Publications on the internet
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1526-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Communities and Local Government Committee
National Planning Policy FRAMEWORK
Monday 17 October 2011
JOHN SLAUGHTER, IAN FLETCHER, SIR SIMON JENKINS AND BEN COWELL
MIKE HOLMES, STUART HYLTON and COUNCILLOR GARY PORTER
Evidence heard in Public Questions 73 - 179
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.
Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.
Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee
on Monday 17 October 2011
Mr Clive Betts (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: John Slaughter, Director of External Affairs, Home Builders Federation, Ian Fletcher, Policy Director, British Property Federation, Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman, National Trust, and Ben Cowell, Assistant Director of External Affairs, National Trust, gave evidence.
Q73 Chair : Good afternoon. I welcome you all to the second evidence session in our inquiry into the draft National Planning Policy Framework. Thank you for your written evidence, and you are most welcome to this oral evidence session. Just for the sake of our records, could you indicate who you are and the organisation you are representing, please?
Sir Simon Jenkins: I am Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust.
Ben Cowell: I am Ben Cowell, Assistant Director of External Affairs, National Trust.
Ian Fletcher: I am Ian Fletcher, Director of Policy at the British Property Federation, which is the trade association for the property investment sector.
John Slaughter: John Slaughter, the Director of External Affairs for the Home Builders Federation.
Q74 Chair : I always say to witnesses at the beginning, and it may or may not be appropriate on this occasion, that if you substantially agree with the comments being made by one of the other members giving evidence, then you do not have to repeat that; you can just say, "Yes, I agree with the comments that have just been made." There may of course be occasions when differences will arise, and you can obviously explain those. Just to begin with, in this country there is a clear need for a lot more houses to be built-there is a significant national housing shortage-and there is a need for economic development to sustain people’s living standards, so what is wrong with the Government changing planning guidance so that we can get economic development and houses built more easily?
Sir Simon Jenkins: There is nothing wrong. I do think, and this is by way of preamble, that the link between the availability of land with planning permission attached to it and either the state of the housing market or, much more importantly in the context of the moment, economic growth in general is simply not proven. I have tried to wrestle with the link between economic growth, as presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others, and this particular debate, and I have yet to see anything that links the two. It is used, I know, by lobbyists intensively as an argument for freeing up the planning laws, but there is simply no evidence that the freedom or otherwise of the planning laws has any relationship with economic growth or with housing supply. I have been around the country a lot lately, and there is just masses of developable land in England; there are hundreds of thousands of acres of it. There is a mass of land with planning permission awaiting development that is not being developed because of the absence of demand or finance. We remain to be convinced of the link, which you imply, with economic growth.
Q75 George Hollingbery: Can I just ask for clarification? Is there not a difference between impeding economic growth-i.e. not allowing certain things to go ahead-and planning for economic growth proactively? You can say to a local authority, "You should be planning to do more for growth than is currently done by the planning system."
Sir Simon Jenkins: Planning permissions for commercial activity, 95%, 99%, go through almost on the nod. I do not know how much time you have spent in urban Britain-it might be more than I-but there is just a mass of space, just not up in Yorkshire. If you go round Leeds, I do not know how many hundreds of acres there are awaiting development-brownfield sites adjacent to countryside awaiting development. I cannot see the link between a lack of developable land, particularly in the countryside around Leeds, and economic growth. I do not see the argument.
Q76 George Hollingbery: Sir Simon, I think you would admit that the economic growth in this country, at the moment, is skewed towards the South East of England, where development is most difficult. I suspect strongly, you may disagree-perhaps you could tell me why-that there are planning policies that could be put in place that would allow the South East to grow more easily, because developing in the South East is much more difficult.
Sir Simon Jenkins: Yes, I would grant that. We could go round the South East and find masses of empty sites awaiting development. The biggest problem I think in England has been the inability to direct planning policy towards infrastructurerich hearts of cities. If you go to French cities or German cities, you very rarely see the dereliction you see in, for instance, the West Midlands. I am entirely in favour of using the planning system to direct economic growth. I do not think the present Planning Policy Framework is a big-well, it is a problem; we are entirely in favour of speeding it up, but we can come on to that. However, I do not regard it as being some magic bullet in the planning system that aids economic growth anyway.
Ben Cowell: There was a Select Committee in 2002 on this very topic that could not find any evidence at all that supported the claim that planning was, in any way, a brake on growth or productivity. The evidence is not there that there is a link between the two things necessarily. We support the planled approach absolutely, but there is a difference between praying planning in aid in favour of economic growth.
Q77 Chair : The home builders are looking to get in. Explain to us: it is not the lack of planning permission that is stopping you building houses at present, is it?
John Slaughter: We do feel that planning is a fundamental issue; it is a longterm issue. We are in favour of a planled system and we have no wish to change that general approach, but the evidence would suggest, if you look back over the last 20 years, that the planning system has not delivered sufficient land for housing and development. There are figures that would show that simply has not been sufficient, because otherwise we would not have the housing crisis we do, and the housing crisis had built up long before the financial downturn that we had in 20072008. We have estimated the shortfall at something like 1 million homes for England cumulatively, and we are currently adding to that at a significant rate, year on year.
Certainly planning is not the only issue, but if you want a longterm solution to our national housing crisis, the planning system will have to deliver more land than it has done. From the Government’s point of view, I would say that there is an economic rationale to this; because there is a real need for more housing, it will actually create some considerable economic benefits if we can begin to meet that need. Housing creates one and a half direct jobs per home built. It has lots of wider benefits in the supply chain and allied trades and services, so that if we meet the need that is there, there will be a very direct economic benefit. A system that does not facilitate that in a positive way is clearly detracting from national economic benefit.
Q78 Chair : Are you actually looking, then, for simply more planning permissions so that, as a direct result, more houses will be built in this country-some sort of certainty-or are you really looking for more planning permissions so that you can choose which of those sites you build on?
John Slaughter: The key thing is that the system produces what we call "developable sites", and that is a site that is available, viable to develop and not wanted for other uses, such as commercial, industrial or amenity purposes. What we would like to see from the new system is a way of planned production that clearly identifies what housing requirements are and then identifies the developer or the supply of land to meet them. That is not what has happened consistently enough in recent months.
Ian Fletcher: My colleague to the right said that there was a study from 2002, but a lot has changed in the planning system from 2002. Up until 2001, we had a presumption in favour of development and, in 2005, we had a presumption in favour of the local plan. In that regard, we have a situation where we only have a third of plans in place. It is fairly difficult to develop against a plan that is not there. Therefore, we think it is very important that identifiable need is planned for. We are not asking for anything more than that, but we are not asking for anything less than that. In terms of consequences for housing, I am not the BPF’s planning expert, I am our housing person, who sits week by week in meetings with the likes of Shelter, Crisis, Citizens Advice and others and sees at first hand the various consequences of not meeting housing need, in terms of squalid conditions, overcrowding and the proliferation of houses of multiple occupation. I have a strong feeling from my perspective that, at the moment, we are sweeping a number of those problems and those people under the carpet.
Q79 George Hollingbery: Just to pursue the two gentlemen from the property side, can I just ask you: is your experience that this is a matter of process or of principle? Is it a matter about the plan and what it does not or does plan for, or is it how long it takes to get permissions and the cost involved in relation to that?
John Slaughter: I think it has probably been both. In terms of the plan, a fundamental problem is the system that has existed over the last few years has not produced enough properly adopted local plans. Only about 30% of local authorities in England have an adopted core strategy. Others are working on it at the moment but, as things stand, it is only about 30%. That is after seven years.
Q80 George Hollingbery: I understand that, and the provisions in the NPPF, as it stands, say that, if the plan is silent, then the NPPF takes over. It deals with that and entirely makes sure that all authorities will bring plans forward. I am more interested in what would improve your members’ position. Is it sorting out the process so things are done faster or is it a matter of principle that more get permission?
John Slaughter: I think it is having a positively adopted plan. That has to be right. That works for everybody. It will work for the local authority and community. It will work for us as developers. It is a problem for developers if there is not a properly adopted local plan, because you do not know quite so much what you are aiming at. There are process issues as well but, if you ask me to choose in terms of the current debate-
Q81 George Hollingbery: Well, put it in a spectrum. I asked the same question last week: 100%, what percent to each? If asked your members, if I did a survey of them, "Give me a percentage of the problems that are caused by process and those caused by principle?" tell me where it sits.
John Slaughter: I should think around 60/40 in favour of the local plan being properly adopted.
Q82 George Hollingbery: So principle rather than process? Sorry, I am not quite with you.
John Slaughter: Yes.
Q83 George Hollingbery: Sir Simon, the Prime Minister sent a letter to the National Trust. We have been advised this afternoon that the response from the Trust was that, if the principles laid out in that letter about giving equal weight to the economy, to social and environmental could be enshrined in the NPPF, the National Trust would be a great deal happier with what is being proposed. Is that the case? Can we confirm that on the record here, please?
Sir Simon Jenkins: Yes.
Q84 George Hollingbery: Other witnesses, rebalancing the terms of the NPPF, in terms of having equal weight given to all three legs of sustainability, is that something you would be comfortable with?
John Slaughter: We think it already does that so, by definition, yes, we would be comfortable. If there are issues, they are essentially presentational rather than substantive, and it was certainly never our wish that we moved away from that well-understood principle of balancing the three legs of sustainability.
Ian Fletcher: We wholly agree as well. I have been having conversations about how sustainability is defined.
Ben Cowell: I think it is slightly more than presentational. If you read the document, it starts by talking about "sustainable development" and suddenly segues into "sustainable economic growth", which replaces the term "development". All the way through, we have this emphasis on economic growth above the other two legs of the sustainability tripod. There is a fundamental issue with the way in which the document has been written; it does need to be corrected on that score.
Q85 George Hollingbery: There is within the core, the kernel of this document, something that both sides feel can be used. Is that correct?
Sir Simon Jenkins: There really is a general collective view that the planning system needs reform: it needs speeding up; it needs streamlining in all sorts of ways; and it needs localising in all sorts of ways. With respect to my colleagues, our view is that this document does not deliver any of those things. To be frank, most of the ministers involved thought it did and they keep saying it. Anybody reading this document cannot come to the conclusion it is a balanced document. It is clearly directed on one very firm motivation, which, as I said before, I would query. I do not think this is basically about creating movements in economic growth. It is about housing supply for a particular group of housing developers that want a particular sort of land, but there is no shortage of land in this country for development if you are talking about need. If you are talking about demand, it is different.
Q86 George Hollingbery: If my colleagues will indulge me just a little further, a couple more quick questions: on what basis do you think it is possible for an inspector being presented with a local plan by a local authority to reject it as unsound if it does not plan for sufficient economic growth in their light?
