“Will the National Planning Policy Framework end Localism or enhance it?”

Vail Williams LLP, leading real estate advisers, have welcomed the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) today, but highlight the possibility of a period of confusion and chaos as the measures come into effect.
The measures in the NPPF have been adopted from today and replace over 1,000 pages of Planning Policy Statements and Planning Policy Guidance notes with 59 pages. Much detail has been lost and the emphasis is now on Councils to incorporate the necessary detail in Local Plans. The document is largely pro-development and requires all Councils to prepare their Local Plan in accordance with the guidance set out in the NPPF, setting out their strategic priorities for their areas.
Key measures in the NPPF include:-
1. Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development
Under the previous planning system there was a ‘presumption in favour of development’ which has been carried forward through the NPPF, with further emphasis on ‘sustainability’.  The definition put forward by the document is ‘ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations’ and ‘making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations’.
This presumption should be inherent in both plan-making and decision-taking and as such, the NPPF addresses these elements in two clear, appropriately named sections.
2. Local Plans and Transitional Arrangements
The NPPF states that Local Plans should be produced by each Local Authority for its area, consistent with the NPPF. Any additional development plan documents should only be used where clearly justified.
David Ramsay, Associate at Vail Williams’ Planning Department commented: “This represents a significant shift back to the old system of Local Plans that were a symbol of the previous Conservative Government. These changes come into effect at a time where about half of Councils have not yet fully embraced the Local Development Frameworks presented by the Labour Government and represents yet another change of system for practitioners and developers alike to familiarise themselves with. The system should, however, simplify the process to the layman and the change in this sense is welcomed.”
The NPPF is adopted with immediate effect, and will need to be considered in the determination of any new applications submitted, or that are currently being considered by Councils.
The Government has stated that relevant policies adopted since 2004 will remain with full weight for a period of twelve months.  During this time Councils will need to revise existing plans or put in place new Local Plans, in accordance with the NPPF.
Jen Sanders of Vail Williams’ Planning Department continued: “There is already much confusion surrounding which development plans Councils should adhere to, since in most cases they are working from partially saved Conservative Local Plans, whilst proposals are still being prepared in the Labour Local Development Frameworks. The next twelve months will result in proposals having been prepared potentially using three different development plans, from three different Governments and Councils and could therefore be open to challenge given the pro-development stance of the NPPF.”
“In our opinion,” continued Jen, “this will still create a hiatus in the planning system with newer policies in the NPPF being seen by applicants to take precedence over out of date Development Plans and therefore promoting development. It will then be down to the Planning Inspectorate and, heaven forbid, the Secretary of State to determine applications. This will clearly hinder, rather than help the development process in the short term and will inevitably lengthen the planning application process, as permission by appeal becomes the more favourable decision making process during this chaotic period.”
Vail Williams believes that the consolidation of National Guidance is a daring move and will inevitably result in a period of confusion, chaos and lack of direction whilst landowners, practitioners and Councils alike digest and start to work with the policies.  “The NPPF is riddled with caveats to counter the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” concluded David Ramsay. “It would seem that (for the next twelve months at least) achieving success could well be in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate, and in the worst cases, the Secretary of State.”