• Middle England prepares for planning war

    25th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • Reforms that come into force this week have already led to 25,000 extra homes being given planning permission in the past year.

    Since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was first published last March, the number of homes granted approval in England has risen by a quarter on the previous year, figures show.
    Experts warned communities that the number would rise even more once the NPPF comes into force tomorrow.

    Figures obtained by The Telegraph show that since the changes were published, the number of homes being granted planning permission has jumped by a quarter in England on the previous year, but fallen in Scotland and Wales, where the changes do not apply.

    Neil Sinden, the policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said this week’s changes were likely to lead to “an upsurge in planning permissions being granted, an increasing proportion of which are likely to have damaging environmental impact”.

    He added: “The planning system, already creaking before the recent reforms, is set to come under intense pressure once the full force of the NPPF is brought to bear this week.”

    Figures supplied by Glenigan, the industry analyst, show that in the 11 months to the end of February, 124,957 homes were given planning permission in England, up from 100,266 the year before. The number of homes given planning permission in Scotland and Wales, fell by 10 and 3 per cent respectively.

    Allan Wilén, the economics director at Glenigan, said: “The strength of the rise in English approvals does suggest that the new planning regime has enabled more sites to be brought forward for development.”

    Dozens of councils have already been using the NPPF to guide planning decisions, and experts warned that last year’s surge in approved developments would escalate once the reforms become binding on Tuesday.

    House-builders also admitted that the number of developments would escalate. Steve Turner, a spokesman for the Home Builders Federation, said: “Government needs to ensure local authorities are abiding by their responsibilities.”

    Earlier this month, Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, warned that the countryside was in a state of “warfare” because locals were having constantly to fight developments.

    The Telegraph’s Hands Off Our Land campaign last year led to the Government watering down changes in the NPPF, although it still contained a bias in favour of “sustainable development”.
    Under the framework, councils have to publish and adopt local plans which set out where development can take place for the next five years.

    Authorities which do not have the plans in place will be subject to the framework’s “sustainable development” clause and will find it harder to specify where development can take place. Mr Sinden added: “With huge budget cuts and increasingly bullying behaviour by ‘have a go’, speculative developers, CPRE fears local councils and the communities they represent will be largely powerless to resist damaging development in even the most sensitive countryside.”

    Developers are also exploiting a loophole in the framework which will force councils to make more greenfield sites available for building. Builders are using the new rule book to force councils to drop uneconomic scrubland areas from five-year housing plans, and replace them with greenfield sites. Clive Betts, chairman of the Commons communities and local government committee, said: “The danger is that we end up leaving brownfield sites empty where people would welcome development and build on greenfield sites where people would be unhappy about it.”

    The Planning Inspectorate, which adjudicates on contentious applications, is warning privately of a “shock” to the system from the reforms, and is taking on more staff to deal with an expected surge in appeals this summer.

    Nick Boles, the planning minister, said: “The system is working. New rights give communities a bigger say on development than ever before through neighbourhood and local plans.”