Sir Simon Jenkins: I just do not know what the word means. Clearly at the moment we have a document that is Government policy-it is not just a draft but is Government policy-and inspectors are now making decisions on the basis of this document in the absence of local plans. I agree the absence of local plans is the most serious threat facing planning in England at the moment. At the moment, you have an extraordinary state of affairs in which the inspectorate is interpreting this document as, in effect, a green light for any sort of plan or any sort of development. We see each week the list of developments that have been allowed to go ahead. We have at the moment a very radical change in planning policy as a result of this document, and that is our concern. It is not at the moment a balanced document.
Q87 George Hollingbery: To be fair, at the moment the plans that are being approved are being approved by the RSSs. It was found in the Barton Farm case that the RSSs still applied, and while the NPPF is a material factor, the RSSs are more material. Is that not correct?
Sir Simon Jenkins: Where they are still in operation, yes.
Q88 George Hollingbery: Just one last question for the developers, and I do thank my colleagues for being so indulgent: do your members anticipate using the very clear predisposition to economic growth in the NPPF as a way of requesting development and putting in unplanned requests for development, across the country, should they have not been put in the local plan?
John Slaughter: I do not think we do. It is probably worth making the point that, if you look at the structure of the Framework, housing is listed under the social arm of sustainability rather than the economic arm of sustainability.
Q89 George Hollingbery: Can I just be more generic and say development in that case?
John Slaughter: I can only speak directly in terms of housing, because we do not represent other than housing organisations. Maybe that is a consideration for development as a whole, but as we understand it the clear intention of the document is to balance the three legs of sustainability. Presentationally, I do not think it is entirely unreasonable to give some emphasis to facilitating economic development and growth within that equal approach to the three legs of sustainability. After all, it is in situations where you are wanting to do something or change land use in relation to development that you need to seek planning permission. You do not need to seek planning permission if you are simply seeking to leave things as they are. That is why I say I think it is perhaps more presentational than substantive. As far as housing is concerned, I think the social need for housing, the actual market need for housing, is the key argument that we would use, rather than the economic growth argument.
Q90 George Hollingbery: Perfect. So I am going to see all developers put their plans into the local authority, be entirely happy when they are rejected and not use the economic growth argument to try to justify them out of plan? It is not going to happen?
John Slaughter: They will not just be able to do that, because the presumption requires any application that is considered when there is no local plan in place to be looked at in relation to the Framework as a whole, which includes the society and environmental considerations. In that sense, the Framework is a default local plan. It is a substitute for a local plan where it does not exist. I think these concerns, although we understand why they have been raised, are overdone in practice.
Q91 Mark Pawsey: There seem to be two views coming across already: one that there are not enough consents and we need to generate a system that creates more consents, and the contrary view that there are sufficient consents already in existence and that we do not need to go out of our way to find additional land for development. The NPPF refers specifically to the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which you have just referred to. In isolation, is that going to lead to more houses and more development or is it not going to make any difference?
John Slaughter: The overall construct of the Framework should, as we would wish to see, lead to more houses being delivered, but the primary reason for that is that it will provide an incentive and encouragement for the adoption of positively put together local plans, which include a proper assessment of housing requirement. The whole ethos of the Framework is to encourage positive planning, which we fully support. If you plan positively, you will get better results than we have had in the past.
Q92 Mark Pawsey: And more development?
John Slaughter: And more development, but more development that is realised according to the wishes of the community, in the locations where the community wants to see it, whether that is brownfield land or otherwise, according to whatever the best solution is in that area.
Ian Fletcher: It does contain protections in terms of where that development is high. It is not supporting all development, if you can prove there is harm being created in allowing development through the protections significantly and demonstrably. There already is something in there that basically says harm trumps all.
Q93 Mark Pawsey: Sure, but leaving that aside, will the Framework lead to more development and housing than would otherwise be the case?
Ian Fletcher: I think so; I agree with my colleague.
Ben Cowell: I agree certainly that the issue is not just about quantity; it is also about quality. Where these houses are built matters and the nature of the development, whether it is housing or any other. I wonder if the fact there are, within the system, so many permissions already for houses that have yet to be built suggests the evidence is not quite as clearcut as my colleagues may suggest. At present, our understanding is the planning system is not holding back development; there is a whole range of other factors that hold back economic development.
Q94 Mark Pawsey: Would the adoption of the Framework lead to more land coming forward for development and more development taking place? That is the key question.
Sir Simon Jenkins: A lot more land will be speculatively acquired. It will sit in land banks. I repeat what I said at the beginning: I see no evidence at all that will increase the pace or quantity of development. I just do not see it.
Q95 Mark Pawsey: So it is not going to have any substantive effect on the amount of new housing that we build, the amount of new commercial development that takes place?
Sir Simon Jenkins: There are two things. It is rather important: there is a difference between housing and economic development. Housing is, in terms that have been expressed, essentially a social good. There are many who would argue that you do not want to suck yet more resources back out of productive investment into the housing market. I am not getting involved in that argument here, but it is not automatically economic growth to build lots of houses in the countryside. Where it clearly is an advantage, I believe, is to renew and develop the commercial infrastructure of big cities. That was neglected in the 1980s, when we last had a letrip period. It was terrible what happened. It is just going to happen again; we will have another 10 years where we let rip. I think it will be a pity and I genuinely do not think that it will be conducive to economic good to suck more resources back to the housing market.
Q96 Mark Pawsey: Sure. But you think there will be more development as a result of the adoption of the policy? We could argue about whether it is good or bad development, but there will be more.
Sir Simon Jenkins: You will get a lot more of the Stroud/Cheltenham/Gloucester corridor. Yes, you will get a lot more rural housing estates.
Q97 Mark Pawsey: So more will take place?
Sir Simon Jenkins: More basically pretty unsustainable housing estates will occur, yes.
Q98 Mark Pawsey: Can I move on to the issue of "significantly and demonstrably"? That is where the presumption is in favour, unless the adverse impacts of land development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework as a whole. Can I ask you about your interpretation of the words "significantly" and "demonstrably"?
John Slaughter: As I understand it, they have a reasonably long tradition in terms of planning law. This goes back to the 1971 Act, I have been informed. I was not around at the time, but I am reliably informed it goes back that far. It is a concept that is well understood in terms of planning speak and law. Again, I think it has to be interpreted in relation to the provisions of the Framework as a whole, so you would have to look at all the main policy provisions in the Framework before you actually reached a judgment about whether a development was acceptable and would cause those serious effects.
Ian Fletcher: I take very much a dictionary meaning: "significant" means it is not insignificant in terms of putting up an objection. Equally, you have to in some way evidence it. The bar has been set reasonably high but, ultimately, if you can illustrate that the development would cause congestion, pollution and adverse impacts on the local economy, you can rely on that. As I say, it does trump all.
Q99 Mark Pawsey: Does it change the mix between the three pillars-the economic, social and environmental components?
Ian Fletcher: No, I think it balances them out.
Ben Cowell: With all respect, one of the problems is this phrase is repeated some 10 times through the NPPF and is not defined particularly. To refer to a definition of "significance" being "not insignificant"-we are into tautological realms here-may not prove that helpful in terms of giving a clear steer. Certainly it would be left to lawyers to resolve in many cases. The point about it is it shifts the burden of proof quite clearly on to planning officers and away from developers. You are being forced to prove that there is harm, as opposed to the other way around. At a time when local authority planning officers and planning services are reducing in size, that feasibly is a further shift towards the presumption in favour of development per se.
Q100 Mark Pawsey: Is your concern the inclusion of that phrase may lead to some unacceptable development taking place that might otherwise not take place?
Ben Cowell: Yes, it is. Because it is undefined, no one quite knows where this is going to end up. Absolutely there could be a danger that poorquality developments get through as a consequence.
Sir Simon Jenkins: Adverbs make bad law, and any lawyer who has looked at these phrases has said the same thing to us. For goodness’ sake, just beware. Significant to whom? Clearly a housing estate in a meadow is very, very significant to the village. It is insignificant to the nation. Who is going to decide between the village and the nation? These phrases are throughout this document, which is why I was rather rude about the document; it is not a very well drafted document. It is like the word "sustainable". To come back to the point on which we agree, you have to have a plan. If you do not have a plan, you are uncertain about everything. If you are uncertain, you go to law. Anyone who thinks this is going to be a simple planning system does not know planning.
Q101 Mark Pawsey: Is not the interpretation of that going to depend on local circumstances? What may be appropriate in a prosperous part of the South East may not be appropriate in a more deprived area in the North.
Sir Simon Jenkins: But someone will say we need more houses.
Ian Fletcher: The more you define, then whatever is not in there is automatically presumed to be excluded. It can actually be harmful.
Q102 Mark Pawsey: You would like to see a tighter definition.
Ian Fletcher: No, I think the definition is correct.
John Slaughter: You have to allow for the fact that circumstances do vary from area to area. In terms of balancing sustainability, a point we made in our written evidence is that, in some areas, you would probably in practice give more weight to environmental factors, and in others-
Q103 Chair : There are no spatial attributes to the plan at all, are there? It is not mentioned at all in the guidance.
John Slaughter: Spatial issues are another matter.
Q104 Chair : Surely that is what you are talking about. There is a difference between a poor area of the North and the South. National parks, for example, a very particular circumstance, are not referred to.
John Slaughter: The spatial side of the NPPF is an issue that many people have commented on. You would certainly get a spatial approach within a local authority area in drawing up their plan. The issue is above the district level and, as you point out, whether there needs to be a spatial element in terms of regional and national issues. We can see that is a reasonable point to raise, but I was not specifically addressing that in my earlier comments.
Q105 Simon Danczuk: I wanted the witnesses’ views on one or two articles that appeared. I was reading the Daily Telegraph last month, so that I know what not to think, and one of the things that it said, and I am quoting here from 9 September, was "dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party"-the Conservative party-"over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land." I just wondered what the witnesses’ views were. Two questions: do they think that is oldstyle politics or a new way of doing politics? That is the first question. Second, do you think the developers have got value for money in terms of the NPPF?
Ian Fletcher: I can say it is an irrelevance. The NPPF was predominantly put together by a group of practitioners that included the rural development side, the local government side and somebody representing the environmental side. Their draft is pretty close to the Government’s draft. Any support that has been given by property developers to any political party is, quite frankly, nothing to do with this.
Q106 Simon Danczuk: Are you saying it is coincidental?
Ian Fletcher: I am saying it is an irrelevance.
John Slaughter: Yes, I would agree. I do not think there is any evidence to connect the two at all. Quite frankly, I am not aware of what the donations are. I have no information or knowledge of those, so it would be very hard to take an opinion about that. The process has been conducted in a normal way, with a consultation. We had a Green Paper before the election from the Conservative Party that has informed the adoption of the policy. There has always been dialogue around that, but I do not think there is any evidence that has been other than a normal discussion process.
