NPPF: A field day for the planning lawyers

I promised in my last post that I would return to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).There are plenty of places where you can read about what the proposals mean, and the views of lobby groups, commentators, politicians and so on. Andrew Lainton’s blog is the best one both for comment and collation, that I’ve found by a long chalk.

It seems to me that the NPPF is about relaxing the constraints  that the planning system places on development, including housing development. And this can mean a number of things – increased in-fill in existing villages and towns and new extensions to towns.  It could also mean a new round of threats to public spaces including playing fields.

The current town green law is also going to be replaced by a new law allowing communities to apply to register their Local Green Space though strangely this new right will “not be appropriate for most green areas or open space“!  The thing that is vexing the anarchists and trotskyists at NT and CPRE is that the NPPF could drive significant “greenfield” development beyond the boundaries of existing cities, towns and villages.

But not in the greenbelt. The main threat to greenbelt appears to be for small villages which are currently protected from in-fill by greenbelt designation, not the open countryside in the greenbelt.

Meanwhile, the Government is busy compiling a list of all publicly owned buildings and spaces, from former airbases to tiny fields owned by Parish Councils.

New powers such as “community right to reclaim land” and “community right to build” coming from the Localism Bill will place new threats on these areas. As a result of these changes, there will be a lot of pressure on local authorities to sell off land for development and the Government has already signalled its intention to build many homes of former publicly owned land.

What about the various forms of protection already afforded the environment? European sites are probably as safe as they were before, as they are protected by European Directives. SSSIs, National Parks and AONBs are also unlikely to be under greater pressure than they already are, at least not directly.

A great deal of  wildlife occurs outside these nationally protected sites. According to the National Ecosystem Assessment , around a third of our most important grasslands for wildlife occur outside SSSIs – that increases to nearly half for some grasslands like lowland meadows or purple moor-grass/rush pasture. Most of this resource lies within Local Sites.

As I have blogged about previously, these have practically no protection from intensive agriculture, but the now-defunct Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 9 did provide some protection from development. It stated:

‘Sites of regional and local biodiversity and geological interest, which include Regionally Important Geological Sites, Local Nature Reserves and Local Sites, have a fundamental role to play in meeting overall national biodiversity targets; contributing to the quality of life and the well-being of the community; and in supporting research and education.  Criteria-based policies should be established in local development documents against which proposals for any development on, or affecting, such sites will be judged. These policies should be distinguished from those applied to nationally important sites.’

ok it’s not great, but it did require policies to be prepared. Elsewhere in  PPS 9 “priority habitats” were given extra weight:

‘Through policies in plans, local authorities should also conserve other important natural habitat types that have been identified in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 Section 74 list, as being of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England and identify opportunities to enhance and add to them.’

What does the NPPF say?

168. Planning policies should:

• take account of the need to plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries

• identify and map components of the local ecological networks, including: international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity, and areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation

• promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets13; and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan; and

• aim to prevent harm to geological conservation interests.

169. When determining planning applications in accordance with the Local Plan and the presumption in favour of sustainable development, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity by applying the following principles:
• if significant harm resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused

• development proposals where the primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be permitted

• opportunities to incorporate biodiversity in and around developments should be encouraged

• planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss

• the following wildlife sites should be given the same protection as European sites:

––potential Special Protection Areas and possible Special Areas of Conservation
––listed or proposed Ramsar sites14; and
––sites identified, or required, as compensatory measures for adverse effects on European sites, potential Special Protection Areas, possible Special Areas of Conservation, and listed or proposed Ramsar sites

So the NPPF introduces a number of new ideas; what is significant harm? what is adequate mitigation? what is the definition of irreplaceable habitat? How would one go about a cost-benefit analysis of development vs environmental protection;  and how would local authorities go about  considering these costs and benefits within the overall context of “the presumption in favour of sustainable development”. It looks like it will be a field day for the planning lawyers.

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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