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Planning Inspectors and the National Planning Policy Framework

Volume 580: debated on Thursday 8 May 2014

The Petition of residents of North East Somerset,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that while the principles of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are worthy, its implementation has led to negative consequences that were not anticipated; further that the Petitioners believe that when the Planning Committee of a local authority, which has a draft Core Strategy, refuses a planning application on strategic grounds, the application is often allowed on appeal by the Planning Inspector on the basis of non-strategic, site-by-site considerations; and further that the Petitioners believe that as a result, unsustainable development in the Somer Valley is being approved on sites often remote from employment and transport infrastructure, in accordance with the priorities and interests of developers rather than the carefully researched and democratically agreed plans of the Local Authority.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take the necessary steps to allow Planning Inspectors at appeal hearings to take into account and give great material weight to the cumulative effect of proposed developments; further that the House requests that the Government allows Planning Inspectors to interpret the sustainability principle in the NPPF on an area rather than merely on a site specific basis and further that the House requests the Government to take the necessary steps to allow Planning Inspectors at appeal hearings to give weight to the strategic proposals of a draft Core Strategy while it is going through the lengthy approval process.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Official Report, 31 March 2014; Vol. 578, c. 696.]

[P001340]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware of the development proposals in North East Somerset. The petition raises a number of points on which the following comments are offered:

Sustainable development and cumulative impacts: The petition raises the concern that Inspectors should consider the cumulative impact of developments in applying the principles of sustainable development.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development included in the National Planning Policy Framework does not mean development at any cost. The presumption is clear that applications should not be approved if the adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits; or if specific policies in the Framework indicate that development should be restricted. This ensures that important safeguards are respected. The National Planning Policy Framework places great importance on the provision of adequate transport infrastructure and indicates that refusal on transport grounds may be acceptable where the residual cumulative impacts of development are severe. Our new Planning Guidance also places clear emphasis on ensuring that adequate infrastructure is in place.

It is also worth noting that some two-thirds of appeals are refused, so the decision of the local authority is upheld in the majority of cases. Furthermore, the number of planning appeals received and allowed has fallen in the first year of the National Planning Policy Framework, refuting the suggestion of “planning by appeal”. It is not the case that appeals favour the concerns and interests of developers over and above any plans of the Local Authority, be they emerging or fully adopted.

Weight to be given to emerging plans: Where there is an emerging Local Plan, such as is the case in Bath and North East Somerset at the moment, the absence of an up-to-date plan does not mean a vacuum for making decisions. Existing and emerging plan policies can be taken into account as a material consideration when making planning decisions. The weight which the decision maker gives to emerging plans will depend on the stage the plan has reached and the level of consultation which has been undertaken.

The Planning Guidance, published on 6 March, is clear that planning permission may be refused on the grounds of prematurity where both a) the development proposed is so substantial, or its cumulative effect would be so significant, that to grant permission would undermine the plan-making process and b) the emerging plan is at an advanced stage, usually submitted for examination, but is not yet formally part of the development plan for the area. This means that an advanced plan may have weight and additionally, that the cumulative effect of development of proposals may be considered in this context. The full guidance is available at: http:// planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/

Finally, even in the absence of an up-to-date plan, our policy promotes local-level decision making. The 2011 Localism Act abolished the regional planning framework, preventing any new regional strategies being created, and strengthened the role of Local Plans. The Government have encouraged local councils to get up-to-date Local Plans in place as this is the most effective way to manage development such that local communities get the right development, in the right place, at the right time, and reflecting the principles of sustainable development.

All residents of North East Somerset, have opportunities to express views and influence decisions on proposals for future developments. Upon the submission of any planning application for development the council must advertise the application by site notice and on their web-site. At such a time local residents may object to the proposal, and the council must take these views into account in reaching a decision.