Ben Cowell: I do want to make a point about the consultation process certainly. I think the practitioner group that came together was four people, of whom one was someone from an environmental charity. The consultation has taken place over the summer. It began a day or two after Parliament went into recess and it closes today. I wonder if allowing the minimum period for consultation and allowing it to happen over the summer break is quite the right process that we should have gone through for something as complex and as sensitive as this particular policy. I do wonder whether there ought to be more time for debate and discussion, such as we are having today, and I would certainly welcome that.
Q107 Simon Danczuk: Simon, do you have a view?
Sir Simon Jenkins: I have a view.
Simon Danczuk: Share it with us.
Sir Simon Jenkins: I am not sure I can contain myself. The Conservative Party went into the election with a pledge to establish thirdparty appeal against planning permission. They have mysteriously reneged on it. This process has been the scene of the most intensive lobbying I have seen in a long time in this game. The sums of money involved are huge. There are very, very big interests involved in rural housing development. There are relatively smaller interests involved in brownfield development. The brownfield presumption has been dropped. You only have to go through this document with a mildly sceptical air and you will see one fingerprint after another. Let us put it like that. The National Trust has no financial interest in this at all; none of us has any money at stake. We are only involved as we are because our core mission requires us to try to defend the landscape, the countryside, in Britain. We are up against some very powerful and very rich people.
Q108 George Hollingbery: We were talking about sustainability and I just wanted to push that a little further. We have this clause about absent, silent or out of date. To develop a theme I was pushing earlier, what happens when a developer finds some information or a committee submits some information that is not available in the local plan or has not been presented to the local plan? I was wondering if any of you have any idea how we deal with this distance, this tension, between the precedence of the local plan but the NPPF saying at the time that, where it is absent, silent or particularly out of date, the NPPF will predominate. I just wonder whether it would be possible to inspect local plans more regularly on a lighttouch basis, so every year or perhaps less than every year, so that developers always have a chance to bring in their new information so nothing comes out of the woodwork. Do you have any ideas of that sort that would allow the local plan to be prime and make sure that local people’s views were always the ones that came first? I want you to try to find some way of achieving that, which I think is what the policy wants to do, but I do not think it does at the moment.
John Slaughter: That is an entirely reasonable suggestion. I confess I do not think we had enough time and space with the public debate about this issue to have thought that far ahead. It is certainly an issue that needs to be considered, and a lighttouch process, yes, would make a lot of sense. I do not think anyone wants to get bogged down in interminable bureaucracy in terms of renewing plans when you do not need to, but clearly life does move on, both in terms of the economy and local wishes. We need a sensible way of dealing with that. I think in principle that kind of approach we could probably support.
Q109 George Hollingbery: A local factory could go out of business. All sorts of things could happen. A local planning grant for £3,000, and suddenly the developer goes out of business. Three to 10 years down the line, that is not going to be developed. How do we react to that? How do we keep those plans up to date? How do we ensure that local people’s views always remain positive?
Sir Simon Jenkins: You either do not believe in planning or you do. You cannot plan without a plan. You cannot just make a decision on a planning application on appeal, which is what would be the consequence of this Framework in its present form. Somehow or other, this country has to get a plan again. We used to have county structure plans; they are now going to be district plans, but we have to have plans. I think the Localism Bill and much in the Framework are a constructive approach towards trying to work out how plans can be locally responsive. Your suggestion that they need to be updated in the light of local opinion is very good. There is a way forward; I am absolutely sure. What clearly is going to be a gift to lawyers is if you allow any planning application where there is not a plan in place-because it is silent, absent or all this curious list of adjectives-to go automatically to appeal. And in appeal on the basis of the Planning Framework document, it will go ahead. I do not think that is planning at all; that is licence.
Q110 James Morris: Going on from what George was asking and what you were saying, don’t you think it is dangerous to see the NPPF in isolation from the rest of the policy that the Government is pursuing, for example in the Localism Bill. The Localism Bill does provide significant new powers for neighbourhoods to determine their own plan. As I referred to in the question last week, this debate has been quite bizarre, because when we were talking about the Localism Bill, the development community was pressing back saying, "Actually, this is going to be a charter for nimbyism," and since the NPPF has been produced, the National Trust and other groups have been arguing it is a charter for concreting over the greenbelt. Isn’t it actually the reality that we have come to a point where we have a balanced policy that is empowering local communities through the neighbourhood plan and through the local plan, and stimulating growth still tied to an idea of a presumption around sustainable development? Have we not, in the end, come to a balanced policy?
John Slaughter: I would say that we probably have. The other way of looking at this is that, because more power is being devolved to local authorities and neighbourhoods through neighbourhood planning, with that power has to come a responsibility to plan positively and properly. That is the balance that the Framework and the Localism Bill are trying to create. It certainly was not unchallenging to our perceptions a year or so ago that we were going down this route, but, as we have come to understand the Government’s thinking better, we can see that there is an opportunity that this might work and create a less adversarial system than we have had in the past.
Ian Fletcher: Both the neighbourhood planning and the NPPF are coming, pincer movement, to try to ensure that local authorities have a positive planning system and a local plan in place. In that respect, there are some mutually supporting parts of the two different bits of policy. Ultimately there has to be that plan. It is very difficult to put in place a neighbourhood plan, not impossible, without having a local plan there, but you then are relying on being adherent to the National Planning Policy Framework.
Sir Simon Jenkins: I think there is a real problem under a Localism Bill. You will have parishes, as the defining local entity, possibly up against these new forums. The forums I have a problem with; the parishes I have no problem with. The forums are unelected bodies. They are brought together at meetings. They can be composed of businesspeople or employees, not necessarily residents. They will find that where their proposals for development are approved by the plan, by the district, but the parish for some reason or other local people oppose it, every single planning application will end up before the European Court. I cannot imagine a better recipe for judicial review than the obvious confusion built into both the Localism Bill and the Planning Framework, though particularly the Localism Bill, between the neighbourhood plan and the plan. You could argue that it can be adjudicated on the basis of the Planning Framework were the Planning Framework to be more specific. The Planning Framework is so vague you will have one row after another. I just find it inconceivable that this document is going to yield you faster, clearer and more certain planning. It really will not. It will be the NHS all over again.
Q111 James Morris: You mentioned earlier the need to localise the planning system. What is your alternative?
Sir Simon Jenkins: I am entirely in favour of that, but if you have a system in which the local community cannot oppose local development, their plan has to include local development. It has to include more housing. It cannot propose stops on development. If it does, it will not be approved by the plan. If the plan does not approve it, they will sue. Over and over again, there will be court cases deciding on contentious planning applications. The great virtue of the old system-I hesitate to preach its virtues-was it was at least pretty certain. Under structure planning, you knew more or less where you were. Developers knew which areas to direct their development towards. If I was a developer, I would be very worried about this.
Q112 James Morris: Do you not see any virtues in the simplification of the planning system that is being proposed? This whole bureaucratic apparatus of 1,000 pages of planning guidance, do you not think there is a virtue into reducing that into something more comprehensible and simplified?
Sir Simon Jenkins: There is no simplification; it is a massive complexity. You have two tiers for a start. You have this concept of the neighbourhood plan, which I like. You then have the local plan into which it is fused. You then have a whole series of topdown directives, particularly on housing, which they have to adhere to. You have then got the National Planning Policy, which it all has to adhere to, and every one of these stages is going to be actionable. I plead with you: do not think this is a simplification. If you want a simple planning thing, I could have written this document in two pages, because most of it is repetitive. I am entirely in favour of simplification, but this is not simplification; it is making it more complicated.
Q113 Chair : Is that complicated in terms of the words or in terms of the process and the relationship between the different levels?
Sir Simon Jenkins: The language is so vague as to be easily actionable and the process itself has new tiers latched on to it. It is the opposite of making it simple.
Ben Cowell: There is a lot more work to be done to clarify the relationship between neighbourhood plans and local plans-that is for sure-and also to clarify the nature of the supplementary guidance that will inevitably be created around this Framework. Whether it is created by Government or, in this case, by Government agencies or other participants in the planning system, there will inevitably have to be supplementary guidance, because you cannot simply throw away the guidance and wisdom in the PPSs, as they currently are, without replacing them with something, I would contend, if you want to give certainty, clarity and make the system work.
John Slaughter: The Government certainly has aimed, as I understand it, to share all the key policy aspects of the existing Planning Policy Statements, and that is right. Everyone has recognised that there will be a need for some supplementary technical guidance to go with that, but the merit of having less rather than more on paper is that you avoid an overly tickbox prescriptive approach to planning policy, which we would say is one of the problems that has developed over many years with the planled system, and has contributed to making it rather unwieldy and unworkable. This is actually about empowerment and liberation. Of course, no such process is without any risks, but we feel it is a risk worth taking in the sense that it will create the opportunity for a more innovative approach to finding solutions at a local level.
Q114 Bob Blackman: A lot of this is concentrating on the rural planning issues, and I understand that. I have more interest in the urban planning issues personally, from my own perspective. Can we just be clear? Obviously we are talking about the National Planning Policy Framework, but there is also the correlation with all the other local issues. How useful do you find sitespecific plans, from a builder’s perspective, so that there is certainty over what will be allowed planningwise? Is that something that you would like to see continue?
John Slaughter: Yes, essentially. In terms of housing-I can only really speak in terms of housing directly-the key thing is that the Framework requires not only an assessment of all housing requirements of various types, from market housing to social housing for the local area, but then, having had that process of assessment and identification of requirement, there is a responsibility to provide a deliverable fiveyear land supply for that, which is essentially the point you are making. That is a key thing from the developer’s perspective.
Q115 Bob Blackman: It is not just that. When I talk about sitespecific proposals, the presumption is that something in a planning application, given these circumstances and this land, would be permitted, but forget anything else. That is the basis on which those proposals may be made.
Ian Fletcher: Our members have found that approach really helpful. There are things coming on to the statute called simplified planning zones. Our member SEGRO used one on the Slough Trading Estate, and it made the difference between a Vodafone factory coming to the UK or going to Spain, because you had the clarity and certainty upfront and knew what was required of you from the planning system. Not many local authorities have used those sorts of tools, and I do not really understand why.
John Slaughter: This is one of the areas that has not worked as well as it needs to up to now, and there is an opportunity to address that with the reforms. The more you can be clear about this, the better. I guess I was really referring in my earlier comments that there is a balance to be struck sometimes between being able to identify every single site and having a more strategic vision about roughly where development will go. When you look at the neighbourhood plan level, one of the opportunities that the Government has put forward for neighbourhood plans is to have that view about the development goes. You might not necessarily have such a clear sitebysite identification in the local plan.
