Lawyers welcome planning policy reform

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The government’s announcement of simplified planning rules has received a warm welcome from lawyers in the sector. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published yesterday, replaces more than 1,000 pages of national policy with around 50 pages of guidance, aimed at ‘allowing people and communities back into planning’.

Richard Keczkes, head of planning and environment at City firm Olswang and chair of the Law Society’s planning and environment committee welcomed the consolidation of national planning policy.

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‘A great deal of material which was either duplicative or unnecessary has now been removed, meaning that the planning process should be more accessible to local people and local solicitors,’ he said. ‘It is pleasing to see that the final version of the NPPF takes in a number of the Society's representations on the initial draft. Efforts have been made to clarify the meaning of "sustainable development", the continuing importance of local plans and the balance to be struck between economic and environmental imperatives.’

However, he warned that the framework ‘undoubtedly advances the government's pro-growth agenda. It contains a number of subtle changes to national policy in addition to the much-debated presumption in favour of sustainable development.

‘Real estate lawyers working in the development sector would be well advised to read it,’ he added.

The government said the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ should be seen as ‘a golden thread’ running through plan-making and decision-taking.

Greg Clark, the planning minister, said the new approach followed ‘a decade of regional spatial strategies, top-down targets and national planning policy guidance that has swelled beyond reason to over 1,000 pages across 44 documents’. Local authorities have 12 months to adjust their existing plans to conform with the new framework.

Head of planning at City firm Hogan Lovells Michael Gallimore said the development sector will broadly welcome the framework. ‘It gives a clear message, through the presumption in favour of sustainable development, that planning applications which accord with the aspirations set out in the framework should be approved unless adverse impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the development.’

He said the NPPF does not contain a single definition of sustainable development, but defines it through its own policies – by definition if development proposals accord with the framework they will be sustainable.

‘Many groups have become too hung up on the definition point,’ he said. ‘If a development is the right scheme, in the right place with the right sustainability credentials and ticks the boxes set out in the framework it should be approved.’

Gallimore added: ‘There is a very real incentive for local authorities without an up-to-date plan to speed up their plan-making process. Policies adopted since 2004 have a 12-month amnesty even where there is conflict with the framework.

‘Policies adopted before that date are overtaken by the presumption in favour of sustainable development and will need to be judged against the NPPF. The government has achieved a sensible balance in terms of transitional arrangements.’

The framework can be downloaded here.

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