Decoding planning jargon

With the government’s final planning reforms expected any day now we thought it might help to rustle up a quick jargon decoder on the planning reforms for you.

  1.  Let’s start with the NPPF itself:

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): This document sets out the government’s requirements for the planning system. It provides a policy framework for local authoritiesto implement in their local plans and helps to guide decisions they make on individual cases. It greatly reduces current guidance from more than 1,000 pages to just over 50.

  1. Next up, here are the architects of the document:

Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG): This central government department sets policy on planning. It’s also responsible for housing and regeneration policy while its self-professed focus is on giving new powers to councils, communities, neighbours and individuals.

  1. In a nutshell, these are the most controversial aspects of the NPPF reforms:

Presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development: Draft planning reforms assume all development is sustainable. There’s the presumption that planning applications should go ahead unless the development would allow harmful impacts of development to ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweigh the benefits, or ‘would compromise the key sustainable development principles’. However, the devil is in the detail – or lack of it.

  • The draft NPPF fails to define what is meant sustainable development or give any clear signposts to determine whether a development is unsustainable.
  • It also leaves out any definition of the vague term ‘significantly and demonstrably’.
  • It places an unacceptable additional burden of evidence on objector to a scheme.
  • It raises the level of harm required to stop an unsustainable development by reducing current protections.
Default ‘yes’: Under the draft NPPF, the default ‘yes’ means proposed developments would get the green light if local plans are a) absent; b) out of date; b) silent or c) indeterminate unless the harm it causes ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweighs the benefits.

And the absence of…

Brownfield first: Brownfield land, in simple terms, refers to previously developed land. Existing planning policy generally requires developers to seek to develop on ‘brownfield first’ before considering green field areas for development. However, this is no longer the case in the NPPF. Removing the ‘brownfield first’ requirement carries the risk that large areas of brownfield land will remain vacant and undeveloped countryside on the edge of towns will be built on instead. We support an explicit ‘brownfield first’ approach but we believe there should be exemptions for brownfield sites of the highest public interest, including for nature and heritage.

  1. What’s the link between the NPPF and the Localism Act?

The NPPF is the Government’s official policy statement on planning. It’s not statutory – i.e. it doesn’t need to be debated and voted on by Parliament. However, the NPPF will be a ‘material consideration’ in planning decisions. It’s being introduced in parallel with the Localism Act. The Localism Act will have a huge impact on the planning system – it will make the legal changes that are needed for the new NPPF to function. These changes include:

    • Abolition of regional planning strategies and targets
    • New powers for Neighbourhood Planning (the power for communities to create specific plans for their local areas)
    • New powers for communities to designate local green spaces
    • New powers for communities to exercise a ‘right to buy’ community assets (such as treasured local buildings or open spaces)
    • Provisions for holding referenda on local issues
  1. Checks and balances – parliament’s trying to temper planning reforms:

DCLG Select Committee: The Communities and Local Government Committee is appointed by Commons to assess the work of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). It has issued a searing critique of the draft NPPF. Select Committees work in both houses of parliament to assess and report on specific areas of government. Each government department has its own Select Committee acting as a check and balance.

Environmental Audit Committee: This parliamentary committee also issued a critical report on the draft NPPF. Its role is to consider how far government policies and programmes contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. This Committee’s remit is particularly wide – it cuts across all areas of government rather than focussing on a single department.

  1. And finally, here’s a quick round-up of conservation jargon

Archaeological interest: According to the NPPF, this is an area of land where there may be a future interest in excavating to determine its importance as a “heritage asset” (see below). Heritage assets with archaeological interest are the key source of evidence about how places have evolved hand-in-hand with the people and cultures that made them.

Birds and Habitats Directives: These are the cornerstones of European nature conservation policy. Together, they are designed to shore up the protection of wild birds (directives 79/409/EEC and 2009/147/EC) and natural habitats (92/43/EEC) across the European Union. These directives encourage member states to establish Special Areas of Conservation – to safeguard a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats – and Special Protection Areas – internationally important areas for rare and vulnerable species of birds.

Designated heritage asset: These are special places that receive either national or international protection such as World Heritage Sites, Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings, Protected Wreck Sites, Registered Parks and Gardens, Registered Battlefields or Conservation Areas. Some local authorities also have their own local list of heritage assets.

You can access the government’s full glossary on the planning reforms here (PDF, 841KB; pages 53-58).

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment below if there are other areas of the draft reforms you’d like to clarify. And you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Kate Joynes-Burgess, Social Media & Communities Manager, National Trust

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2 thoughts on “Decoding planning jargon

  1. There seems to be a whiff of corruption in the air so to dispel this unpleasantness we really should, in each individual planning action which may possibly affect the greenbelt, be made fully aware of details of the buyer, the seller together with all aspects of the financial transaction. Although this policy may be a “fait accompli” it is imperative that any development falling under this category must, despite any demand to the contrary by the EU, be undertaken only by British developers.

  2. I think you also need to keep an eye on Defra’s consultation on sustainable drainage, which closed on 13 March. This would put all surface water drainage decisions into a “new” local government body – “the SuDs approval body”, to be administered by upper tier local authorities in England. Aplicants will have to demonstrate that their drainage meets the SuDS National Standards. The draft National Standards consulted on are very loosely worded, – more exhortations to do good than “standards” that most people would recognise. Happy to discuss further.

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