Q116 Bob Blackman: Would that satisfy the National Trust and others, who are obviously concerned about the certainty of fighting all these battles and the incremental loss of land? There would be certainty by site-specific proposals by local authorities.
Sir Simon Jenkins: Well, where the neighbourhood is allowed to say, "We do not want development here," but that is a problem in this document. But broadly speaking, I have no problem with that at all. As far as I am concerned, almost everyone wants certainty. A huge amount of effort just goes into fighting and fighting and fighting these battles. It really was not the case when you had structure plans. You must have certainty in planning or you get lawyers.
Q117 Heidi Alexander: I actually have some questions about the removal of the brownfield-first policy and the effects of that but, before I move on to that, I would just like to pick up on this apparent tension between localism, neighbourhood planning and the National Planning Policy Framework presumption in favour of development. Can I just ask the Home Builders Federation and the British Property Federation if your experience is the same as ministers’ experience in terms of local communities coming forward and saying, "We want to see more development in our area"?
John Slaughter: It probably has not tended to be traditionally, but that is the opportunity of the changes. Quite seriously, at the party conferences what struck me was hearing some district councillors talking about the opportunities of neighbourhood planning and being extremely positive about the opportunities. This may be more of a markettown/rural phenomenon than an urban phenomenon. The other thing that struck me a few years ago was talking to councillors at Elinor Goodman’s Affordable Rural Housing Commission. A lot of rural areas felt frustrated by the fact that the previous regional plans, because they had an urban concentration policy, actually prevented them having the development they wanted in their communities. They felt the future of their communities was threatened by that. I think there are certainly some cases where we do hear the message that we want to do more and the old system has not allowed us to do it. I guess it would be wrong to say that is a universal message, but it is certainly not the case that there is not any feeling like that out there.
Q118 Heidi Alexander: The Government has said that neighbourhood plans have to be consistent with local plans and can have only housing that is consistent with that local plan. I wonder whether you are actually not that concerned about neighbourhood plans now, because essentially, now the Government has clarified this, it is not really about empowering communities at all; it is actually about enabling more stuff to be built.
John Slaughter: I am not sure that is quite right. Yes, there has to be consistency. This is part of a bigger point, which I would like to make briefly. You cannot have opting out about certain things in the system, because otherwise that is detrimental to other communities, so there has to be a central requirement to look at housing needs, housing requirements, in local areas. The neighbourhood plan needs to be consistent with the local vision, otherwise you will have a problem within the district. If one neighbourhood does not want to do anything at all, it creates a bigger problem for other neighbourhoods in that district. I think that is intellectually right. Having said that, they then have the option to determine where the housing is located within their neighbourhood. They can have policies about the design and other aspects of housing delivery. It is quite empowering. In practice, our members are going to have to engage a lot more perhaps than they sometimes have done in the past to make that system work.
Ian Fletcher: Our members’ experiences have been slightly different, in that the majority of what our members are doing is brownfield development; it is longterm investment in delivering predominantly commercial property. In those circumstances, the community can see the jobs and the rationale for that development. The frustration that our members often feel is that it can only take one or two members of the community to significantly delay or even sometimes stop a development that has been agreed by the wider local community and local authority.
Q119 Heidi Alexander: Can I just ask the rest of the panel of witnesses for their views on the removal of the brownfield-first policy and what you think the effect of that will be?
Sir Simon Jenkins: The effect of it will obviously be to go where the money is, which is into the countryside. It was one of the really specific, effective and measurably productive innovations of the last Government, and it shifted the balance of development back towards urban renewal, where it had not been in ages. I often think most land-use decisions tend to reflect markets rather than planning, but that was clearly a planning policy that made a difference. I care about the renewal of cities. Apart from anything else, we come back to this word "sustainable". I tell you one thing: a planning application requiring a sustainability certificate is going to be 50 pages long. You can just see it coming. HIPs are Tweets in comparison with these sustainability statements. The overriding planning requirement for sensible reuse of the land area of Britain is to renew the cities and the towns. It is not to build over the countryside. The countryside does not have any relevance to that. I feel so strongly that, if you are being sustainable, you are using parts of the country where you have roads, schools and labour in place. You have sewage, water and utilities. They are all in towns. This whole discussion is a distraction caused by the fact that quite a few companies want to build houses in the countryside and they want to do it for money. I have huge respect for them-I am a good capitalist like them-but we ought to be discussing the renewal of our cities and we are not.
Ian Fletcher: I get really frustrated about this policy. Brownfield policy for me was never just about the environment; it was also about the social and economic sustainability of an area. What seems to have happened in the NPPF is that brownfield policy is being distilled into being environmental. We have this clause, phrase, in terms of lowest environmental value, which I just think is totally wrong. Brownfield-first has to be a little bit more subtle and sophisticated than just to add reiteration. There are some good circumstances where the community itself may not want brownfield land developed into factories or whatever; it might want to turn it into a city park. In those circumstances, there should be some exception.
The other thing I think we have to be careful about is that brownfield policy worked in the 1990s and the 2000s, not only because planning policy was driving it in that direction but because there was frankly a lot of money coming from RDAs, English Partnerships and the Homes and Communities Agency that supported that policy. I am slightly fearful that, if we have planning policy saying brownfield first but do have that funding following it, we are actually setting up quite a bad situation in the North and Midlands of the country. We have put into our written submission that perhaps a way around that is to make the availability of funding for land remediation a material consideration in the planning application, which stops where you are wanting to put in a B&Q distribution centre. The land remediation funding is not there, and it still means that it ends up in Cleethorpes rather than Colchester.
Q120 Heidi Alexander: The National Trust and the British Property Federation both want to see a brownfield-first policy back in the NPPF, albeit one perhaps improved. What about the Home Builders Federation?
John Slaughter: No, we do not want to see that in there. We did not feel that it worked in the way that it was intended to work. I say this on the basis that the industry has been building a lot on brownfield sites, but it comes back to the fact that the system has not delivered sufficient land to meet our housing requirements. If you look at the figures, there is not enough brownfield land available in the nearterm future to realistically-
Q121 Heidi Alexander: How many existing planning permissions are there on brownfield land that have not been built out yet?
John Slaughter: I do not know.
Q122 Heidi Alexander: I think there are quite a few, are there not?
John Slaughter: Yes, but there are not as many… If you take the figures that the National Trust has used, 280,000 to 300,000, that is not very many in terms of actual housing need and what output should be, because we should be building over 200,000 homes a year. That is not actually a massive pipeline of land. We have a shortfall of 1 million homes that has built up and we need to be building 200,000 to 250,000 homes a year. That does not actually go very far. If you built at average densities, according to the data available from the Homes and Communities Agency, on available brownfield sites, you might be able to build some 600,000 or so more homes, but that is clearly not going to be enough. At the build rates we should be building at, that would be less than three years’ supply. We have to have a system that actually delivers. We should be as sustainable as possible, but I agree with Ian; brownfield is not necessarily the same thing as a sustainable location and there are other considerations. The balance of the Framework is better in giving a more flexible approach to determining what is the most sustainable solution in the local area.
Q123 Heidi Alexander: Do you see more homes on greenfield sites as a result of the NPPF?
John Slaughter: Unless you were to build at density levels that most communities would not accept, then you would not be able to meet housing requirements just on brownfield land. The system will have to deliver greenfield sites as well.
Q124 Heidi Alexander: The answer is yes.
John Slaughter: Yes.
Q125 Chair : There is a juxtaposition of two changes in the NPPF that might really worry people. It is the removal of the presumption in favour of priority being given to brownfield sites, and it is the 20% contingency that was put in there as well. The concern will be that, after five years, if the number of houses built is that estimated to be the requirement, with the 20% contingency still remaining not built upon, the 20% that will be left will actually be brownfield land. In other words, by having the two policies together, the removal of brownfield-first and the 20% contingency, you will allow developers to cherrypick which sites they build on. Surprise, surprise: they will cherrypick the greenfield sites and leave the brownfield ones in reserve.
John Slaughter: It is a fair question to ask. I do not think that would be the situation, because the responsibility, as the Framework is drafted, will be for the local authority to identify the fiveyear plus 20% land supply. It will have the opportunity to make sure, as far as possible, that land supply is on brownfield land, if that is what it wishes to do, and those brownfield sites are deliverable. I do not think the 20% flexibility margin will affect that situation in practice, because you need to be forward planning for longer than five years in terms of the local plans.
Q126 Chair : Most developers have a mixture of greenfield and brownfield sites. If the presumption is not in favour of building on brownfield first, then it will be the developers who choose.
John Slaughter: There is nothing in the Framework that prevents a local authority having a very heavily focused brownfield-land supply policy, if the land is available. The responsibility on a local authority is to identify those sites in a transparent way, which gives the industry confidence that they are available and developable in that timeframe.
Chair: We may come back to that point with the ministers later on.
Q127 George Hollingbery: Sorry, we are a little over time and it is mostly my fault-I apologise-but we have not discussed the interregnum. When councils do not have plans in place, what happens in between times? I think it is very likely the Government is going to find some way of waiting a little time. Should they wait completely, have no change and be driven by the RSSs-or not the RSSs but existing plans-up to, say, a year, two years, five years, whatever they choose; or should there be a system whereby the emerging local plan-one that has been documented, published regularly but not inspected-has increasing weight in the process; or is there another way I have not thought of?
John Slaughter: It is a very difficult question. To be honest, no one has got to the stage of discussing this in detail yet. The starting point is that there cannot be a gap. If you are looking to develop, then we need to have a manageable transition so that, where you have a reasonable application to put forward, there is going to be a basis on which it can be determined fairly. You are clearly going to have a range of situations. Where there are authorities that already have adopted core strategies, that is one thing. Where they are close to adoption, that is slightly different. Where they are a long way from adoption, that it is different again. I do not think it would be reasonable to have an indefinite period when the aspects of the Planning Framework did not apply. You are probably essentially right: where there is not necessarily an uptodate plan, and therefore there is no evidence base against which applications can be judged, the only evidence base that is likely to be available is from the regional plan process.
Q128 George Hollingbery: Assuming there is a reasonable process for certification of those authorities that do have a plan in place and that happens expeditiously-I do not want to explore that at the moment-for those that have not got a plan, whoever is best placed to answer the question, which way should we do it?
Ben Cowell: I agree with a lot of what has just been said. There should be a managed transition. It might be as much as two years, but that would be for discussion and it would be for Government to come forward with a proposal, which we have not seen yet. The worst possible scenario would be that the NPPF applies. Unfortunately, we see that it already does apply in many cases. There ought to be a managed transition to a new Framework, a new policy situation. Local authorities should be given up to two years-I think that is perfectly reasonable-and they should be held to that. We believe in a planled approach, so that would be a success as far as we are concerned if there were plans in place at the end of those two years.
