The presumption in favour of sustainable development and transitional provisions The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into force on 27 March 2012, affecting both local authority plan making and decision taking
The transitional arrangements for the next 12 months allow development plan policies adopted since 2004 to be given full weight, even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the NPPF.
In other cases, and after 27 March 2013, relevant weight must be given to local policies in accordance with their consistency with the NPPF.
Bearing in mind that to date only half of local planning authorities (LPAs) have adopted a core strategy (and others need to review their draft strategies following the NPPF), this is likely to cause some significant issues for those seeking to resist development based on pre-2004 Development Plan policies.
Whether it is possible to rely on pre-2004 policies - but which were 'saved' post-2004 to plug the policy gap between existing development plans and the introduction of a core strategy - is not entirely clear. Presumably this is not the case, given that these were not subject to the test of 'soundness' required under 2004 planning legislation.
The point is important, because although the development plan is still the starting point for decisions by LPAs, where the development plan is silent, absent or out-of-date, the NPPF provides that there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development (PFSD).
So LPAs have less than a year in which to update their development plans before all allocations and development control policies are framed by the PFSD. Notably, housing policy is already caught by the PFSD, in that failure to demonstrate a five-year land supply for housing automatically triggers that presumption in favour.
If the development plan is absent, out-of-date, or silent, LPAs will now find many development proposals more difficult to resist, given that the NPPF is a material consideration and the PFSD will apply, unless the adverse impacts of granting permission would 'significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits'.
Interestingly, this now places the bar much higher for LPAs than just demonstrating 'material' harm. This will require a change in the mindset of planning officers to ensure that they apply the correct test, based on the assembly of necessary evidence, so as to avoid legal challenge.
As it is something of a one-stop shop, the NPPF also represents a succinct approach to National Planning Policy, but still brings with it gaps in understanding that need be filled.
Although a government helpline has been set up to advise LPAs on the NPPF, its remit is not to provide policy advice. Indeed, as the chief planner has himself clarified, the advice line is not in place to help LPAs interpret the meaning of the policies contained in the NPPF. Inevitably that could lead to more decisions by appeal being based on different interpretations of key policies.
Ultimately, the clear message to LPAs is that they should have up-to-date development plans in place as soon as possible if they wish to retain maximum control over development proposals in their area.
In the meantime, developers will now be looking to push through proposals where they can demonstrate NPPF compliance, even if this is out of step with an existing but outdated development plan.