The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear that while decision takers may give weight to emerging planning policies, the amount of such weight will depend upon the stage of preparation of the emerging plan.
The more advanced the preparation, the greater the weight that may be given.
Importantly, that weight is tempered by any unresolved objections to relevant policies and the degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the plan to NPPF policies.
While the NPPF is devoid of any further specific detail on the emerging policy issue, paragraphs 17-19 of the Planning System: General Principles document (originally published alongside PPS1) states that, subject to specific exceptions, refusal of planning permission on the grounds that an application is premature to the outcome of emerging plan policies will not usually be justified.
The General Principles document remains extant advice in this regard and goes on to state that where a development plan is under preparation or review it may be justifiable, in some circumstances, to refuse planning permission on the grounds of prematurity.
However, our review of recent Appeal/Planning Committee decisions reveals that in many cases local planning authorities (LPAs) are interpreting the General Principles document in isolation and without adequate, or any, regard to the clear policy objectives for growth set out in the NPPF.
Specifically, once relevant NPPF policies are engaged, a failure to demonstrate an (objectively assessed) five year deliverable supply of housing sites is a matter to which 'substantial weight' must be accorded. (See Secretary of State's Decision Letter of 14 May 2013 relating to Jelson Homes.)
'Deliverable' in this context means sites should be 'available now, offer a suitable location for development now' (see footnote 11 to paragraph 47 of the NPPF).
As such, decisions to refuse permission for housing development continue to be made on unjustifiable prematurity grounds based on inadequate and untested assessments of housing land supply.
At best this demonstrates a misunderstanding or misapplication of the NPPF and General Principles document and at worst the placing of an unnecessary gloss on the interpretation of those documents. This is, presumably, to secure further time for the LPA to advance its emerging policies, pending appeal.
Such decisions continue to frustrate developers and work against the Government's clear policy objectives in paragraph 14 of the NPPF, which require that planning permission should be granted where local plans are '.absent, silent or .out of date.', unless any adverse impacts of doing so would 'significantly and demonstrably' outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in the NPPF.
In the light of the above, the announcement that Nick Boles is to revisit PPS1 guidance on emerging policies and prematurity issues is to be welcomed. Specifically, it is to be hoped that any new draft guidance that does emerge grasps this particular nettle and introduces clear and unambiguous sanctions - whether as to costs or otherwise - in the event that an LPA is deemed to have acted improperly or unreasonably in refusing consent for a 'deliverable' site.
Whether this new guidance will ultimately form part of DCLG's recently launched online 'streamlined planning guide' is yet to be seen. We will continue to monitor developments in what is likely to be an important few months for residential developers.