Q129 George Hollingbery: An emerging policy approach would be more attractive.
Ben Cowell: Yes.
Sir Simon Jenkins: There is an urgent need for the Minister to make a statement because, at the moment, the Planning Policy Framework document is taken as being effectively the regulation. You have cases coming forward every week. You have the Yeovil one, the Fakenham one, and the Redditch cases; we are monitoring them. In each of these cases, the inspectors are virtually saying, "The only policy I can go on is this document, and this document allows development." There is no definition of sustainability for them to test it against. There is an urgent need for them to say, "I am sorry; the presumption in favour of brownfield remains. I am sorry, but sustainability means this." We do need something urgently, because otherwise goodness knows what is going to happen in the interregnum.
Q130 Mark Pawsey: Can I go back to the issue of brownfield? The process of deindustrialisation can only go so far and there is only going to be a limited amount of brownfield land. Do those who support the brownfield-first policy as they do believe that brownfield land will last forever and, given this Framework, is going to last us sufficiently for the future? It would then be legitimate to move on to greenfield. In the event where you have an authority that has used up all their reserves of brownfield land but has a desire for new housing, and there is an adjacent authority with brownfield land, are you happy that, in those circumstances, development could take place in a greenfield site?
Sir Simon Jenkins: I start with the countryside and what we want to keep. I have always wanted to list the countryside, and if you listed the countryside with grades of quality, you would end up with an awful lot of green land that you could release for development. The problem is, if you look at it all from the point of view of bottomup with a presumption in favour of development, it will not be the right sites being developed; it will just be the ones where there is a line of least resistance operating. Broadly speaking, to come back to your main point, I have done a sort of rural rides of urban Britain recently. The deindustrialisation of Britain has yielded so much unused land. Fly over it; take a train; drive through it. There is so much land in Britain lying idle, waiting for someone to do something with it, and we are discussing this. I have to say, if you are talking about a crisis, the crisis is over derelict Britain, and there is masses of it. You raise the question of what happens if it is all used up. I will happily wait for that day.
Q131 Chair : Are these points true, the house builders? First of all, the change of policy on brownfield-first has led to a bigger percentage of houses being built on brownfield land. Secondly, over the last 10 years, there is more brownfield land that has become available for development than has actually been used.
John Slaughter: I think the figures, and these are Government figures that we base our analysis on, do not show that the brownfield-first policy led to more brownfield land come through the planning system. It did not affect the volume of it. All it did was very heavily reduce the amount of greenfield land that was approved, hence the problem of overall constraints on land supply. The industry has, as a consequence, built a higher percentage of housing on brownfield sites, but it has not built a sufficient volume because the land supply overall has been insufficient. There are limits to what densities you can build at in a number of locations.
Q132 Chair : There is more brownfield land available now than there was before the policy was introduced.
John Slaughter: I am not sure that is the case, no. I do not believe it is. If you look at the figures produced by what is now the Homes and Communities Agency, in terms of the national brownfield or previously used land database, it has not shown a big increase or change in the amount of brownfield land that is out there. Of course, it is not all available. If you look at the analysis, slightly over 50% of the land that is identified as potentially suitable for housing is not actually available for development.
Chair : Thank you all very much indeed for coming and giving your evidence to us.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mike Holmes, Director, Planning and Transport Services, Bournemouth Borough Council, Stuart Hylton, Head of Strategic Planning and Transport, Berkshire Authority’s Joint Strategic Planning Unit, Planning Officers Society, and Councillor Gary Porter, Leader, South Holland District Council, Local Government Association, gave evidence.
Q133 Chair: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming to our second evidence session in the inquiry into the draft National Planning Policy Framework. Thank you for the written evidence you have already provided and for coming today to give oral evidence as well. Just so we can get our records straight, could you identify to begin with who you are and the organisations you represent?
Councillor Gary Porter: Gary Porter. I am from the Local Government Association and I think, for the avoidance of any doubt, everybody needs to be aware I was one of the four practitioners who drew up the predraft draft.
Stuart Hylton: Stuart Hylton, Head of the Berkshire Joint Strategic Planning Unit. I am here on behalf of the Planning Officers Society.
Mike Holmes: Mike Holmes, Director of Planning at Bournemouth Borough Council but here as President of the Planning Officers Society.
Q134 Chair: Okay. You are all welcome. As I said to our previous witnesses, if there are issues you agree with another witness on, just say, "I agree"; there is no need to repeat it. That way we can get more issues discussed. The Government is saying that it wants to reform the planning system to make sure we get more growth in the country, and the planning system can help that by speeding things up. Is the change in the NPPF really about speed, or are we really looking for changes of process rather than the change of policy and guidance that is proposed here?
Councillor Gary Porter: From my perspective, it was not about the speed of the system; it was about the public’s understanding and buyin to the system. At the moment, local communities have planning done to them and not done with them and for them. Hopefully we will have a planning system that ordinary people can understand rather than only people with planning degrees; perhaps then we will get more engagement with the system. I am a great believer that the existing system is far too complicated and does not deliver houses of the right sort in the places that people want to live in. A new system should give us a better chance of delivering that.
Mike Holmes: We come to reform again, because this is not new. Go back to 1979 and the same points were being made about the planning system causing delays; "jobs locked up in filing cabinets" was the quote at that time. Certainly there has been a growth in the advice and guidance that is available to local authorities and the development industry, but I would assume too much importance for the planning system to say that is the only reason why development is not happening at the moment, particularly as we have already heard about the number of planning permissions that exist and the processes that are already in place. There are things other than planning that are impeding economic growth at the moment.
Stuart Hylton: The main impact of the changes will be not so much on bringing forward economic development but more on the localism agenda. The simplification would be, as Councillor Porter said, a very welcome easing of the system as far as local people’s participation is concerned, but I am not aware of many major developers who are sitting there thinking, "I’m not going to make that planning application until such time as the Government simplifies its planning policy." I think there are other much more important factors that are driving decisions about whether or not to take forward development.
Q135 Chair: Such as?
Stuart Hylton: Such as the economic climate and the availability of finance.
Q136 Chair: Aside from the guidance, do you think it is a matter of process as well? Are there problems with that, particularly for smaller businesses? We had some evidence last week about smaller businesses saying the thing is so complicated, just in terms of putting an application in and having an understanding of how that might work through, and having to appoint consultants and all the cost and expense. Is there anything that could be done there alongside this?
Stuart Hylton: It is a question of whether the system that emerges does turn out to be simpler. On the face of it, the statement of policy that we have before us now is a much more accessible document than the 1,300 pages that we have had to deal with previously, but my fear is that it will very quickly get crawled all over by smart lawyers looking for a way round it-that it will soon become bogged down by case law and possibly conflicting decisions made by the Planning Inspectorate, and will become in some ways more opaque and more difficult to work in.
Q137 Stephen Gilbert: Everyone it seems is in favour of localism and everyone seems to be broadly in favour of simplification; it is a bit like motherhood and apple pie. But there seems to be a conflict between the devolution of powers to neighbourhoods to create neighbourhood plans-that buyin that Councillor Porter was talking about, so local communities do not have planning done to them anymore but can do it for themselves-and a National Planning Policy Framework that some people argue is not simple, is complex, is potentially a lawyer’s charter and undermines, to some extent, local decisionmaking ability because people are being given with one hand as it is taken back with another. Do you see a tension there? Do they sit comfortably with each other? If not, how can that tension be resolved?
Councillor Gary Porter: Providing local councils get enough time to put proper, truly accountable local plans into place, there should not be a tension. As long as the policies in the NPPF can be reflected at a local level to suit local circumstances, that tension should be removed. Neighbourhood plans should then be able to fit into a local plan so communities will be able to determine for themselves where development that is needed goes. What they will not be able to determine is the fact that they do not need any. If the evidence base shows that there will be a need, then that will have to be able to be met. But the importance, from a local government perspective, is that local communities through their local councils can determine for themselves where that goes, not the current perverse system where an unaccountable, unelected, regional quango can determine what numbers go where. We have seen that that fails. In some parts of the country they have had to take development that they do not need and do not want; in other parts of the country they have not been able to take the development they need and they want. Nationally set, topdown targets do not work, and if we are going to build some homes that people need, it is important they are in places where they feel they take ownership of how that has happened. At the moment, it does not happen; planning is done to them.
Mike Holmes: There is a tension there. The question was asked before: where are the areas where people are looking forward to do their neighbourhood plans to bring forward more development? Talking to members of the Planning Officers Society, we cannot identify many of those; in fact, the opposite. The approaches that have been made to local authorities are often based on trying to stop development or shape it in a way that will not bring the development forward. So there is a real tension there, I think, which is not really brought out or acknowledged in the NPPF as it is drafted.
Q138 Stephen Gilbert: Just before coming on to Mr Hylton, what can be done to resolve that tension?
Mike Holmes: Acknowledgment of the relationship and the tension would be quite helpful in the first place. I think clarity in definitions has also been a theme that has been running through; I heard the debate earlier. The greatest growth of economic development will be in the employment of lawyers if we are not careful; it is that set of unintended consequences. That leads to uncertainties and so on, which the development industry will not want either.
Stuart Hylton: I think neighbourhood planning was sold on a false prospectus or, to put it more kindly, a misunderstanding in the first case. It was seen by many as a nimby’s charter, and I think now the Government is trying to pull that back and get a better understanding of what we are talking about in terms of the balance between local and national policy. It remains to be seen whether communities will feel more engaged in the planning process if they can say that "development will go in this field rather than that field" or be brownfield rather than greenfield while still having the overall number imposed on them by some higher authority, be it the district council or the aspirations of national policy. So there is a tension there.
Q139 Stephen Gilbert: Sustainable development will mean something different in my constituency-in a village in rural Cornwall-than it will in an innercity location. Do you see sufficient flexibility within the proposals to allow those different local contexts to come through when people are interpreting what sustainable development means?
Stuart Hylton: There are three definitions of sustainable development in the Framework. There is the familiar one of the Brundtland Commission, with the three legs of economic, environmental and social. Reading the statement of the Framework as a whole, many people have come to the conclusion that it is only the economic one that matters, and if you can tick that particular box, then the rest can, to varying degrees, go hang.
Then you have an even more confusing definition that says sustainability is everything contained in this document. I think that is paragraph 12. What that is saying is you have a definition that runs to 52 pages whose conclusions will inevitably point in all sorts of different directions. What we have argued for is a degree of localism whereby the weighting of the three arms of sustainability can be addressed in terms of local circumstances within the local plan itself. Local authorities already have powers to do this to some degree through their sustainability assessment, but it needs to be embodied in the local plan otherwise this debate about what is sustainable is going to reoccur and reoccur with every planning appeal and with every local plan submission.
