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Does the revised NPPF help deliver a competitive edge to economic growth?

With Brexit discussions continuing to occupy the Government right up until its recess, there can be no doubt that ministers will return from their holidays in a few weeks’ time with the challenge of building a strong, competitive economy. Director in our planning team, Jo Russell considers whether the revised NPPF will help to facilitate the delivery of this.

The significant weight attached to securing economic growth remains (paragraph 80). However, the revised NPPF removes the previous reference (that was in paragraph 19) to ‘planning should operate to encourage and not act as an impediment to sustainable growth.’  From my perspective this was a useful negotiation point when faced with polices or requests for planning obligations that were not appropriately justified or necessary to development, and where the need to deliver investment and jobs necessarily outweighed an often outdated or poorly evidenced policy position.

The revised NPPF does not, in my view, contain the proactive language of the original framework.  The original NPPF was not so diluted, and incentivised businesses, land owners and developers to create jobs, and also to invest in our town centres, with new offices for example. This is unfortunate, given the ‘High Street’ challenges faced by many of our towns and cities. In these locations (and now more than ever) planning needs to be proactive, and at the forefront of encouraging new business and diversity of uses.  NPPF2 makes no reference to investment in business not being over-burdened by the combined requirements of planning policy expectations – as the former paragraph 21 did.  Will this negatively impact on job growth within our towns and cities?

Turley’s Development Viability team has commented on the implications for viability assessment during plan-making and at the application stage arising from the revised NPPF and accompanying guidance (read the article). 

Of major concern to the facilitation of a competitive economy is the dilution of paragraphs 173-174 of the original NPPF.

The original NPPF was much stronger with regards to facilitating a competitive economy, by providing clarity that the needs of development should not be unnecessarily inhibited, and encouraging flexibility in plan policies to ensure this.

The replacements, in paragraph 34 and paragraph 57 of the revised NPPF, do not provide the same robust policy basis to instil confidence in businesses that:

  • allocations will not be subject to a scale of obligation and policy burdens, such that their ability to be developed is threatened;
  • the links between the need for planned infrastructure to have a reasonable prospect of timely delivery, and a requirement for such infrastructure to be justified, are made in plan-making; and
  • the full costs of necessary infrastructure are evidenced and recognised in the plan-making process.

Instead, the onus of the revised NPPF in respect of businesses and planning for infrastructure is for plan policies to address ‘inadequate infrastructure’.

Equally, responsibility is placed on the promoter or developer to ensure their allocation is deliverable when meeting the policy costs set out within the adopted plan, including meeting infrastructure needs.

Perhaps of greatest concern, there is no clear duty on plan-makers within the revised NPPF to instil in plans when or how such infrastructure will be delivered, or comprehensively assess its funding. This poses a significant risk to successfully balancing the requirement to delivering new economic development to generate growth with ensuring appropriate safeguards and policy flexibilities are in place to bring forward necessary facilitating infrastructure.

If you have any questions relating to the revised NPPF, please contact Paul Keywood.

27 July 2018