It seems a minor comment from a junior minister but this comment from Brandon Lewis is very interesting indeed:
‘Somewhere could conceivably decide that they don’t want a local plan and they will rely on the NPPF,’ Mr Lewis stated. While this would not be ‘necessarily ideal’ there would be ‘no role for the government’ if such a decision was taken, he added.
Now bearing in mind that the requirement for a local plan and the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) are provided by two different acts of Parliament, what Lewis is saying is that a local planning authority can simply adopt the NPPF as its local plan.
At the moment local planning authorites are going through a long, painful and politically-sensitive process of preparing that local plan - here in Bradford our approved draft is almost due for submission (we approved it in December 2013 and it will go for inspection in December 2014 which indicates the bureaucratic stress in preparing these plans). Would it not have been far simpler to say "were's the national policy folks, we're going to use that to make our planning decisions."
Significantly, this approach still requires the local council to agree housing numbers (this is in the NPPF in the form of having a five year land supply for housing) or rather, it says that not having such numbers means that land-use designations (including 'green belt') carry less weight in determining applications for housing. The government may have tightened up regulations on 'green belt' - meeting established housing need no longer counts automatically as fulfilling the 'exceptional circumstances' needed for development to be permitted - but without identified land elsewhere that fits this need, adopting the NPPF as the local plan introduced a laissez faire planning system.
No-one will take this option but, as important planners keep observing, where a local planning authority hasn't adopted a local plan or got a five-year supply of houisng land identified in existing plans, the NPPF is de facto the local plan.
Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers’ Society board and head of planning and building control at Croydon Council, said that there are a number of councils that ‘haven’t got a plan in place and there is no obvious prospect that they are going to any time soon’.
Laissez faire planning may be here. Is it what we want?