Saturday, 30 June 2012
The presumption in favour of sustainable development
I have noted over the past few months that some people seem to have been getting over-excited by the National Planning Policy Framework. They seem to think (no doubt prompted by the tendentious claims of ministers) that the NPPF has brought about a revolution in town and country planning. Nothing could be further from the truth; the changes that the NPPF has introduced are minor, and their impact is likely to be limited. The previous body of ministerial policy advice that the NPPF has replaced was lengthier and more detailed, but largely similar in its overall thrust and direction.
A particular focus of attention among those who hoped or wished that the NPPF heralded a fundamental change of approach was the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ which it introduced. However, it seems that these hopes may prove to have been illusory. A recent planning appeal decision shed an interesting light on the topic. This was an appeal by Galliards Developments against the refusal of planning permission for 135 dwellings at Hunting Butts Farm, near Cheltenham. The decision seems to have occasioned a certain amount of excitement on both sides of the argument, but in practice it simply illustrates the practical limits to the application of the much-vaunted presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development.
The appeal site is in the Green Belt, although the Inspector acknowledged that some land will probably have to be released from the Green Belt in order to meet Cheltenham’s needs for housing and economic development. Notwithstanding this, he decided that the location of the appeal site in the Green Belt negatives the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF. The Inspector referred to paragraph 14 of the NPPF, which provides that where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, permission should be granted unless “specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted”. A footnote makes it clear that this applies, for example, to those policies relating to (among other things) land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or a National Park as well as to designated heritage assets.
Unsurprisingly, the Inspector therefore decided that because of its location in the Green Belt, "the site is subject to a specific framework policy indicating that development should be restricted". He continued: "In these circumstances, paragraph 14 is clear that, even if relevant development plan policies are out of date, the presumption to grant permission does not apply."
If anyone thinks that this is an interpretation of the NPPF which could not have been foreseen, or which somehow negatives the intentions of ministers in promulgating the NPPF, they clearly have not read the document properly. Paragraph 14 and footnote (9) could hardly make the position clearer.
© MARTIN H GOODALL