Councillor Gary Porter: It should be determined locally by local councils in their local plan; then there should be no confusion.
Q140 Stephen Gilbert: Finally, it seems to me that the issue here-because everybody we have spoken to supports a planled approach-is how we get from A to B; it is the transition period from one regime to the new regime. Could you give us some insight into what you think that timeline is likely to be and how it should look in the areas that do not have at the moment adopted local plans?
Stuart Hylton: Transition is about more than just those authorities that do not currently have local plans. At the same time, what you are doing is scrapping the best part of 1,300 pages of national policy and a whole tier of regional policy, so there will be many authorities that, having already got plans in place that were produced on the assumption that these other tiers would be there, are suddenly going to find important gaps in their policy coverage. They are going to need to do something to adjust to that. Pretty well every planning authority is going to have to go through some form of transition.
What we learn historically about transition is that every major change to the planning system since the war has been followed by a couple of years of downturn in development activity while the new system beds in. If we are talking about introducing the biggest change to the planning system in 50 years in the middle of the biggest recession in the national economy in 50 years, then the consequences could be very serious indeed. We do not need to think about transition quite so urgently as we do about the content of the Framework itself; we have a little bit more time. I think the question you were asking was about the timetable. The figure of two years was being talked about in the earlier discussion. Allowing for the time for the Framework to come into effect, that would take us roughly up to the early part of 2014, which is already a timetable the Government has set for local authorities to have a plan in place so that they can introduce the Community Infrastructure Levy before the clampdown on Section 106 payments comes into effect. So that would seem as logical a timeframe as any.
Mike Holmes: One thing to add to that is the issue of resources. Most local authorities are facing difficulties in finding resources and, in a unitary authority like I represent, it is an issue compared with all the other services that the council provides. Planning may not be the number one priority; you can see where healthcare and so on is more pressing. So it is coming at a time when the resources available for making these sorts of changes are probably at the least comfortable level.
Stuart Hylton: If I can add to that, you need to look at what planning is being asked to do. Many authorities have gone through 20% or 25% cuts in their planning policy staff as part of the budget savings, but at the same time they are being asked now to plan at three different levels. They have their day job of doing the local plan boroughwide; they have the handholding that they are asked to do with neighbourhoods who want to produce neighbourhood plans-and I know from experience that is a hugely resourceintensive task for local authorities-and they are also being asked to act up strategically and fill at least part of the gap that has been left by the demise of the regional tier. So they are being asked to do a lot more with a lot less, and I think we need to be realistic about what will be able to be delivered within what timetable.
Councillor Gary Porter: I am not sure what the right amount of time is that we need to get there. I probably would disagree that life is not as hard as planning officers would have us all believe, and I am sure that a bit more can still be squeezed out in a few of our members’ authorities, but it is not reasonable to do what the NPPF practitioners group asked for, and that was to deliver this immediately with effect of the Bill going live. That is the bizarre bit with the environmental lobby. If I was supported in that group by the environmental lobby that was on that group, then we would have been in a much better place to defend against some of the arguments you have been listening to and have been reading in the press. That short timeline was supported by the RSPB, who were representing the environmental lobby. This is not just the development industry trying to do it at a particular pace; that was the environmental lobby as well.
I am convinced that we will get a longer leadin time than was originally envisaged, but I am not sure how long. I do not know whether two years is the right length of time. All we have is people from the Planning Officers Society saying it needs to be longer, people from the development industry saying it needs to be quicker, and I do not think anybody has done the piece of work to come up with what the reasonable length of time is. We all accept that we cannot go live quickly; it has to be a thoughtthrough piece of work if the local plans really are going to be the defence against inappropriate development that we all hope they will be.
Q141 Chair: Given your members are going to have to be the ones responsible for doing the local plans but haven’t got the planning inspectors to sign them off so there may be a delay there, is it possible to do any work with your members to come back to us with an assessment of what they think are reasonable times for them to get the plans in place?
Councillor Gary Porter: The Local Government Association would certainly be happy to play a leading role in trying to come back with some sort of timeframes that are workable. I am assuming that they will agree to that-now I have said it anyway.
Q142 Heidi Alexander: In the previous session, we had some discussion about where the burden of proof lies in terms of whether a development is acceptable or not. There was some suggestion that we had moved from a position where it was the responsibility of the developer to prove that the development was good to a situation where perhaps the local authority has to prove that the development is bad-the whole adverse impacts issue. Would you agree that there has been a shift in the burden?
Stuart Hylton: Everyone has got very excited about this presumption in favour of development, but in fact it was enshrined in the planning system as early as 1923 and it continued in there up until 1990 when the planled system came in. The onus has always been on the local planning authority to demonstrate that there were good reasons why a particular development should not go ahead. So I am perhaps less worried about it than a lot of people.
Mike Holmes: But I can understand the concerns of people that say the burden of proof seems to have shifted in this draft document, or the draft document given some weight. I can understand the concerns of communities in terms of that because they see-to emphasise resources again-local authorities perhaps, in a difficult situation, are not willing to put resources into defending cases where they do not feel there is the strongest case. So I think there is an issue in terms of putting that burden of proof, particularly where the economic arguments are paramount.
Q143 Heidi Alexander: Do you see enough in the NPPF for local authorities, where development is inappropriate-and there will still be occasions where a specific development is inappropriate-to say "no"? Equally, do you see enough in there to be able to positively influence development when initial proposals come forward?
Stuart Hylton: The saying "no" part of it is problematic. I think the wording of the Framework is that local authorities will have to prove there are undesirable consequences in terms of the policies contained in the Framework as a whole. That it is going to undermine national policy is a very stiff test to apply to an inappropriate house extension or a local change of use. It is a pretty rigorous test to go through, and I suspect it will be disproportionate in a lot of cases. So I think that needs to be rather more nuanced. Clearly it is quite right that major development should be judged against the strategic Framework, but more minor development will need a more nuanced and locally sensitive way of dealing with it.
Councillor Gary Porter: They should all be judged against the local plan, and the local plan will only be sound if it is in compliance with national policy. The crux of all of this is the local plan. Councils must be given the time and the ability to provide good, wellevidenced, local plans. If we are able to do that, then the planning system will be left on its own to deliver what we need and where we need it. We know it has failed since 1947. We have never delivered the right amount of homes of the right quality in the right places in this country, and if we do not change the system, we will continue to fail to meet what the country needs. This is the only chance we have. It might not work; it might not be perfect; but if we do not take the chance now while it is there, we will just carry on not delivering the homes that people need in the places they want to live.
Q144 Heidi Alexander: So where the local plans are not in place at the moment-we know about 50% of local authorities have not got their local plan in place-is there enough in the NPPF to resist inappropriate development?
Mike Holmes: It comes down to the emphasis placed, I think. On the reading of the draft NPPF now, I think the argument would be that no, there is not enough in there. There is not enough balancing of all the factors. As we heard before, in different places there will be a different nuance to each application that comes in-how you want to deal with it. Is the economic side paramount over environmental concerns? The way it is set out now, my answer would be no.
Councillor Gary Porter: If there is enough land allocated locally, then the NPPF is all the defence people need-if there is enough land allocated locally. But for that land to be allocated appropriately locally, it needs to be done so through a local plan. If in my own patch, I need 390 units a year. Once I have got 2,200 spaces allocated for home building, development is shut, even under the NPPF, even if I do not have a local plan in place, so long as I can meet the need. There are arguments around the 20%; that probably needs to be changed. It is a bit perverse having a nationally set target for overallocation when there is no national target for allocation, so that needs some work. Yes, we do need an overallocation because local plans always fail to deliver everything that is in the plan. But why have a nationally set target? Why not have a local target determined on history? The same with windfall sites. Windfall sites are not included but should be included against the overallocation. That way we can still deliver an overallocated plan but without some of the impacts that other people are predicting.
Q145 Heidi Alexander: Can I just move on to the inclusion within the NPPF of a viability test, if you like? I wonder what your thoughts are on the fact the NPPF seems to say that the commercial recompense to the developer has to be acceptable-that was the way I read it-and whether you see that disempowering local authorities again in terms of the ability to say "no" when the appropriate answer is no, or to positively influence development. So I just ask for your comments on viability.
Mike Holmes: My concern is, as drafted, that the issue for the local authorities is: will the infrastructure come forward that is required to mitigate the impacts of development at such a low level? The worst-case scenario for the local community is that they get the development but there is not enough value coming forward from the development to mitigate it in terms of roads and all the other facilities that are required. That is the issue before us. How do you balance that against what may be an upturn in the economy and a great deal more profit coming out of the development? It is slightly confusing at the moment how that balance comes out.
Stuart Hylton: What the Framework seems to be saying at the moment is that you must plan so that your demands for developer contributions to infrastructure are viable, even at the very bottom of the economic cycle. A plan is drawn up to cover a long period, which will encompass the bottom and the top of at least one economic cycle. By doing it that way, you are going to forego a lot of potential developer investment in infrastructure that is going to be needed if you are going to deliver a sensible package of infrastructure and development. There has been talk of having some sort of sliding scale, but the bureaucratic difficulty of running that would be nightmarish.
Q146 George Hollingbery: I wish local planning was as determinate as you say it is and wish it to be-that if you say you’ve got 2,000 allocated, that’s it; you’re shut for development. My experience as a local councillor for 10 or 12 years is that is not the case at all and that there will always be a developer out there who can bring forward an application that fits the circumstances of a local plan reasonably well, or finds new evidence that has not been accumulated in the local plan, and can say it is out of date in terms of the NPPF. I suggested earlier that there might be a mechanism that could deal with that, which is to reallocate some of the resource of the Planning Inspectorate to do lighttouch reexaminations of local plans on an iterative basis, perhaps every year. I understand the argument about resources. I absolutely do understand that is tricky. Might that be a way forward where we could protect the primacy of local plans?
Councillor Gary Porter: I think they should be refreshed but not on an annual basis; that takes away the emphasis on planning. There needs to be some certainty in some period where the document is found to be good and sound. But it is like all of what we face: every day things change and we have to adapt. I am sure if the local plans are given the amount of weight that they should be by PINs then they will be fine. At the moment, we have got rogue PINs; we have got planning inspectors who go off doing things that are completely alien to local councils and to Ministers, if you believe what Ministers tell you.
Stuart Hylton: We already have annual monitoring reports on local plans, so that, to some extent, gives you a picture of whether the plan is running according to a programme or is falling behind it or is overdelivering or whatever. So part of what you are talking about already exists; I am not quite sure how much further you want to take it.
