will work in practice. Fundamental to this will be ensuring proper resource is provided to councils and local communities so they can effectively participate in the process. Without such resource, it will fall to those promoting sites and their consultants to demonstrate how they are creating “beautiful and distinctive places with a consistent and high-quality standard of design”. If this is not properly resourced, an otherwise welcome aspiration risks becoming just another developer-led tick-box exercise, with the planning consultancy industry being handed yet another revenue stream.
Many of us are aware that our natural environment is threatened like never before. We experience it through the constant grind of cement-mixers and bulldozers, but sometimes the bureaucratic process is not so clear. Here planning expert and CPRE supporter Michael Hand casts some light on what is driving the current onslaught.
We are under relentless and unparalleled pressure to accommodate significant growth, in particular to meet the demand for new housing.
However, many developments are concentrating on three- and four-bedroom executive homes and not enough ‘affordable’ housing is being delivered.
Much of the South East is experiencing pressure for this unprecedented growth in housing, driven by the ‘housing crisis’ and associated government policy to increase the delivery of new homes by setting higher targets for local authorities to meet.
As guardians of the countryside, local members of CPRE Kent have a key responsibility in upholding the core values of the organisation and defending the beauty of the county against poor-quality and inappropriate new developments.
There are 13 Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in Kent and in many Local Plans have not been adopted.
This void in the planning framework has resulted in opportunistic and speculative applications (by companies such as Gladman Developments Ltd) seeking to exploit councils’ inability to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.
The effect, already adverse, has been exacerbated by a recent change by the government to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) through publication of a revised version on February 19.
Key changes include an amendment to specify that 2014-based population projections will provide the demographic baseline for the standard method of calculating local housing need rather than the lower 2016-based household projections, which could be used as a reason to justify lower housing need.
This clarification followed the publication of a major revision of the NPPF on July 24, 2018, which, inter alia, clarified the definition of ‘deliverable’.
To be considered deliverable, sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years.
As a consequence, it may be harder for LPAs to provide a five-year housing-land supply, as for example Local Plan allocations cannot generally be used in the calculation, except where “clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years” exists.
The 2018 revision also introduced the Housing Delivery Test for LPAs, a failure in delivery of which kick-starts the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The first round of Housing Delivery Test results was published in February this year, with 108 councils falling short and 86 required to add more land for housing to Local Plans as a result.
For a number of authorities, this confirms the need to apply a 20 per cent buffer to their housing requirement, with potential ramifications for their ability to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.
A result of these changes is that speculative applications will still be common practice in the future – and that is why CPRE Kent needs to keep building a strong presence to monitor and respond to inappropriate development proposals.
CPRE has slammed the government’s revised planning rule book, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), as a “speculative developers’ charter”.
In a damning early critique, the organisation says the government has not fulfilled its promise to “build attractive and better-designed homes in areas where they are needed”.
Indeed, the document, published on Tuesday, July 24, continues to “favour the delivery of any development, rather than development that meets communities’ needs, respects the environment, and adheres to policies in the NPPF other than those which deal with housing delivery”.
CPRE’s main worry is the introduction, in November, of a ‘housing delivery test’, which sees councils further encouraged to set high housebuilding targets – the new policy has clearly been designed to enforce those targets.
The test will mean councils are penalised when housebuilders fail to deliver homes in their areas; the ‘punishment’ is the removal of local control over planning decisions.
This, of course, will leave countryside open to speculative development.
Other CPRE concerns include:
a failure to provide an effective brownfield-first policy
the continuing failure to support provision of affordable housing in rural areas
the discouragement of neighbourhood planning because of uncertainty over the validity of Local Plans older than two years
Matt Thomson, CPRE’s head of planning, said: “Rather than delivering ‘what communities want’, as it claims to promise, the new planning rulebook and its new ‘housing delivery test’ will result in almost all Local Plans becoming out of date within two years.
“It is a speculative developers’ charter and will lead to the death of the plan-led system.
“Without a Local Plan, councils and communities have little control over the location and type of developments that take place. Local communities’ needs are ignored and valued countryside [is] destroyed for no good reason.”
Despite its disappointment with the revised NPPF, CPRE applauds some positive moves within it. They include:
National Parks and AONBs reinstated as having the “highest status of protection”
Maintenance of Green Belt protections and an improved definition of “exceptional circumstances” for releasing land from Green Belts
Exclusion of National Parks, AONBs and Green Belts from the Entry Level Exceptions Sites policy
“Social housing” reinstated in the definition of affordable housing
Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, said: “Unfortunately, the revised NPPF carries on a situation where too much of the power within our planning system lies with developers.
“The housing delivery test, for example, does nothing to restore the balance that’s needed so local planning authorities can direct the development that’s needed to the places it’s needed.”
For more on CPRE’s response to the revised NPPF, see here
The beauty of Walland Marsh (pic Richard Watkins, flickr)
National Planning Policy Framework… it’s an ugly brute of a name.
Even its shortcut, the NPPF, takes some tongue-twisting getting used to. But it is an important beast and plays a bigger part in our lives than many might think.
To put it at its simplest, the NPPF (we’ll stick with that for now) is the government’s planning rulebook.
