Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Neighbourhood Planning

After a few months of Neighbourhood Planning I have some advice for those engaged in this enterprise.  I have identified four main principles.

1. Sustainability: this is obviously key as it is the Government's own policy in the NP PF that all new development should be sustainable with a strong inference that unsustainable development should be resisted. I would take the view that new development should contribute to whatever is necessary to make a location sustainable as well as being as close to zero carbon as is currently technically feasible before it  should be approved. Any development which is not zero carbon would have to be upgraded between now and 2050 to comply with the   Climate Change Act 2008 and in the meantime being a further liability in terms of carbon emissions. In fact, for residential development, micro generation would also be necessary to compensate for sectors (air transport, agriculture, manufacture and power generation) that are very unlikely to reach 80% reduction targets.  Neighbourhood planners should compile a list of services and facilities that would make a location sustainable (improved bus services, car clubs, community facilities and employment opportunities).  Given the high level of under occupancy in most areas outside town and city centres attractive opportunities to downsize and other small dwellings for  young singles and couples  should comprise the vast majority of new dwellings.

2.  Viability will also need to be properly assessed, probably by  somebody with the recognised credentials being a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. While it is entirely reasonable to expect development to contribute to the necessary elements of sustainability the costs would have to be such that the development will proceed. Developers will be reluctant to reveal all their development costs in the exercise of “open book accounting" but this would seem to be essential if viability assessments to be a transparent process.

3. Compatibility with the relevant local plan is another statutory requirement and the best way of ensuring the appropriate level of conformity with the high-level plan is to engage with the local planning authority and, preferably, benefit from the assistance of their staff. The Government had promised  that up to £30,000  will be made available to fund this assistance and parish councils and neighbourhood forums should take advantage of this by, for instance, asking the LPA to carry out the necessary sustainability appraisal.

4.  There is no guarantee within the Localism Act that time and space will be given to parish councils and neighbourhood forums to prepare their development plans before speculative applications are approved.   However,  if a significant amount of effort is put into  this task and public money invested from the government fund and council taxpayers a legitimate expectation will be created such that  the Courts could decide that it would be unreasonable for developments to be approved that would undermine the neighbourhood development planning process and reduce the work and investment carried out to exercises in futility.

5. The other source of outside assistance that may be required in neighbourhood planning in a way that will not destroy the neighbourhood of the services of a mediator or facilitator so that decisions that affect people within the village or neighbourhood are properly framed  And explained in such a way that the interests of the community are paramount. There should not be any  proposal within a neighbourhood plan where the community benefit would so severely damage  the interests of individuals within the community in any way that would not have been possible under the previous planning regime.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The NPPF and the "presumption"

Welcome to the world of planning under the National Planning Policy Framework 2012.  It's not just me, but the four distinguished guests invited by Clive Anderson to discuss the NPPF on his Unreliable Evidence programme could not see any substantial change to the planning system.  The main 'change' is the removal of substantial volume of quite helpful advice which will now have to be reinvented by planners and lawyers and tested through appeals (and the courts).  I do not hear the lawyers celebrating but this implies a lot more work.  One of the reasons for the lack of celebration is the lack of resources to actually pay to reconstitute the policy framework.

From my point of view as a parish councillor with some planning knowhow, the NPPF presumption in favour of sustainable development is a gift.  But one which needs ramming home in early conversations with planning departments, landowners and developers.  For decades villages have been regarded as both unsustainable and less sustainable locations than towns (and cities) for residential development.  If, as is the case in many villages, residents would like new development to pay for an upgrade in services and facilities, this is their chance.  new residential development should be required to pay for the higher frequency bus services, expansion/alteration of the village school, upgraded village hall and recreational facilities, allotments etc all necessary to reduce the reliance on the car and larger towns.  Car clubs have been wary of rural locations for lack of users but might look again when the average journey length is taken into account.

In so far as new housing in villages is intended to compensate for a declining occupancy rate (only half the bedrooms in some villages (and market towns?) might be occupied), most new dwellings should be  2 bedroomed.  This would encourage downsizing by some of the 5 million households looking for a smaller home in the next 5 years and be suitable for the young family until their two children cannot share.  More 3 and 4 bedroom houses would be a waste of resources when the NPPF is looking for zero carbon housing and building in accordance with CLimate Change Act targets and lead to further under-occupancy.  The 2 bedroom dwellings would be more attractive to downsizers if there were shared facilities; libraries for their books, workshops for their tools, offices for their files, gardens for their plants and a common house for guests.

So the NPPF should be grabbed by village residents who should start immediately on their community or neighbourhood plans to provide a policy framework compatible with the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF.  Landowners will be unhappy with the impact on land values but  this is simply a reflection of the true costs of building sustainably in villages.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Agro-ecology is the unpretty name for the new wave of small rural enterprises that are required to develop and secure local food supplies, diversify employment in rural areas and to restore and improve bio-diversity and soil fertility.  Unfortunately for planners these enterprises require living on the land which often implies an application for anew dwelling (to be considered under Appendix A of PPS7 until this is superseded by the couple of lines in the NPPF that refers to the essential need for the new dwelling.

For the last thirty years these isolated and 'low impact dwellings' have caused problems for planning authorities and the record of local and appeal decisions is extremely lumpy and not helpful to those looking for a pattern and the level of consistency and predictability we deserve.

The urgent need for substantially more of these small-scale rural enterprises can be found in the relevant literature (start with the web site of the Campaign for Real Farming and read anything if not everything written By Prof Tim Lang).  When we have the presumption in favour of sustainable development it might not require the work of a genius to show that organic smallholdings are sustainable in accordance with many of the measures currently understood.  However, there might not be a good case for these to be scattered across the countryside in terms of sustainability or landscape impact.  There seems to be every reason for local planning authorities to take the lead from the 'presumption' and to place enabling policies in their development frameworks so that clustered smallholdings in the urban fringe will normally be permitted.

In fact the growing of food and keeping or livestock are only part of sustainable lifestyles and local development frameworks should recognise and privilege co-housing as the only form of new residential development capable of meeting low carbon targets.  The presumption against unsustainable development will, when translated into local planning policy, deter the use of the urban fringe (and all greenfield sites) for conventional models of housing (and growing).

As soon as the NPPF is published (with the sustainable development presumption) the work will begin to establish the principles of sustainability as far as these are not found in the NPPF.  The standards must be raised by those involved in the low carbon economy and organic food movements, so as to effectively outlaw (as indeed this might be the legal effect of a presumption in National policy) conventional residential schemes.