National Planning Policy Framework

Written evidence from the English National Park Authorities Association

Summary

The English National Park Authorities Association (ENPAA) exists to support the policy making process by co-ordinating the input of the 9 National Park Authorities (NPAs) and the Broads Authority within England. We welcome the decision by the CLG Select Committee to undertake an inquiry into the draft NPPF, which will be an extremely important document for years to come. We shall be submitting a detailed response direct to CLG and look forward to constructive dialogue with CLG on how the issues we raise below can be addressed. ENPAA highlights the following:

· We welcome the aspiration to make national planning policy simpler, clearer and more accessible and Ministers’ desire to continue to protect National Parks;

· We believe that the draft NPPF currently provides insufficient emphasis or flexibility to National Parks and AONBs to ensure policies and development management decisions can support their statutory purposes;

· We look for the Government to re-instate in the NPPF, the established policy that National Parks, the Broads, and AONBs are confirmed as having the highest level of protection;

· We would like the Government to use this opportunity to strengthen how the setting of protected landscapes (and not just heritage assets) are addressed in planning;

· The current wording requiring planning permission to be granted where a plan is absent, silent or doesn’t have up to date policies raises serious issues particularly in the short term;

· Discussion over the presumption in favour of sustainable development needs to consider the specific implications for protected areas and relationship with statutory purposes within National Parks;

· Greater clarity would be welcome over the process of conformity with the NPPF;

· Links should be made with the National Parks Circular and Vision, with the National Park Management Plans as inclusive processes that involve local people, together span large areas of the country and which provide an underpinning for planning in protected landscapes.

Introduction

1. The English National Park Authorities Association (ENPAA) exists to support the policy making process by providing a collective input for the nine English National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority. It is governed by the Chairs of the Authorities, and our response represents the collective view of the Authorities. It has been prepared by officers, working within the policies established by the National Park Authorities (NPAs).

2. NPAs are independent bodies established under the Environment Act 1995 and are responsible for those areas designated as National Parks that cover almost 10% of England by land area. They have two statutory purposes:

· To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of National Parks; and

· To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public.

3. In undertaking these purposes, the NPAs have a duty to seek to foster the social and economic well being of their local communities. NPAs within England are special purpose planning authorities, in that they perform planning much as local planning authorities do, but need to undertake this task within the context of a nationally protected landscape. National Parks are living working landscapes with over 300,000 people living within them. We are therefore at the forefront of finding solutions that meet people’s needs within spectacular and sensitive environments.

Ability of planning to support National Parks is key

4. Spatial planning is an essential means to support the achievement of national park purposes and the duty. Indeed the National Parks Circular and Vision 2010 says: "The town and country planning system is a key instrument in the achievement of Park purposes." (paragraph 136).

5. The Coalition Government confirmed that the National Parks Circular remains current Government policy in March 2011 when the Government’s Uplands Policy document was published by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Furthermore, in its consultation on NPA Governance earlier this year the Government endorsed its desire to see NPAs continue to be independent planning bodies. It is from this unique perspective that we offer our observations on the draft NPPF.

6. We recognise that the draft NPPF that was published in July is likely to be subject to some change following consultation and we look forward to working constructively with CLG on areas for improvement. We shall be submitting a response to the CLG direct. As the Minister has specifically asked the Select Committee to address a number of over-arching questions as part of the consultation process, we also have pleasure in submitting our written evidence below.

Does the NPPF give sufficient guidance?

7. ENPAA welcomes and supports the Government’s attempt to rationalise the plethora of planning policy to make it clearer, simpler and more accessible. We also recognise how difficult it is to achieve without omitting important detail. The NPPF is by definition a national document and needs to be applied in very different settings – urban, rural, designated and undesignated countryside. This represents a considerable challenge. Existing policies have enabled National Parks to take a different approach where this is appropriate for a nationally protected area. A good example of this is in how NPAs have sought to meet local needs affordable housing. Given the very high market prices in these areas, the low average earnings, and the need for sensitive building it is not appropriate to rely on a system of cross subsidy to meet local needs housing. To do so would require unsustainable levels of new housing development. To address the genuine needs that exist NPAs have adopted exceptions policies that encourage new housing development for local housing needs in perpetuity. This requires a different more nuanced approach than that contained within the current draft NPPF. Currently there are very few references to protected landscapes and whilst we accept word count is a poor indicator of emphasis, it would appear that the balance is not appropriate for National Parks at present, with the consequence that important issues of detail such as on housing policy are absent.

8. As ENPAA develops its response to the public consultation we shall be looking at ways in which the NPPF can continue to support the statutory purposes of National Parks. This extends beyond how major development is considered within National Parks and AONBs.

9. The problems of lack of policy detail pertinent to protected landscapes at the national level will also be reflected locally. Under the existing system a LPA in preparing its Local Development Framework was expressly told not to duplicate policy that was contained within national or regional policy. As a consequence draft policies were removed in LDFs by NPAs or following examination. There is now envisaged a significant reduction in national policy and the removal of regional policy. The draft NPPF also states that if a Local Plan is absent, silent or does not contain up to date policies, then development should be allowed to proceed (paragraph 14). Depending upon how this is interpreted, this creates significant risks in the short term for National Parks. We would welcome exploring how these might be lessened either through changes in the NPPF; the introduction of a transition period whilst policy is reviewed and updated; and/or a more supportive and flexible stance towards the development of Supplementary Planning Documents.

10. Whilst a transition period might assist in ensuring policies are as up to date as possible, NPAs are not in a position to foresee all potential future forms of development. There may well be completely new forms of development. We hope that CLG will consider how the planning principle of ‘prematurity’ will be handled within the new framework.

