At a recent meeting of the local group promoting sustainable development within a rural district the question was asked as to whether there was a simple template on which to base a neighbourhood development plan seeking to 'contribute to the achievement of sustainable development' (one of the basic conditions that an NDP must satisfy). Whilst many of the following ideas can be found in previous blogs I thought that a simple list might be helpful? It should be remembered that such policies would be far more powerful if actually included in local plans at district or unitary level.
Housing: this could be dealt with by requiring all planning applications to include a Housing Assessment to show that the needs identified in surveys carried out at district or parish level are being met. Some matters can be dealt with in the explanatory text but clear objectives should be set out in the policies themselves. For example, on the assumption that the needs will be predominantly for 1 or 2 bedroom units (my preference is 2 bedrooms) providing attractive downsizing options, opportunities for new households and to generally address current levels of under-occupation, the expected size of dwellings should be a stipulation of policy. This could be complemented with a policy saying that any larger dwellings should be designed to be easily and cheaply subdivided based on the concept of 'lifetime neighbourhoods' rather than 'lifetime homes'. Another complementary policy would support a condition on new permissions removing the rights to extend without planning permission (to maintain affordability, energy efficiency and the balance with household size). A policy could also support conditions on permissions (when both required and granted) to extend existing property requiring maintenance or increase in energy efficiency. The plan should also require Housing Assessments to explain how the development would 'consume its own smoke', an inspectors graphic interpretation of the definition of sustainable development found in the NPPF. in villages where there is a higher propensity for households to move within the settlement they would be justification to phase the building of new houses throughout the plan period.
Given the contribution that both self building and cohousing would make to sustainable development, there should be policies requiring new housing development to provide for these models of development. One method would be to require a proportion of all housing sites to provide for self building and cohousing. Anything from 5 and above could provide 20% self building or self finishing, and any site of 20 houses or more could be required to meet the demand for housing. This demand could be recorded continuously at parish, neighbourhood or district level through the keeping of appropriate registers. Where no demand can be identified there would be a 'cascade' to allow alternative provision.
Transport: to qualify for the presumption in favour of sustainable development it is likely that new housing will be located where there was already a good public transport service. However, it could be a requirement of any permission for development in other locations to contribute to the enhancement of the level of service to a level that would make the housing sustainable. In rural and suburban areas there should also be policies to reduce car ownership and use; car clubs being one of the only known methods (although there is clearly a role for attractive footpath and cycleways). There is very little experience of developer funded car clubs that should be designed to serve existing residential areas in the neighbourhood. Viability is likely to depend on the scale of new housing being proposed, and competing uses of financial contributions being made available. However, without low carbon transport options development is unlikely to benefit from the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
Food and farming: this has been the glaring omission from development plans that must be made good given the contribution that both food and farming make to sustainable development and carbon emissions attributable to this sector. Suitable policies can be found in the previous blog which address the importance of access to both affordable land and affordable housing. Local food growing, processing and distribution has significant implications for local employment which should, incidentally, be encouraged in other sectors. A zone around the built-up area could be identified on the plan where small-scale farming developments would be supported.
Biodiversity: small-scale farming is likely to be more bio diverse than industrial farming or horsiculture that it would displace. The question of biodiversity offsetting is controversial but where loss of habitat is an inescapable consequence of allowing new built development, policy should require a Biodiversity Assessment that would be required to show that there would be no net loss of biodiversity through planting and habitat creation on the site or elsewhere within the plan area. The plan could also include proposals for community woodland and nature reserves that could be funded from developer contributions.
Community energy and water: there might be scope for policies requiring the provision of local energy generation. Scepticism in respect of solar farms could be addressed by at least requiring applicants to survey and respond to every opportunity within the neighbourhood to install PV or thermal panels on all existing buildings. An Energy Assessment could be required to explain the standards of energy efficiency being proposed/achieved by the proposed housing and any reasons why any other on-site energy generation was or was not being proposed. In terms of water, the drainage of the development site should be fully maintained through mitigating measures (e.g. ponds and/or SUDs).
Comments on this blog are welcome, particularly on what I have left out of this note which could and should also apply to district and unitary councils. Neighbourhood development plans that do not include these policies could and should be challenged if not meeting the 'basic condition' of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development or taking proper account of the NPPF that includes the “golden thread" of sustainable development and its 'Bruntland' definition. Other official sources are the carbon budgets (produced by the Committee on Climate Change) in accordance with the Climate Change Act 2008, and the Government's 2011 Carbon Plan. In the case of local plans, the challenge would be on the basis that they should be found to be 'unsound' if sustainable development is not treated in a way that would meet relevant parts of the the NPPF and/or statutory targets.
Finally, a reminder that policies should be clear in what is required of a development in order for decision makers to know whether or not an application accords with the development plan. The balancing of even the most draconian or prescriptive policies Through the balancing of other material considerations (such as viability) is part of the statutory decision-making process.