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NPPF Part 2 – Brownfield first approach to planning is being eroded

 New research published today by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) suggests that the Government’s assurances of building on brownfield sites first is not backed up by reality on the ground.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today (Wednesday 27 March) the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles states: “We are making the most of every single square inch of brownfield land.” 

Yet research carried out by the LGIU points to a dramatically different picture on the ground with developers arguing that it’s not economically viable to develop brownfield sites for new housing and pushing for more greenfield sites to meet housing targets.

The National Trust is surprised by the Communities Secretary’s comments as we are aware of cases – such as in Salford – where the Council’s ambitions for brownfield have been over-ridden in favour of 350 houses on a greenfield site – excluding 10,300 houses which are on brownfield from the Local Plan.

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation at the National Trust, said: “We are very concerned that the principal of “brownfield first” is being eroded as the new plans emerge.

Our research suggests a growing number of greenfield sites are being prioritised for development with developers arguing that brownfield sites – many of which already have planning permission for construction – are now unprofitable to build on.

We think this shift in priorities is bad news for our cities, bad for our towns, bad for our villages and bad for our countryside.”

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NPPF fails to deliver planning for people – Part 1

Research published today by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) suggests that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is failing to give local people a genuine say in shaping the future of their communities, falling short of the Government’s own localism ambitions. 

Published by Government a year ago today, after a National Trust campaign to secure vital protections for land, the NPPF was intended to stream-line the planning process while promoting sustainable development and putting local communities at the heart of the planning system. 


Local authorities were given just 12 months to update and adopt their Local Plans, which set out where development should take place in a local area, in consultation with local communities.  Any authorities who fail to have an adopted Local Plan in place by today will be subject to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ in the NPPF – local authorities will be required to approve development proposals ‘where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date’. 

Today’s research suggests that over half (53%) of local authorities surveyed will miss today’s deadline, while more than a quarter (26%) estimate that it will take another year or more to adopt their Local Plans, leaving communities the length and breadth of England at risk of speculative development.  Three-fifths (60%) of local authorities surveyed also said they don’t have the resources necessary to meet future planning workloads. 

The research has also found that the NPPF is leading to the centralisation, rather than localisation, of the planning system – three-fifths (60%) of local authorities surveyed felt that the introduction of the NPPF and Neighbourhood Plans had not helped them produce Local Plans that reflect local communities’ concerns and priorities, while the evidence suggests that development – particularly housing – is being prioritised over the concerns of local people once Plans reach Public Examination stage. 

Finally, the research suggests that the development of brownfield land first, before greenfield land, is being compromised as local authorities are forced to exclude many brownfield sites that already have planning permission from their five-year housing supplies because they are now being deemed as economically unviable to develop, leaving the authorities with little choice but to propose greenfield sites instead. 

We are therefore calling for the implementation of two practical solutions that could help give people a stronger voice in the planning system, as well as deliver sustainable development: an extension of the deadline for local authorities to adopt their Local Plans; and a more sustainable set of criteria to assess the viability of sites that already have planning permission, giving equal weight to social and environmental criteria as well as economic.

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A Spotlight on: Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale

It’s important for a community to have a shared vision when it comes to planning – but equally, this vision needs to be achievable, with steps and actions set out and acted upon in broad agreement. Neighbourhood planning can be the vehicle for a community’s achievement of its vision.

The Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale Neighbourhood Plan is currently in progress, having begun before the publication of the NPPF and the Localism Act, in late 2010. This makes it an interesting example of how neighbourhood planning can develop in the absence of government guidelines. The latest step taken by the Steering Group is a vision document that has been consulted on with the community. A clear vision was set out in six statements, covering character, wildlife, housing, carbon emissions, the economy and transport.