11. There are some specific areas where we believe the draft guidance could be improved. These include on:

· The need for Government policy to include landscape enhancement (and not just protection) as its policy objective and to embrace the European Landscape Convention (ELC) that the Government has ratified;

· the setting of protected landscapes in policy and development management;

· the role of the new Local Nature Partnerships and Nature Improvement Areas (established under the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper) within planning; and

· the role of planning in influencing the location of development with a view to reducing the need to travel.

Is the definition of sustainable development appropriate?

12. National Parks seek to be exemplars in the delivery of sustainable development. National Park Authorities have always recognised and are proud of the contribution that local communities, businesses and land managers make to the special qualities of the National Parks. How this is achieved in a protected landscape is critical and we hope the NPPF will enable NPAs to define sustainable development for their specific areas. This is frequently done through the process of preparing a National Park Management Plan (NPMP) and we would welcome a stronger recognition for the place of the NPMP in framing sustainable development in national parks in the Draft NPPF.

13. ENPAA does not comment on the wider debates over sustainable development, but recognises that within National Parks it means:

· development which makes use of the special qualities of the national park in a way which protects and enhances these qualities;

· focusing on meeting people’s needs rather than focusing on demand or market signals;

· recognising environmental limits;

· considering the long term implications of development, both positive and negative; and

· recognising (as the recent Natural Environment White Paper does) that sustaining a high quality environment is essential for future prosperity within National Parks.

14. We note the presumption in favour of sustainable development is a central plank of the draft NPPF. For National Parks we believe the draft NPPF should clarify (as it does for sites protected under the Birds or Habitats Directive – paragraph 16) that development that would harm National Park statutory purposes should also be considered unsustainable under the NPPF.

Are the core planning principles clearly and appropriately expressed?

15. A long established principle of the planning process has been the ‘Silkin Test’ for major development, that is more commonly referred to as the major development test and which was set out in PPS7. We welcome the fact that much of the existing text has been transposed directly into the draft NPPF – but with one very important exception. Current Government policy expressly states, "Nationally designated areas comprising National Parks, the Broads, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), have been confirmed by the Government as having the highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty". We are concerned to see this omitted from the draft NPPF and believe this to be a casualty of cutting the word count rather than any change in Government policy. Nevertheless, ENPAA attaches particular importance to its re-instatement which would continue a long established planning principle. Furthermore, it should be made clear that the principle applies to Government and Planning Inspectors as well as LPAs.

16. We note that a process is envisaged to enable a LPA to receive a certificate of conformity with the NPPF if it so wishes. ENPAA would be interested to learn more about how this would operate; and the extent to which anybody undertaking such an assessment will be versed with an understanding of National Park purposes? We also believe it is important for CLG to consider the impact of the draft NPPF on those Local Plans that have recently been found "Sound" by the Planning Inspectorate, but which may not have all of the policies or assessments undertaken which are now envisaged by the new NPPF. Our understanding is that within law, conformity requires a Plan to conform generally in each particular matter, rather than to conform exactly with the vast majority of areas whilst ignoring or taking a significantly different approach in a minority. Clarity on this point and the process whereby conformity will be established would be welcome.

17. Linked to the above, we would seek clarification on whether the NPPF intends to return to a single Local Plan approach with all planning policy and guidance contained within one document.

18. We note that the draft NPPF refers to the fact that "neighbourhood plans will have the power to promote more development than is set out in the strategic policies of the Local Plan" (paragraph 50). The NPPF will need to address the problems of conformity that this could easily create in areas where growth is for good reasons restricted, including National Parks, which by their very nature are areas of constraint.

The relationship between the NPPF and other planning-related policy statements. Does the NPPF integrate national planning policy across Government departments?

19. We recognise the difficulty of seeking to integrate policy from a wide range of different topics and strategies into one document. Nevertheless, we hope that following consultation it will be possible for the NPPF to better reflect other planning related policy concerning National Parks. We hope to discuss how this might be achieved with CLG, but in the meantime would highlight:

· the need to reference the English National Parks and the Broads Vision and Circular 2010 which the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has indicated continues to be the statement of Government policy on National Parks;

· the importance of the document recognising the role of National Park Management Plans (and their equivalents in AONBs) as plans for the area rather than the Authority and therefore the starting point for the development of Local Plans; and

· the need to emphasise the value of the natural environment in providing ecosystem services (such as clean air and water, carbon and water storage, high quality food, and spiritual renewal) and recognise that a high quality environment is a crucial underpinning for sustainable development, as set out in the Natural Environment White Paper.

Does the NPPF and duty to co-operate provide a good basis for larger-than-local strategic planning?

20. ENPAA welcomes the attention being given to strategic planning and as NPAs whose areas span many local authorities we have considerable experience of joint working. Furthermore, the Natural Environment White Paper 2011 sees a significant role for the public, private and voluntary sectors to come together at a landscape scale in order to support biodiversity. NPAs are playing an active part in discussions on how to do this, and increasingly looking beyond their boundaries to support ‘ecological connectivity’ by linking up wildlife corridors.

21. We welcome the references made in the Draft NPPF on the duty to co-operate. We would like to see these apply to the development of the National Park Management Plan, as much as the Local Plans. And we would like to see reference made in the final NPPF to the role of the newly established Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) and/or Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) that stem from the Natural Environment White Paper and are leading landscape scale conservation initiatives.

English National Park Authorities Association

September 2011

Prepared 21st October 2011