• 27 March 2013:  Black Wednesday for the countryside?

    23rd February 2013 | News | Claire
  • And it won’t just affect East Devon.  It is thought that 27 March 2013 could trigger a developer’s paradise in around one third of council areas in England – see article from Planning Resource – http://www.planningresource.co.uk/news/1163956/Survey-reveals-NPPF-transition-fears/

    Up until now I have been reluctant to use the term “planning free-for-all” in relation to the five year land supply shortfall and its implications for East Devon, but 27 March will prompt me to reconsider my position.

    The five year housing land supply problem relates to housing alone and EDDC’s adopted Local Plan was described as carrying “little weight” by a planning inspector ruling on the Butts Road appeal in inquiry at Ottery St Mary last December.

    While “little weight” doesn’t sound very positive – and frankly it isn’t – it is a darn sight more promising than EDDC’s adopted Local Plan being deemed “out-of-date”, which according to our old adversary, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), it will be as of 27 March.

    The NPPF was published on 27 March 2012 and the government gave councils one year to get their Local Plans up-to-date and compliant with its pro-growth policies.

    EDDC’s adopted Local Plan became out-of-date in December 2011 and while its policies are saved, the 27 March deadline means that EDDC may not be able to give it ANY weight at all, and is likely to be forced to use the NPPF instead, with its presumption in favour of (sustainable) development.

    I have put the word “sustainable” in brackets because I have not seen any evidence whatsoever in the document that development must meet any sustainability criteria.

    The probability is, that not only would EDDC find it hard to refuse major housing schemes outside built-up area boundaries, as is currently the case, but after 27 March, EDDC would find it hard to refuse ANY development outside built-up area boundaries.

    Paragraph 14 of the NPPF states:  “For decision-taking, this means where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out-of-date, granting permission … unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole, or specific policies in this framework indicate that development should be restricted.”

    Please don’t get too hopeful about the caveats.  The bar relating to adverse impacts is set high.  And of course the vast majority of schemes “assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole” will be seen in the context of aiding economic growth only, therefore, “beneficial!”

    It is thought that the only places now really safe from development are those protected by European Law – the Habitats Regulations.  In East Devon, this includes the pebblebed heaths and part of the Axe corridor.

    Unfortunately, the NPPF PROBABLY (and I say probably in capitals because the document is so ambiguous that I expect it would take a team of barristers a week at an appeal inquiry to argue it out, before we get an answer), doesn’t carry any protection for the undesignated countryside.

    Yes ok, the core planning principles in paragraph 17 reveals that planning authorities must “recognise the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside …” but look at the policy section under chapter 11 – conserving and enhancing the natural environment – there is no mention of the undesignated (ordinary) countryside in specific NPPF policy. 

    The NPPF professes SOME protection for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and Greenbelts (greenbelts surround some of the UK’s major cities).

    Contrast this with the old national planning statements, which the government scrapped with the publication of the NPPF.  Policies held strict protections against development in the open undesignated countryside, that had been in place for around 50 years. 

    This is why development is clustered around towns and villages, unlike in the United States, which seems to have houses and commercial buildings littering the countryside randomly.

    But before those of you living in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (two thirds of East Devon is AONB) start feeling safe, don’t get too comfy.  Planning decisions in other parts of the country, such as in the Cotswolds AONB, covered on this blog earlier this week, have given a clear indication of how much protection afforded to AONBs, and it is getting weaker.

    Certainly, AONBs and greenbelts, as well as National Parks – previously highly protected, are now at risk.  And even more so after 27 March for those councils who either cannot demonstrate a five year housing land supply, or who will not have an up-to-date Local Plan.

    In East Devon we are in an unhappy group of councils (it is unclear how many councils nationally fall into this category) that are afflicted with BOTH problems. 

    Unfortunately, the sides of the trap are steep and slippery.

    The government’s obsession with de-regulating the planning system will not aid economic growth, it will simply create urban sprawl and infrastructure problems that we will be trying to resolve for decades to come. 

    There are around 750,000 planning permissions being landbanked by developers.  Not being built because developers are not confident of being able to sell the houses.  Planning authorities have always given permission for schemes that meet their Local Plan policies.

    Wrecking the planning system, and consequently creating environmental destruction, is unintelligent, unsophisticated and irresponsible. 

    In 2011 the government appointed a team of developers to write the NPPF. 

    Millions of pounds in donations from major developers to the Conservative Party followed – see here – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/hands-off-our-land/8754027/Conservatives-given-millions-by-property-developers.html

    The 27 March 2013 will see the arrival of the development bonanza.

    But for the people and the countryside, it will be Black Wednesday.