National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code – Law Society response

The proposals

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was seeking views on draft revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The text had been revised to implement policy changes in response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission living with beauty report.

The consultation set out and explained a number of changes to the text of the framework.

The government said that a fuller review of the framework is likely to be required, depending on the implementation of its proposals for wider reform of the planning system.

This consultation also sought views on the draft National Model Design Code, which provides detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design.

Our view

Definition of ‘beautiful’

We would welcome greater clarity and guidance on terms such as ‘beautiful’, as this will:

  • allow for greater transparency in the planning process
  • enable decisions to be more effectively challenged when necessary in the public interest

New and existing development

There should be more recognition in the revisions that not all development will be ‘new’.

There needs to be a scope for understanding the existing and then being able to develop bearing in mind the best of what exists already.

Relationship with other changes

We query the relationship between the revised code and aspirations of the planning white paper, the plan led system and the recent permitted development (PD) changes consultation together with the use classes change.

There appears to be a clash as that which is proposed re PD and change of use could well frustrate 'sustainable development' and how plan making for an area can be carried out.

Balancing current and future needs

The ability of the planning system to respond in a timely way to both current and future needs and to balance those competing needs is important.

This is especially true where there have been historic shortfalls, such as in housing delivery, and in responding to changes such as increased digitisation and a greater uptake in online shopping.

Local authority resourcing

Local authorities will need to be adequately resourced and have the necessary skills given that developing a genuinely shared vision (including consulting on this) and adopting a code is likely to be a major exercise.

It’s also not clear to us how a code once established will (or can) be adapted over time.

Community involvement

A point made in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s report that is not specifically changed in the NPPF is the aspiration to frontload community involvement in plan making, which is key for transparency of process as well as access to justice and redress.

We’re supportive of this but not at the expense of any later involvement in planning decision making, proper scrutiny of decisions and availability of appropriate remedies when decision making goes wrong.

Although the system is ‘plan led’, material considerations are also relevant to decision making and plans can go out of date, meaning that local people who may not have been there when the plan was made could have legitimate concerns about planning decisions.

What this means for solicitors

The changes are mainly relevant to planning and environmental lawyers.

Next steps

This consultation closed on 27 March 2021.

MHCLG is analysing the feedback.

Read the consultation on the GOV.UK website

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