Q147 George Hollingbery: What I am trying to do is find a mechanism by which you can re-inspect the plan in a very simple, very straightforward, very lighttouch way, such that the local plan, derived by local people, is always the driving force. If you have a local plan that has not reacted to circumstance and been recertified-which is what I am talking about-I can see developerled development happening outwith the local plan.
Stuart Hylton: What you might do is have a duty on authorities to consider in the context of their annual monitoring report whether further changes are needed to the plan. That is implicit in the very production of an annual monitoring report anyway; there is no point in producing the report unless you are going to respond to it in some way.
Q148 George Hollingbery: So make it part of the plan.
Mike Holmes: But you need to have a simplified system; I must agree with you in terms of that. It has in the past been too cumbersome a process because what has happened is you have had to review the whole of the document. One of the good changes of the last system was the ability to take out sections of your core strategy, document or whatever and review that rather than reviewing the whole document. So if there is an issue about housing-it might be some other thing; it might be about some economic development or some industrial or commercial aspect-that ability was not there historically. It would be good to have the ability retained just to do that review of the right-I was going to say "quick and dirty" but those are not the right words. But it should certainly be quick and cheap in terms of resources for everybody, because the public get exhausted by continual involvement in the system; it is not a bottomless pit for their involvement.
Q149 James Morris: When Stephen was questioning you, you touched on one of the original assumptions around the Government’s change to the planning policy being that historically we had a problem: communities resisted all development because of the confrontational nature of the planning system. Do you think the NPPF undermines the thrust of the policy, which was to empower communities to take more control over their local development, or not?
Stuart Hylton: I do not think it does. You need to look at this policy of empowering local communities in a wider context and think also about the financial incentives that are being put forward to favour development through the Community Infrastructure Levy and the New Homes Bonus. I think you have to ask some very serious questions about whether they will actually result in a Damascene review of public opinion. In the part of the world where I work, there is no shortage of community groups prepared to spend quite a lot of their own money to resist development. It begs the question of whether the financial incentives that are coming forward now are going to reverse that tide of opinion. The surveys suggest the tide of nimby opinion is hardening rather than the contrary.
Q150 James Morris: But you think the policy is worth pursuing? There might be an argument about whether the financial incentives are sufficient, but assuming they are sufficient, it is a policy that is worth pursuing and could change the tide away from resistance to development?
Stuart Hylton: Well I am certainly not going to say that additional resources into local communities are not welcome, but it does beg some questions about whether the investment in infrastructure that could result from that money is going to address the core concerns of communities who are opposed to development. If you look at the recently published Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations, they talk about them being used for things like open space and cycle ways. Now when was the last time you heard a community resist a proposal for housing development on the grounds that it would bring impossible pressure on their cycle ways? Their concerns are much more about things like an overcrowded road and rail network, which no realistic amount of CIL is going to address.
Q151 James Morris: Do you think it is the case-and others might want to comment-that one of the issues has been that expectations have been raised within neighbourhoods and local communities about the extent to which they are going to be able to influence what happens in their local areas? Is that a danger with this new Framework having come out? Councillor Porter, do you think expectations have been raised?
Councillor Gary Porter: Expectations certainly have been raised that people will have a greater control over their own destinies. But again, if we are given enough time to make sure those local plans are in place, that will be the case. At the moment, planning is done to communities. Government says how many houses we will have to take in our patch, regardless of what the evidence base is and what the community wants. It tells us how many we have to have and how many to an acre. Why? The brownfield argument. Some urban brownfield sites have a much greater environmental impact and benefit for communities than they would do if they were built on. There should be some way for a developer to go on to the edge of a site of the centre and use a commuted sum from that development to turn the derelict brownfield site back into some useable urban green space. The last Government’s policy on brownfield-first was a complete and utter failure. 60% of brownfield development was garden land. It was not derelict Victorian factory sites; it was garden land. The quality of life for some people has been ruined because we packed too many properties into too small an area.
Mike Holmes: I think one of the points has been the issue of infrastructure. I have been to lots of public meetings where this has been cited. People have seen that disconnect between accepting the development and the facilities that they enjoy. That has been one of the real difficulties. The first things you hear at public meetings and so on are where the health facilities are, what about the congestion on the road network and the state of the railway network. The lack of local facilities is a prime concern, and anything to address that would be helpful in changing people’s perception.
Q152 Mark Pawsey: Both those in favour of the new regime and those against the new regime have told us how important it is to have local plans in place, yet 50% of authorities do not have a local plan. How acceptable is that?
Councillor Gary Porter: Blame the Government for keeping moving the goalposts, I am afraid. If local planners were able to start off on a course of action and see it through to the end, probably far more of our colleagues would have had plans in place. Local planning policy is an absolute nightmare in this country. The goalposts keep moving; how do you possibly expect local authorities to know where they are? We knew where the pitch was, but you kept moving the goals.
Q153 Mark Pawsey: But if half of the authorities have managed to do it, why could the other half not?
Councillor Gary Porter: Some of us did not need to. In my own local authority, we do not have an LDF in place because my local plan was saved about four hours before local plans could be saved. It is not true to say that just because we do not have an LDF we do not have a local plan; we do have a local plan. Those councils who do not have a fullblown core strategy still have elements of it and that should carry some weight. If the new system does what we hope it does, it will be much simpler and easier to deal with. We should have a greater chance of getting local plans in place quicker. I agree that our worst members, who for intransigent reasons still have not got plans in place, need some sort of stick to make them get there, but there also needs to be a carrot for the rest of them.
Q154 Mark Pawsey: Will the stick not come through the ballot box, in terms of local councillors having to prioritise their planning departments to get the plans in place as they see approvals going through-either through committee or on appeal-for developments they do not like? Will there be a democratic drive to get plans in place?
Stuart Hylton: What you may get is the kind of deflection of responsibility that we have seen in the past with appeal decisions, where a local authority can blame unpopular development decisions on the laissezfaire policy of central Government. That could still apply now. But I think the most important incentive to getting local plans produced for cashstrapped authorities is not going to be the presence or absence of a national policy framework, but the ability to set a CIL charging rate and benefit from the income that delivers. I think that, rather than the Framework, will drive local authorities into more timely plan production.
Mike Holmes: I agree with that.
Q155 Mark Pawsey: So we can expect the plans to be in place pretty quickly? There will be massive incentives to local authorities and those that do not take action quickly will find themselves in problems.
Mike Holmes: I must agree with Councillor Porter. When you say that plans are not in place, which plans are you talking about? You have talked about local plans; actually, we have been talking about LDFs for a little bit of time. My authority has a local plan; it is of some age now. We were looking to go forward, but we did not have a Regional Spatial Strategy approved so there was a hiatus and a lot of changes coming along in the system that we have been trying to cope with. So a lot of us have done work on that and are moving in that direction. I am afraid the debate around the NPPF is another factor that may inhibit local authorities moving as quickly forward as they might have done, but I think there is a desire for people to plan for their areas.
Q156 Mark Pawsey: Is there going to be a need for local plans to be in much greater detail than they might otherwise have been because of this presumption in favour where a plan is silent? Is there a fear therefore that planners will draw up a plan for every eventuality for fear that an approval might go through because they have not covered that particular aspect?
Stuart Hylton: That is one of the possible unintended consequences of the Framework as currently drafted. But in addition to the bit about being silent, you have also got the fact the a whole raft of national and regional policy is disappearing, and the temptation will be for local authorities to try to replicate relevant bits of that. Now I think if they apply a realistic approach to it and just look to replicate the bits that are genuinely important to them, that should not be too onerous an additional task in the plan preparation process. It will be when somebody pedantically wants to pore all over the 1,300 pages of discarded policy and produce a local plan the size of a telephone directory in consequence.
Q157 Mark Pawsey: I wonder if we can just move on to assessing housing requirements. Councillor Porter, you spoke about identifying a need and then bunging on 20%, but under the new regime, how will authorities go about identifying housing requirements?
Councillor Gary Porter: We have still got to do SMAs and SLAs and all the rest of it. There is still an evidence base. My understanding is that the Government have got a group of other practitioners working out the most appropriate routes to use, but the Government are not determining it. They have got practitioners working out how we should get that evidence and there may well be two or three slightly competing sets of guidance we could use, and councils will be able to choose the guidance that most appropriately fits their needs. That seems to be a perfectly appropriate way of doing it.
Stuart Hylton: One of the big gaps in the new system will be the lack of any strategic context for local authorities to think about their housing needs, because the Framework is ambiguous. On the one hand it says catering for local housing need; on the very next line it says we are dealing with the effects of migration. How, without any strategic guidance as to where the directions of growth are going to be and new settlements and whatever, are local authorities to plan for the effects of migration? The only way they can do it is to base it on past trends, and as we all know, past trends are a very unreliable guide to the future. So there is a big gap to be filled there by some means or other.
Q158 George Hollingbery: I was going to ask about the transition period-the interregnum-but I think we have adequately examined that, so just a quick question to Councillor Porter, if I may. When the four of you were drawing up the Framework, did you take legal advice as to the soundness of the words that you were using, the interoperability and the confusion that might be caused? If you did not, did the Government’s drafting lawyers? If they did not, should they?
Councillor Gary Porter: Yes we did. Yes we did use the Government’s lawyers and we used planning lawyers from the private sector as well.
Q159 George Hollingbery: And they were content that there was no room for confusion in the different terms and terminologies in different sections of the documents contradicting each other in such a way that a legal argument could be made about a decision?
Councillor Gary Porter: A couple of times the wording was changed in different parts of it, but as with all things legal, if you put two lawyers in the same room, you will get three different opinions.
Q160 George Hollingbery: But nevertheless advice was taken, was heeded and was used in the drafting?
Councillor Gary Porter: And all Government Departments had sight through the departmental runround as well, so it has been across the whole of the Government and through all the legal beagles and through DCLG’s own planning team.
Q161 George Hollingbery: Given what you have heard today-because I think you have been here for both sessions-do you think more is required?
Councillor Gary Porter: More is required?
Q162 George Hollingbery: More examination and legal challenge before it becomes accepted by Government?
Councillor Gary Porter: No. Why would we want more legal challenge?
Q163 George Hollingbery: Putative legal challenge. Not real legal challenge; examination by those who are in a position to challenge eventually.
Councillor Gary Porter: I am sure they are doing that as we speak. It is the way all of this stuff works. It has been out to consultation; everybody with an opinion has put in at least two or three sometimes conflicting opinions, listening to some of the advice that has been coming through. I am sure, once that is all distilled into the final document, that will have had a rigorous enough challenge.
Mike Holmes: I would say that we as a society are offering that advice to look at the wording and suggest appropriate wording. That is what we have offered to do and are doing. We have not met the timetable for today, but we will make that provision.
