Their report, which is based on over 130 written submissions and four oral evidence sessions held in October and November (including one with the National Trust) calls unambiguously for the draft National Planning Policy Framework to be rewritten, if we’re to ensure that England has a planning system that’s balanced, effective and fit for purpose.
The MPs on the Select Committee have certainly been thorough: their report runs to 77 pages, and there are 35 recommendations in the conclusion. Chief among these is the need for the document to be made clearer and more precise, if necessary by lengthening it.
The Committee is also upfront about the need for a clearer definition of sustainable development, albeit one that is sufficiently flexible for local authorities to adapt to their particular circumstances. The recommendation for the inclusion of the five guiding principles from the 2005 sustainable development strategy (PDF 5.7mb) is particularly welcome.
We support the Committee’s reaffirmation of the importance of the local plan – and the need to drop the reference to a default ‘yes’ to (sustainable) development. The Committee calls too for the relationship between Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans to be clarified – an essential requirement if the NPPF is to facilitate the sort of development that’s now needed.
We strongly endorse the Committee’s call for the principle of brownfield land being considered first for development to be reflected in the new NPPF, and for an effective town centre first approach to be reintroduced. It’s good to hear them call for provision to be made explicitly for arts and culture in plans as well.
Finally the Committee makes some very welcome points about process. It calls for a clear transition period, with time allowed for local authorities to get their plans in place before the presumption in favour of sustainable development (in line with the plan) is allowed to apply. And the Committee calls for a further, brief round of consultation to ensure that the technical aspects of the NPPF are properly thought through before it starts to bite.
These are all welcome recommendations, and we look forward to hearing Government’s response. It will surely be hard for Ministers not to listen to such an important Committee, especially after the Inquiry was explicitly requested as part of the thinking on the new NPPF. We’ll be ready to test the new NPPF against these recommendations, and our own consultation response (PDF 112kb): we very much hope that MPs’ views, as well as those of the 228,000 who signed the National Trust’s petition, are taken properly into account.