It helps determine the principles of countryside protection, the delivery of affordable housing, the provision of infrastructure, the places from where we draw our minerals and aggregates – and very much more.
And right now the NPPF is being consulted upon, because it is going to change. And how it changes will affect us all.
A key driver of the proposed change is what is commonly referred to in the media as ‘the housing crisis’.
CPRE is the first to highlight the fact that too many people are excluded from the housing ladder, while homelessness is an undeniable problem in this country.
However, we don’t believe that the proposed changes, or reforms, to the NPPF will do enough to tackle those issues. Indeed, we suspect that while communities’ needs go unmet, the only people who will really benefit are housebuilders.
It’s a problem caused by the government’s misunderstanding of housing issues and its subsequent weakening of planning rules in a bid to encourage developers.
The ‘crisis’ is of course one of affordability and won’t be addressed by simply building more houses, which is the government’s current approach. Rather, it is a case of the type of homes we build, for whom we build them and where.
‘The right homes in the right places’ has long been a CPRE mantra, and we believe it is possible to build the homes England needs without swathes of our countryside being sacrificed.
We advocate ‘sustainable development’ (the last bit of jargon – honest!) that:
Supports local democracy by adhering to neighbourhood and local plans
Ensures realistic and high-quality development based on genuine need, not market demand
Delivers more affordable homes by closing legal loopholes that put developer profits first
Adopts a true ‘brownfield first’ approach to development
Protects our countryside for current and future generations
Many organisations, communities and individuals with many agendas are contributing to the NPPF consultation, and it is vital that CPRE and those who agree with our outlook also make their views known.
The future of the countryside you hold dearest could depend on the changes made to the NPPF, so we urge you to join us in fighting for the best possible outcome, for the countryside, for wildlife – and for people.
We’re asking you to write to your MP, asking them to put communities at the heart for the planning system in the revised NPPF.
You can do that here
Alternatively, given that some MPs do not respond to formatted messages, you might choose to write to them individually.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this consultation. For those of us who love the countryside – indeed those of us who love this country, its people and its traditions – the new-look NPPF will have an impact way beyond anything its cumbersome name might suggest.
High Court judge Mr Justice Mitting has rejected CPRE Kent’s grounds for Judicial Review of the decision to grant planning permission for more than 600 homes in the AONB at Farthingloe, Dover. But he said the charity was right to bring the case to test the planning system.
The plans at Farthingloe include 521 new houses, a 90 apartment retirement village, health facility and conversion of a farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, a thatched barn into a pub/restaurant and a stable block into a shop. All this development wopuld be on AONB land which is supposed to be protected under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).An additional 31 homes are planned at Western Heights, as well as Victoria Hall being redeveloped for nine residential units and a 130-bedroom hotel, plus converting the famous Drop Redoubt into a new museum and visitor centre.
CPRE Kent is not opposed to the principle of new housing development in the district but this should be in the right place, not on an AONB. And we are in favour of the proposed improvements of heritage assets, but this cannot justify the destruction of the AONB.
CPRE Kent Director Dr Hilary Newport said:“We are utterly dismayed and disappointed at the judgement. It is vital that we protect Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for future generations and to allow this intensive building at Farthingloe makes a mockery of the whole planning system which is supposed to provide the highest level of protection for AONBs. The reality, when tested through the courts, is that it has failed to protect the AONB.
The Government this week (Monday 7th December) published a consultation proposing a raft of new changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
We welcome the presumption in favour of brownfield housing development which would make it clear that development proposals for housing on brownfield sites should be supported, unless overriding conflicts with the local plan or the National Planning Policy Framework can be demonstrated and cannot be mitigated.
However we are very concerned about some of the other proposals.
In particular, a new ‘housing delivery test’ (paras 27-33) will likely lead to more green fields being released for development as councils either plan for more development in advance or have to find new sites to develop when existing targets are not met. We believe that the ‘delivery test’ in its proposed form will allow developers to cherry pick greenfield sites instead, letting the brownfield sites go to waste.
Lullingstone, photo by Susan Pittman
The proposal to encourage new settlements (para 19/20) is also concerning – the area required for entirely new settlements is far greater than that required for just the housing. Councils are already encouraged in the current NPPF to bring forward new settlements. The proposed new policies could serve to force local people to accept large speculative schemes in unsuitable places that had been previously rejected in recent local consultations.
The idea of more quickly bringing forward development on brownfield sites in the Green Belt was trailed in the Spending Review. We believe each case must be considered carefully as brownfield in the Green Belt often contains valuable open land and open parkland that should not be developed. Paragraph 49, meanwhile, suggests that councils will be able to designate parts of the Green Belt for small developments of ‘starter homes’, entertaining the possibility of urban sprawl and drawing focus away from brownfield sites that have connections to existing infrastructure and amenities.
CPRE will be submitting a response to the consultation, the submission date for which is the 25 January 2016.
Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:
“This consultation is really concerning. Instead of addressing the current difficulties in bringing forward the right sites for the right homes, it proposes to release yet more land for development, often in the countryside and possibly in the Green Belt.
“The current policy isn’t working, but these proposals will make things worse. Releasing unlimited amounts of greenfield land will not deliver the Government’s welcome pledges to regenerate brownfield sites.”