Stuart Hylton: One of the things that is sorely needed is a glossary to explain in legally watertight terms what some of these terms mean. Let us take the example of a rural worker, which is one of the policy provisions made in there. What is a rural worker? Unless you have got some sort of definition in a glossary, that is going to become a subject for debate in every plan involving a barn conversion the length and breadth of the country. There is a whole host of terminology throughout the Framework that needs to be addressed in that way.
Councillor Gary Porter: But not on a national basis, surely. That should come through the local plan and it should be different in different parts of the country. Surely that is the whole point of it; we are moving away from a statist, centrist approach to planning to a localist one. Local councils should be freed up to make those local choices.
Q164 George Hollingbery: Councillor Porter, I maybe take your point about rural worker, but I do not take your point that it applies to "adequate" or "sufficient". I think those terms are very, very, very difficult to define. If you want every local planner to determine every single time what is adequate and what is sufficient in every context in every local plan, they are going to be very, very large indeed, are they not?
Councillor Gary Porter: Why? Surely it is better to have a large local plan than it is to have a large national plan.
George Hollingbery: I would suggest to you there are plenty of lawyers out there who would argue that the definition of "adequate" is not adequate.
Q165 Chair: The point was raised with us before that this draft guidance is now being used by the Planning Inspectorate in determining appeals. Is that the experience of your members? Is it a matter of concern to you?
Mike Holmes: It has not been the experience in that many cases up until now.
Councillor Gary Porter: It has been in some and it is of concern. What they have been failing on, in my understanding, is that we now have adequate need to meet our supply under the RSS, but we have not got is Government’s new requirement to have a 20% overallocation. It is obscene that PINs are being allowed to reject plans that have been through due process on the basis of such a marginal piece of information.
Q166 Chair: That moves on to the timing, as well, that we discussed before. Are you getting advice, both as councillors and officers, that once this guidance-the new NPPF-comes into place at national level, every local plan will effectively be out of date because, for example, it does not include this 20% contingency, and therefore that is an additional reason why a transitional period is essential?
Councillor Gary Porter: It is that and more; there is that duty to cooperate that has strengthened a lot more in the NPPF than what it is in the current system. Site densities and even bizarre things like car parking spaces are not laid out and are to be locally determined. There are so many things that need to be determined locally, and we need time to make sure that we are able to do that appropriately. That is the transition bit as well.
Stuart Hylton: One of the important things is the way in which the certificate of conformity between local plans and the national Framework is handled. If it is just a straight "yes it conforms" or "no it doesn’t", then that is going to be extremely unhelpful and create the maximum amount of uncertainty. We have looked at the NPPF and we think there are something like 88 points at which a local plan would have to conform with it. That is clearly a very steep test for any local plan to comply with. So I think what is needed is a form of vetting of local plans to say, "Yes, the plan conforms in most respects, but in the following three"-or whatever it may be-"respects, it will need to be addressed. These can be either addressed when the plan comes next to be reviewed or, if you are making a decision that relates to that part of the plan, you need to take account not only of the local plan but also of the National Policy Framework, which differs from it." There is a more sophisticated way of dealing with differences between the local plan and the national policy that does not involve the whole of the local plan being thrown out of the window.
Q167 George Hollingbery: The balance between national and local. We were talking about Councillor Porter’s journey as taking 350 very fat local plans that determine everything in their local area, with a certain degree of commonality, I have no doubt, between them across the country but no expectation that there should be commonality between them. How does that set up a balanced planning system where developers can reasonably expect to know what they need to do to get an application through? Does that not make it a huge postcode lottery at least? That may be desirable in some ways, but it will be very, very difficult for developers to have a planning department that can deal with any application across the country.
Councillor Gary Porter: Why should they have a planning department that can deal with any application across the country? If they have not had the decency to read the local plan for that area, then perhaps they should not be building any houses in that area. If what you are saying is that national companies should be able to run roughshod over what local people want, then that is not the world I envisage on the back of an NPPF.
Q168 George Hollingbery: I have a lot of sympathy with the idea that local plans should be very much locally derived, but there surely must be a balance somewhere where there is some reasonable national expectation about what happens with conformity across the country.
Councillor Gary Porter: I think there will be. If there is guidance about how needs assessments and the like are done and a local council does their needs assessment in accordance with that, there will be some form of commonality. The numbers will be different; the locations will be different; but we will all be working to a similar standard. The Government, quite rightly and well done, has put £12 million through PAS-the Planning Advisory Service-and the LGA is administering that money and we are working with our authorities to make sure that our officers where necessary, but mainly our members, are up to speed with what their local plan needs to be to be able to deliver against this agenda. So I am convinced we are there or will be there, but we just need that time to make that a reality.
Q169 Chair: Councillor Porter, a few minutes ago you said the guidance should allow a choice of how you do needs assessments. How can you get consistency between authorities if you have got a choice about how you do the assessments?
Councillor Gary Porter: If there are two or three sets of guidance about how you do it, that is consistent, surely. It does not have to be the same. All the men here are wearing suits-we have conformed to that-but they are all different.
Mike Holmes: I am not wearing a tie. The issue about how things are done we are seeking to address with a number of partners, including those people who were sat here before, in order to try to get a common best practice approach to dealing with many of these issues, be they SMAs, SLAs or whatever. I understand Communities and Local Government and Government do not want to impose something, but we feel there is some benefit in having a common approach to some of these issues. If they want to adopt a slightly different approach, authorities have to then justify it locally in terms of how they go forward, but we believe there would be some advantage in having some common guidance that can be used, just to save time and money.
Q170 Simon Danczuk: This is a fascinating debate. I think the rural workers issue is an interesting one, because in terms of saving taxpayers’ money, one would assume that having one set of guidance at a national level defining what a rural worker is, or what those words were that George mentioned earlier, would be helpful to local authorities, because they could use that guidance and do not have to replicate it in 250 or 300 different ways across the country. In terms of saving taxpayers’ money, you would have thought some national guidance on that would be helpful. That is just an observation. I have a couple of quick questions-yes and no from each really. Do you think the NPPF is biased towards developers, Mike?
Mike Holmes: I think the emphasis seems to be on the economic factors rather than those other sustainability factors.
Q171 Simon Danczuk: Is that a yes?
Mike Holmes: Yes.
Stuart Hylton: Yes.
Councillor Gary Porter: No.
Q172 Simon Danczuk: As the NPPF currently stands as a working document, can it be used by planning authorities? Is it ready to be used by planning authorities?
Mike Holmes: No.
Stuart Hylton: There is a lot of detail still to be sorted out.
Councillor Gary Porter: I think yes, provided we have got time to put the plans in place.
Q173 Simon Danczuk: Finally, do you fear a resurgence of planning by appeal as a consequence of this NPPF?
Mike Holmes: Yes.
Stuart Hylton: Yes.
Councillor Gary Porter: No.
Q174 Chair: Fine. I think it is accepted, but it is a question of how we do it. There are issues that go beyond the boundaries of a local authority. Meeting housing requirements can stretch over; an authority may have no land left but still have people who need homes and they are going to have to be built somewhere else. There are other issues about waste disposal-and you can go on. We have got a duty to cooperate; it has been strengthened now in the Localism Bill. Do you think that is an adequate mechanism to ensure we get these sorts of issues dealt with properly or are there further changes you want to see?
Stuart Hylton: I think we need to see it strengthened further. The duty to cooperate is based on a consensus view of planning that says that agreement is always there for the reaching, if you just consult each other hard enough. Life is not like that. Planning tends to be nastier and more brutish and it is about fierce competition for a finite resource: land. That produces winners and losers and there is by no means a guarantee that consensus will emerge from it. A duty to cooperate is not the same thing as a duty to agree. One of the things that the Framework does not yet do is to say what happens if authorities cannot agree about the key strategic issues. I think one of the things we are looking for is not so much whether the infrastructure of cooperation is in place, in terms of joint committees or whatever, but that there is some finite product coming out of that cooperation against which their plans can be judged. What we are suggesting is there needs to be a strategic infrastructure assessment produced jointly by local authorities that will look at what infrastructure is needed to support development in that wider area, where it is going to come from, who is going to pay for it, and how and when it will be delivered. That will be something finite against which cooperation can be judged and will also be a very useful document for planmaking at the local level.
Mike Holmes: To go further than that, we are not in the 19th century; the councils do not do everything. They do not provide energy like they did; they do not deal with sewage and so on. There are often private-sector companies involved in this. So the duty to cooperate, if we call it that, has got to be rather more extensive to deal with all those infrastructure issues. We think it is important that is extended.
Q175 Chair: That sounds very admirable, but how long is it going to take to get those in place?
Stuart Hylton: It is work that has to be done. It will take as long as it takes, but you cannot plan development in any sensible way without knowing what infrastructure you will need and how it is going to be delivered, otherwise it is a recipe for sheer chaos.
Q176 Chair: But can any local plan be deemed to be complete and up to date-or whatever the words are-if that work has not been done on the wider infrastructure implications?
Stuart Hylton: What we are saying is that many of these infrastructure issues transcend local authority boundaries. The providers will work to different boundaries; they will have different criteria; and they will not welcome piecemeal approaches from every individual authority. They will want to look at the picture on a wider level.
Q177 Chair: We have got these changes in the National Planning Policy Framework. You are indicating to us it will probably take a couple of years to absorb those and get local plans up to date, accepted and agreed. You are now telling us we need another piece of work about greaterthanonelocalauthority infrastructure implications. Is it feasible to get that work done within two years so it all hangs together?
Stuart Hylton: The idea is you do it in parallel.
Q178 Chair: That is what I am trying to get at.
Stuart Hylton: Because you will not be able to go to the infrastructure providers and say, "What do you think about providing infrastructure?" You have got to have some concrete proposals. So the two will merge together.
Q179 Chair: Is there the capacity in the planning system to do that?
Stuart Hylton: You have not got much choice. You have to do that work if you are going to produce a sensible plan that links together infrastructure provision and development.
Mike Holmes: Remember we are going to be looking 15, 20 years’ time in terms of the longer time horizons here. If we are talking about planning for developments in five, six, seven and eight years’ time, we need to start thinking about the infrastructure requirements now. It is not just about the next two years and what housing comes forward to deal with economic development and so on; it is about taking a longer view. Make no small plans.
Councillor Gary Porter: God forbid we ever allow the electricity board and the gas board to determine when and how we can build things. They supply services to customers. If the customers are there, they will end up getting the services to them if the profit margin is big enough for them in the end. We cannot let expublic utility companies determine where we are building the homes of the future. That is just insane.
Chair: Okay. That was a point of difference to finish on, but thank you all very much indeed for coming in and giving evidence this afternoon.