More than a vision

This sort of ‘vision statement’ isn’t unusual in neighbourhood planning, even at these early stages – we’ve already highlighted the great, shared vision in the Woolley neighbourhood plan here on this blog. What’s really positive about the Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale vision document is the way they’ve taken input from the community about what they want to see in their community, and given a suggested approach to achieving this. For example, the community’s desire for safer roads and pavements that are more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists is mirrored by suggestions of widened pavements and making new developments contingent on rights of way, with pedestrian and cycle paths.

It’s details like this that make a neighbourhood plan just that – a plan. Saying what you want your community to look like in the future is all very well, but without saying what needs to happen or refrain from happening, it’s unlikely that the vision will become a reality.

The detail achieved in this vision document can perhaps be attributed to the Steering Group’s organisational structure. Four topic groups have been formed to help identify key issues, consult with residents, business and stakeholders and to draft sections of the plan. The groups cover housing and the environment; community; economy and transport and infrastructure. Each topic group is headed by a leader, who also sits on the Steering Group, and has a number of local people as members. Recently, members from different topic groups have come together to address issues relating to specific sites and develop options for them. It seems that all those contributing to the Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale plan have their collective vision in mind, but are also able to come up with the practical measures required to achieve it.

This practical aspect can also be found in the map contained within the vision document. That the plan already has a strong spatial element is hugely encouraging. The Steering Group has identified areas with opportunities for enhancement, areas for preservation and green spaces that provide important gaps between villages. There’s been thought about where change can occur, and what’s important to keep and improve upon.

A neighbourhood plan is not just about what the community wants to be and look like in the future, it’s also about what needs to happen to get there. The work already done at Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale bode well for a strong and positive neighbourhood plan.

The group is currently holding a consultation specifically on Ascot High Street and looks to submit the plan to the borough council and hold a local referendum in late 2012/early 2013. Want to find out more? Why not take a look at the vision document and results summary, or the website for this neighbourhood plan?

Have you written a neighbourhood plan? Or do you want to? Get in touch and let us know about your experiences by commenting below. You can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant


Eric Pickles makes housing and planning statement

Following the cabinet reshuffle and the return of MPs to parliament, the summers talk of further change to the planning system has bubbled to the surface. This afternoon, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles made a housing and planning statement to the House of Commons.

He announced a series of investments, including £200 million for new high-quality rented homes and £300 million to bring 5,000 empty homes back into use and increase affordable housing. There will be the opportunity for developers to renegotiate the affordable housing element of Section 106 agreements, where they can prove it would make a development commercially unviable. There will also be a relaxation of permitted development rights, which will allow householders and businesses to build extensions with fewer restrictions.

A distinction should be made between planning decisions made for individual properties, and the business of planning for whole areas and communities. It was the latter that was of most interest to us and the 230,000 people who joined our campaign on the National Planning Policy Framework last year.

We’re just six months into the Government’s new planning framework and local authorities are busy updating their local plans. We’re glad that the Government has recognised the NPPF as the guiding framework, and that it needs time to take effect, and note that there are 400,000 homes with planning permission waiting to be built and permissions are up since the new planning framework was introduced earlier this year. We also welcome the confirmation that Green Belt policy remains unchanged. The renewed focus on brownfield land marks a great opportunity for smart growth to deliver benefits for people, the economy and the environment.  

We’ll be looking closely at what has been proposed today, and will be keeping a close eye on the details as they develop.

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Brandy Island needs saving from development – an early test for NPPF

We’re backing a campaign to oppose the development of a marina at one of the most tranquil and unspoilt stretches of the River Thames.

The idyllic setting of Brandy Island, near the village of Buscot in Oxfordshire on the River Thames National Trail, is hugely popular with walkers and local people who visit the area in their thousands to enjoy its peace and tranquillity, and the chance to glimpse kingfishers, otters and other local wildlife.

But plans submitted to The Vale of White Horse District Council, for commercial development of a disused water plant on the island, threaten to destroy the peace and special timeless character of the area.

With the development of a boat hire business with facilities for storage, maintenance and repair, local campaigners are worried that the proposals will lead to increased noise, traffic and change forever the landscape and tranquillity of this site – undermining the reason why the area is popular.

