The Government’s flagship National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is not doing enough to protect communities from unsustainable and unwanted development, MPs have warned.
The Commons Communities & Local Government Committee said “loopholes” in the framework allow developers to secure speculative applications for substantial housing schemes on the edges of towns and villages.
This is a particular problem in areas where a Local Plan of five-year supply of housing land is not in place, the report noted. In these cases, developers are taking advantage of the lack of a defined land supply to seek planning permission for areas that communities do not consider suitable for house building.
Currently 41 per cent of councils do not have an adopted Local Plan, a figure committee chair Clive Betts described as “simply not good enough”. The committee is calling on the Government to make it a statutory requirement for a council to get a Local Plan adopted within three years of the legislation being enacted.
The report also calls for action on a loophole that allows developers to challenge the inclusion of sites within five-year supplies on the grounds on viability. Evidence given to the committee suggests some are claiming sites are unviable in order to secure planning permission on other, more lucrative, sites against the wishes of the local council and residents.
The committee said that communities should be given greater protection by requiring all sites with planning permission to be counted towards the five-year supply.
Furthermore, MPs called for clearer guidance on how councils should assess housing need and more encouragement for local authorities to review their green belts as part of the planning process.
While the committee agrees more homes should be built on brownfield sites, it is “not convinced” Chancellor George Osborne’s policy of local development orders will be enough to stimulate activity. Instead, it calls on DCLG to establish a remediation fund for brownfield site as the biggest barrier to development at present is finding the resources to make land suitable for development.
Finally, the committee calls for changes to the NPPF to give town centres greater protection, including the scrapping of permitted development rights that allow shops and offices to be converted into homes without planning permission. MPs said the policy may be “inadvertently undermining councils’ ability to plan successfully for the future of their town centres”.
“The internet has revolutionised the way we shop and yet too often the way we plan for our town centres seems preserved in aspic. Planning needs to develop greater flexibility to adapt to changing trends and be sharp enough to offer our town centres greater protection,” said Betts.
“The Government should scale back ‘permitted development’, which allows shops and banks to become homes without planning permission. It is too random and is hollowing out the commercial heart of our town centres. Councils have to be able to plan strategically for the future of their communities.”
Responding to the report, a Local Government Association spokesman said: “The committee is right to recognise that permitted development rights are not working and we urge Government to listen to the committee’s call to end them.
“It is absolutely vital that planning decisions are made in line with the wishes of local communities.”
But planning minister Brandon Lewis said “slow coach” councils could “send speculative developers packing” by simply adopting a Local Plan.
He added the NPPF has brought planning permission for 240,000 homes in the last year, while delivering “strong protections” for open countryside and giving power to local people through the scrapping of top-down regional strategies.