“Speaking at a conference this morning organised by New London Architecture, London’s Centre for the Built Environment, Steve Quartermain gave further details of the remit of the helpline set up to advise planners on the NPPF.
In a letter sent to chief planning officers following the launch of the NPPF, Quartermain said that the helpline – 0303 444 5500 – had been established to “assist with questions planning authorities may have about the implications of the framework for plan-making or decision-taking”.
But Quartermain said today: “The advice is not geared at telling you: ‘This is what the policy means’.” Quartermain said that instead the helpline would give advice about the process councils can follow to test their policies for conformity against the NPPF.
He said: “What it’s geared at is trying to aid local planning authorities who might ring up and say: ‘We’ve got a plan that we’re about to submit to the Planning Inspectorate, what should we do?’”
“We’ll give you advice about the process that you can follow to test what your policies are. We can give you advice on bespoke packages that can be applied to individual circumstances.”
Quartermain said that the government intended to publish a frequently asked questions guide online shortly.
Quartermain’s comments came as questions were raised over the potential ambiguity over parts of the NPPF, including on how far local plans can conflict with the new framework during the 12-month grace period that councils have to bring plans into line with national policy.
There are also questions over how much extra land councils need to plan for on top of the required five-year supply.
According to the NPPF, councils with “a record of persistent underdelivery of housing” should provide an extra 20 per cent buffer. It says that those with a good record can plan for just five per cent.
Quartermain said: “This is not about more houses. It’s about land. It’s about trying to ensure that there’s enough land being brought forward to deliver the ambition of the plan.”
He added: “If you are not building enough houses that your plan has objectively assessed that you need, why wouldn’t you seek to bring more land forward to try to meet that objective?”
Quartermain told the conference that the NPPF was “about a control shift to planning authorities”. He added that the document was “undeniably designed to promote growth”.
Meanwhile, Rosemarie MacQueen, strategic director of built environment at Westminster City Council, said that the NPPF transitional arrangements were “daunting”.
She said: “Where we have problems is with the transitional arrangements set out in the annex. They aren’t what we hoped for.”
MacQueen said that the council would have to make minor revisions to its core strategy, which was adopted last year, “so that we can readopt it within the 12-month grace period and make absolutely sure that there’s going to be no doubt when we are negotiating as to its weight”.
MacQueen concluded her remarks by describing the NPPF as “a bit of a three-legged camel – uneven and lumpy”.
She said that the NPPF is “particularly deficient in a metro-city resonance” and would have been improved by the inclusion of “specific descriptors of what a city does”.