The proposals will test the Government’s pledge to protect the open countryside and the interests of local communities when it published the controversial new National Planning Policy Framework earlier this year.

“The area around Brandy Island is a special place that is loved by thousands of people who go there for its unique, tranquil setting,” said Richard Henderson, the National Trust’s general manager for Oxfordshire who is working closely with the local community on the campaign.

“The deadline for objections is looming fast and we urge anyone who loves this place and wants to support the campaign to make their views known through the formal channels.

“Details of how to do this are on our website.

“We support new development where it’s appropriate for the local area but in this case the proposals threaten what make this place special, and we are reflecting the views of many local stake-holders in strongly opposing the scheme.”

We’ve looked after village of Buscot since 1956 so people can continue to enjoy its special timeless character and the surrounding countryside.

Here are the reasons why we are objecting to the proposals:

Countryside Protection

This development would have an impact of the character of the local area which is recognised by the Local Authority as “an area of high landscape value”.   It would detract from the unspoilt beauty of Buscot Old Parsonage which is a Grade II* listed protected historic building.  This site is surrounded by open undeveloped countryside and we believe that the habitat should be conserved and enhanced by returning the whole site to a conservation area.



Traffic will rise to an unacceptable level for local residents.  The access roads are very narrow and have no passing places.  Buscot Lock attracts visitors throughout the year.  It is a popular picnic spot in the summer as it is a safe and unspoilt place for people to enjoy.  The increased traffic will have adverse effect on the safety of the public and their quiet enjoyment of the site.

The increased traffic will add to the existing pressure on the main road through the village and increase parking problems.  The T-junction with the main A417 is already considered to be dangerous and more traffic entering/exiting the village will only increase the risks.



The impact to residents both in the village and immediately adjacent to the site cannot be underestimated.  Local residents will be immediately affected by the noise of boat owners with power tools, radios and machinery, as will all those who currently enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the area.

Comment on the proposals by visiting our website and you can join the conversation with us on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #savebuscot hashtag.



UPDATE: DEADLINE EXTENDED - the deadline for the consultation has now been extended to 22 June.

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A Short Debate on Planning

With yesterday marking the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass, it seems appropriate that MPs spent the evening discussing the planning system that so greatly affects the relationship we all have with our own local places.

But though yesterday’s debate had a distinctly localist focus, it was somewhat of a whistle-stop – with just a half-hour time-slot remaining for discussion, there was little time for any detailed examination of the document.

That’s not to say that important points weren’t raised – they were, notably the issue of the relationship between the Planning Inspectorate and local communities. Responding to Chris Heaton-Harris’ question, Planning Minster Greg Clark argued that the removal of contradictory regulation and Regional Spatial Strategies would allow the tension and antagonism in the planning system to dissipate. Besides this, he stated he had made it clear to the Planning Inspectorate that planning reforms place authority securely in the hands of local people. He is expecting to see a sample of the decisions that are being taken, including after the examination of plans, to ensure that this is happening.

The notion that the NPPF will bring more power to communities was broadly welcomed by all MPs, and Conservatives in particular. Caroline Lucas, however, touched on an issue that may undermine the promise of localism: local authority resources. Although Ms Lucas asked her question in relation to carbon reductions, there is a clear need for the resources, guidance and assistance she referred to in the production of good local and neighbourhood plans.

The response from the Minister was not particularly encouraging on this front – while he admitted that the government will support local authorities in their production of local plans, he did little to explain by what means they will be supported.

Clive Betts, the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, was another voice of caution. He said that the real test of the NPPF is whether it is better than the former system, and success on this count would come from its delivery of more houses, more green energy projects and more development in general.

Mr. Betts’ view is one shared by many: the proof of planning reforms will be in the decisions made in coming months and years, and its delivery of development local people want, in a way that does not compromise our environment.

A continuation of this debate on another day has been promised by Mr. Clark – time allowing, this should enable MPs to ask important questions of the Minister on the detail and implementation of the NPPF.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant.


