Friday, 27 May 2011

National Planning Policy Framework

A certain amount of interest has been generated by a suggested draft of the proposed NPPF which has been produced by the Practitioners Advisory Group.

It is important to understand that this draft document does not have official government backing, and that the government will not be producing its own official draft NPPF for consultation until July. Some commentators seem to think that the PAG’s suggestions may carry some weight with the government in the preparation of the actual NPPF draft, but this remains to be seen.

It is for this reason that I have not devoted too much time to looking at the PAG’s proposed draft of the NPPF. At a quick glance it appears to be a commendable attempt to summarise some fundamental principles derived from existing ministerial policy guidance. As a random sample, I looked at the section on Green Belts and found that the main principles which have become well-established appear to be adequately summarised. On the other hand, on this admittedly superficial skim through the document, I did not find any material which addressed the issues currently covered by PPS7, relating to development in the countryside – for example the requirement to demonstrate the operational necessity for an agricultural worker’s dwelling by reference to the viability of an existing agricultural business, and so on.

My main reservation about the proposed NPPF is that in attempting to replace a very large body of detailed ministerial policy advice with a single concise document, there is a real danger that important points which are currently covered by specific advice will be left open to doubt, leading to disputes which may be resolved only by litigation –which is precisely why the current policy advice was published in the first place.

There is some current policy guidance which will have to continue to be covered by ministerial circulars or some other form of published policy advice outside the scope of the NPPF, unless this too is expanded to proportions which are similar to the existing body of policy guidance. It would seem, for example, that we are likely to retain circulars such as 03/2009 on the subject of appeal costs. It would also be sensible to retain Circular 11/95 on the use of conditions, and there are quite a few other circulars which are equally important and need to be retained. There are also some PPGs or PPSs which will need either to be retained or replaced by corresponding circulars, for example PPS23 on planning and pollution control and PPG24 on planning and noise, among a number of others.

This does call into question the need for the replacement of current policy advice by a National Planning Policy Framework. Current guidance, though admittedly voluminous, serves a useful and indeed essential purpose. I fail to see the advantage to be gained by revamping it in abbreviated form, and a very real danger that in attempting to do so the government may in fact cause confusion and uncertainty, leading to results which are precisely the opposite of what they apparently intend.



  1. Good points - 7000 (?) pages might be too much but they were drafted for reasons that won't disappear by replacement through an easy-read summary.

  2. Ive started a detailed analysis of the policy changes in the NPPF on my blog - there are quite a few and they are quite problematic. It will take a week or too to get through it with some rigour.

    Comments are welcome if my legal interpretation is wrong.

  3. In response to Andrew, I am rather hoping that 'Sir Humphrey' will persuade ministers that we simply can't do without the advice on policy and practice contained in some of the existing PPGs (or PPSs) and Circulars, and that some way will have to be found of preserving these, even if the shiny new NPPF itself is as streamlined as ministers have promised.

    It is for that reason that I am holding my fire until I see the government's own draft of the NPPF in due course, notwithstanding that the drfat produced by the PAG was 'sponsored' by the government.