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Tue March 02 2021

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MPs launch inquiry into planning framework

4 Apr 14 MPs have launched an inquiry into the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) after research identified poor practice and ‘horrendous’ behaviour in some local authorities.

The Communities & Local Government Committee launched the inquiry following research findings, that some local planning authorities may be meeting the Government’s planning performance targets despite being ineffective and displaying poor practice.

The research also suggests that, although the NPPF has been broadly welcomed, a focus on good practice in local planning authorities is required if its potential is to be realised.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the committee, said: “The research suggests that government planning performance targets may be driving perverse behaviour. This is especially worrying as the research also finds that a focus on good practice in local planning authorities is required if the NPPF is to be fully effective.

“A number of local authorities are exemplary according to the performance data but described as ‘horrendous’ by those with first-hand experience of working with them. Some are even rejecting planning applications and asking developers to resubmit the same application for no reason other than to meet the target time for a decision. It is extremely concerning that efficient authorities, which focus on customer service and enabling good development, could be placed in special measures because they miss arbitrary and unsatisfactory targets. On the other hand, poor authorities that game the system are being applauded for meeting those same targets.”

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Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We are glad to see that the committee is undertaking a full analysis of the NPPF, and that it is seeking to understand fully where problems are arising. All too often policy makers’ knee-jerk reaction to failing policy is to make big changes, so this considered and detailed approach is to be applauded.”

The research was conducted by the Centre for Housing & Planning Research at Cambridge University. It was commissioned by the Committee in December 2013 in order to identify pinch points in the planning system affecting housing and to find out why the effectiveness of the planning system varies so much between otherwise similar local authorities. It focussed on analysing the published data and interviews with planners and with large and small housebuilders.

The main findings included:

  • Large house builders generally think the NPPF has been a positive change. They are, however, opposed to further changes in policy, calling instead for a focus on good practice.
  • An adopted local plan and a five year land supply is essential for effective planning. 
  • There is a whole host of factors that can contribute to delays. This includes consultation with stakeholders, the attitude of some councillors, and a lack of resources and skills. Environmental matters in particular can be a considerable source of delay.
  • Planning performance targets do not tell the whole story and can be misleading.
  • Some local planning authorities engage in poor practice in order to meet planning targets. Some LPAs refuse planning applications and request that developers resubmit the same application solely to meet the target time for a decision.

The inquiry will scrutinise the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework in its first two years. It will look at the impact of the NPPF on three key areas: planning for housing; town centres; and planning for energy infrastructure, excluding that covered by National Policy Statements.Evidence should be submitted by Thursday 8 May via the inquiry's evidence portal (link opens in new tab).

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