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Parliament to debate NPPF

It’s been nearly a month since the National Planning Policy Framework was published, and we, among others, were pleased that the final document was better than the draft – for more information on our position, visit our Planning for People website. There remain, however, some big questions about how the new system will work in practice.

While we welcome the primacy of the plan confirmed by the NPPF, this means that the pressure is on local authorities and communities to ensure their plans are up-to-scratch. We’ve been keeping our eyes firmly open, and are working to gather initial thoughts on early experiences at a local level – if you have any insights or local stories about how the NPPF is being put into practice, please add your comments below.

New questions on planning

So much of the NPPF’s success, or otherwise, will depend on its implementation at a local level: this is where focus must now be directed.

With local authorities facing financial challenges, the impact of local plans on capacity and resource in local planning departments may be heavy – it’s important that we know how well local authorities are able to respond to this demand on their limited resources.

We’re also keen to know when the Department of Communities and Local Government will begin to provide support for planning practitioners around implementing the NPPF.

There will be a debate on the NPPF in the House of Commons tomorrow (24th April) during the 2.30pm session – this is a great opportunity for MPs to probe for answers to questions like these, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on what’s said, and following it up with a quick analysis here at the planning blog. You can watch the debate live here – why not tweet us your views using the #planning4ppl hashtag?

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant.


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Thank you

The dust has settled since the final National Planning Policy Framework was published on 27 March, to a broadly positive reception.

We continue to scrutinise the small print, on the look out for technicalities and details which could cause problems, both for the places we are directly responsible for, but with a keen eye on what it means for everybody as they continue to champion the places they care about.

Planning decisions are already being affected by the NPPF which is now in force. Check out Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ latest call. As we anticipated, with the roll-out of any new planning policy, there follows a period of uncertainty and testing.

Thank you
Meanwhile, we would like to say a big THANK YOU (pdf / 135kb) to our campaigners and supporters. By signing our Planning for People petition, you let Government know you expected big changes to the draft planning document. You reinforced our mandate to campaign to get planning policy right. Your letters to MPs and Ministers underlined just how passionately people care about places.

The final planning policy now in place could have been much, much worse without your help.

Now, only time and effort on everybody’s part will ensure that planning really is for people, as well as the environment and the economy.

Blog post by Claire Graves, National Trust Senior Press Officer

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Everyone a winner…?

It must be what every Minister dreams of – the publication of a document which secures contented noises from both supporters and dissenters. But this is the happy world that Greg Clark inhabits following the publication of the NPPF yesterday.

The Government has been congratulated by business and development groups for having “stuck to its guns”, “held its nerve” and “pushed through with reforms” – yet others have lauded the “important changes” to the NPPF that have come from the Government’s “listening to the concerns of the environment sector”.

Even on the finer detail, most groups were able to cite the retention or inclusion of some policy or other that pleases them. The most significant change for many was the inclusion of a definition of sustainable development – this was welcomed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, CPRE and Local Government Association. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the RSPB also highlighted the improvement in protection for SSSIs and the Wildlife Trusts noted that Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas get some recognition.

Both the British Retail Consortium and the Campaign for Better Transport were pleased at the inclusion of office developments in the Town Centre First principle. The National Farmers Union and Country Land and Business Association saw aspects of the NPPF that will boost the rural economy.

Development and business groups have been more general in their support of a Framework they say will boost growth, refraining from commenting on detail – see Institute of Directors, CBI, Federation of Master Builders, London First.

This isn’t to say that all concerns have been allayed: the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust say it gives low value to locally designated sites. CPRE still have concerns that the overall balance of the document remains in favour of economic concerns and that the brownfield preference is not as strong as in previous guidance. However, the headline reactions remain generally positive.

Perhaps, in the early hours of the new planning system, interest groups were keen to establish their preferred interpretation – there remains some loose language in the final document, and much will depend on how local authorities use the NPPF as a basis for their local plans.

A lot rests on how the NPPF is read as a document in its entirety, and implemented at a local level. This is one aspect of the NPPF that all are agreed upon – these changes place huge responsibility on local authorities and communities, and this is where the hard work must now begin, to ensure that planning works for people and places.

NPPF – who said what

Welcome reference to intrinsic value of countryside, inclusion of definition of sustainable development and improvement on brownfield. Warn that balance still lies in favour of economic growth, and that the brownfield policy is not as strong as previous guidance.

Friends of the Earth
Welcome inclusion of sustainable development definition, but warn this will not prevent bad planning on its own.

Definition of sustainable development very welcome and concerns about weakening of SSSI protection appear to have been allayed.

Woodland Trust
Transfer of phrasing protecting ancient woods and trees welcome. However, that applications leading to the loss of these habitats should not be approved unless the needs for and benefits of outweigh the loss, leaves a dangerous loophole.

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
NPPF used right definition of sustainable development and NPPF now good on protection for SSSIs and ‘priority habitat’. Values locally designated sites quite low.

Wildlife Trusts
Welcome inclusion of Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas in NPPF.

British Chambers of Comerce
Reforms will help speed up the system and allow planning to be a positive tool, rather than a weapon to fight battles against change and growth.

British Property Federation
Welcome “sensible” change to the planning framework, including brownfield and town centre first policies and the revised definition of sustainable development.

British Retail Consortium
Welcome inclusion of office developments in Town Centre First principle and say the simplification of the planning system will help boost local economies.

Confederation of British Industry
New framework “gets the balance right” between growth, society and the environment. The planning system has been a drag on growth, but this framework allows people to make decisions for themselves.

Country Land and Business Association
Very happy with section on the rural economy.

Campaign for Better Transport
Pleased at inclusion of offices in Town Centre First principle but worried about “dash for growth” allowing developments which generate local traffic jams.

Institute of Directors
Cutting of unnecessary regulation will “get Britain building again”.

Local Government Association
Clarification of SD is positive and the reasonable timeframe of a year to develop local plans is welcome.

London First
Getting rid of bureaucracy will help growth.

National Farmers Union
Welcomes boost to rural economy, but caveats on the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ mean it is not the simplification of planning law originally expected.

Town and Country Planning Association
NPPF allows the planning of new settlements, or extensions to existing settlements following the principles of Garden Cities. Definition of sustainable development welcome. Will look at functionality of transition arrangements.

Blog post by Ellen Reaich, National Trust Government and Parliament Campaign Assistant


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Planning for People tweetchat

We’re holding a ‘tweetchat’ with Ben Cowell, our Deputy Director of External Affairs, to discuss the Government’s new planning reforms (NPPF) today.
He’ll be taking over our @nationaltrust Twitter feed for an hour to host the discussion.
When? Noon-1pm today (Wednesday 28 March)
How? Please tweet us @nationaltrust using the #planning4ppl hashtag
Ben plans to talk through the following changes to the document and take your questions on why they’re significant:
  1. the primacy of the plan is confirmed, ensuring that development must be consistent with the plan
  2. a better definition of sustainable development, based on the 2005 sustainable development strategy
  3. the insertion of references to the use of brownfield land and the need to promote town centres
  4. removal of the incendiary default ‘yes’ to development where there is no plan
  5. reference to the ‘intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside’, recognising the importance of countryside outside
    designated areas 
  6. confirmation that existing plans will remain in force while the new NPPF is introduced, and that there will be a one-year transition for the preparation of new plans
Feel free to tweet us your questions about other concerns around the NPPF and we’ll try our best to help.
Wondering what’s a tweetchat? 

A Twitter is a pre-arranged chat on Twitter that use an agreed hashtag (in this case, #planning4ppl) to link tweets together in a virtual debate.
They often include a suggested agenda with a specific leader or “speaker” (that’s our Ben Cowell as @nationaltrust) while welcoming a free-flowing discussion between all participants.

Looking forward to your tweets!

Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager for the National Trust


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