LI Policy Committee chair Kate Bailey offers her first impressions of the potential implications of NPPF18
Published in July, the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF18) supersedes the previous framework (NPPF2012). Kate Bailey, Chair of the LI’s Policy Committee, offers her first impressions of what this might mean for landscape practitioners.
Want to join the discussion on NPPF and help shape our policy position? Join our interactive policy workshop at Valuing Landscape Conference 2018 on Friday 7 September.
Except for the most notable changes, such as the introductions of the housing delivery test, it can seem as though not much has changed in this new NPPF.
But as always, the detail is key, and it will take some time until this new framework is fully understood and embedded in practice. The upcoming review of planning guidance will add further clarity.
Language and overview
The LI’s response to the draft revision stressed the need for clear language. We called for the use of well-understood expressions, a better definition of ‘green infrastructure’, and for the avoidance of the term ‘landscaping’ where ‘landscape’ was meant.
More importantly, we argued that the revised NPPF should state the importance of demonstrating regard for landscape character, and the need for this to be addressed proactively in planning. Sometimes we were listened to, sometimes not.
The removal of the ‘core principles’ that have been embedded into the rest of the text, and the general cutting of text, leaves some important things missing. ‘Landscapes and green infrastructure’ have been included in the list of components for which strategic policies are ‘required to make sufficient provision’, as have – after a campaign led by TCPA – the Garden City Principles. Others, such as the reference to landscape character assessment, have been lost.
More broadly, a rewrite of the plan-making chapter has addressed our concerns that the Local Plan was being deprioritised in favour of strategic and neighbourhood plans.
Green Belt and Local Green Spaces
‘It is a shame that the government has missed the opportunity for a more fundamental review of national Green Belt policies. Green Belt land should have a multi-functional role in order to achieve net environmental gain and to support sustainable development.’
Unfortunately, some political priorities never change! The Green Belt policies (section 13) are almost identical to the previous draft, except for the addition of a requirement for a ‘fully evidenced and justified’ approach to green belt reviews.
This change is likely to make green belt release more difficult for local areas. It strengthens the requirement for robust evidential justification for any proposed changes to Green Belt boundaries in local plan reviews, including examining all reasonable options for the provision of housing land.
It is a shame that MHCLG has failed to take the opportunity for a more fundamental review of the effectiveness of national Green Belt policies. Our consultation response referred to the LI’s recent briefing paper, which explains why Green Belt land should have a multi-functional role as part of accessible Green Infrastructure networks, in order to achieve net environmental gain and to support sustainable development. Although the requirement for LPAs to ‘plan positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt’ remains, we know that this does not always happen in practice.
The general advice that planning should make effective use of land in meeting multiple uses is now contained in paragraph 118. 118b states that policies and decisions should ‘recognise that some undeveloped land can perform many functions, such as for wildlife, recreation, flood risk mitigation, cooling/shading, carbon storage or food production’.
Meanwhile, paragraph 99 provides increased policy protection for Local Green Spaces, which is welcome. Rather confusingly, however, it requires that ‘policies for managing development within a Local Green Space should be consistent with those for Green Belts’. Many types of development permissible on Green Belt land (such as agricultural buildings) would be totally inappropriate on a Local Green Space.
Landscape planning and high-quality design
‘We need a robust understanding of landscape as the context and setting of all development. Planning should be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance places, and a landscape-led approach is the best way to achieve this.’
The LI’s consultation response stressed the need for a robust understanding of landscape as the context and setting of all development. We believe that planning should be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives. A landscape-led approach is the best way to achieve this.
We therefore welcome the increased emphasis on design quality in the new NPPF, and the advice in section 12 that supports more proactive approach to design – including the use of design review at an early stage. Paragraph 126 advises that ‘to provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage, plans or supplementary planning documents should use visual tools such as design guides and codes’. This is an improvement from NPPF12’s ambivalent approach.
Paragraph 129 explains: ‘Local planning authorities should ensure that they have access to, and make appropriate use of, tools and processes for assessing and improving the design of development. These include workshops to engage the local community, design advice and review arrangements, and assessment frameworks such as Building for Life.’
The addition of paragraph 130 is particularly positive, in terms of practically achieving high quality schemes: ‘Local planning authorities should also seek to ensure that the quality of approved development is not materially diminished between permission and completion, as a result of changes being made to the permitted scheme (for example through changes to approved details such as the materials used).’
It is a shame that our suggestion that the sub-division / joint venture development of larger housing sites should only be undertaken within the context of an approved masterplan, infrastructure framework and landscape strategy for the whole site – to ensure against unsustainable, piecemeal development – has not been included.
Environmental net gain
‘The overall impact of the 25-year Environment Plan on the new NPPF appears to be fairly piecemeal, with most of the policies remaining unchanged – though the requirement for development to help to improve local environmental conditions is positive.’
In our consultation response, we urged a strong commitment to meeting the aspirations of the 25 Year Environment Plan for policies that promote ‘environmental net gains’. Although there are some positive policies in this area, the overall impact of the 25-year Environment Plan on the new NPPF appears to be fairly piecemeal, with most of the policies in chapter 15 (the natural environment) remaining unchanged.
The requirement for development to help to improve (i.e. provide a net environmental gain to) local environmental conditions such as air and water quality is positive (paragraph 170(e)) and meets some of these ambitions. This includes the unresolved ‘protecting and enhancing valued landscapes’ issue (see below).
The NPPF further advises that ‘environmental net gains’ should be sought when plan-making authorities are:
- identifying suitable locations for large scale housing developments (para 72)
- considering the environmental impacts of traffic and transport infrastructure (paragraph 102)
- encouraging multiple benefits from both urban and rural land (paragraph 118)
- seeking opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments (paragraph 175)
A consultation on a new approach to biodiversity net gain is expected over the summer.
Climate change and the natural environment
‘While the importance of environmental assessment is retained, it is unfortunate that landscape character assessment and reference to the ELC are still missing.’
More broadly, on the natural environment, there are some positive policies.
The importance of environmental assessment is retained, including the primacy of EIAs and SEAs (despite the uncertainty around these because of Brexit). It is unfortunate, however, that landscape character assessment and reference to the European Landscape Convention (which will still apply after Brexit) are still missing from the revised NPPF.
The new protections for ancient trees and woodlands has been retained, and is positive. The reference in the NPPF12 glossary to locally designated sites has been removed, as have specific references to Local Wildlife Sites as an example of such designation. However, the 2018 glossary does refer to the (Defra) Nature Recovery Network as ‘an expanding, increasingly connected, network of wildlife-rich habitats… [that] includes the existing network of protected sites and other wildlife rich habitats…’
The use of green infrastructure and SuDS schemes has been bolstered. Major development is required to ‘incorporate sustainable drainage systems, unless there is clear evidence that this would be inappropriate’ (paragraph 163), and paragraph 165 requires the sustainable drainage systems used for major developments to, ‘where possible, provide multifunctional benefits.’
‘All landscapes have some degree of value. The best-designed developments are those that respond to the character and qualities inherent in the local landscape.’
Finally, in our consultation response, we attempted to clarify the use of the expression ‘valued landscapes’, in paragraph 170(a). We explained that, in line with the approach taken by the European Landscape Convention and Natural England, it is more accurate to say that all landscapes have some degree of value, and that the best-designed developments are those that respond to the character and qualities inherent in the local landscape.
This NPPF policy advises that valued landscapes should be protected ‘in a manner commensurate with their statutory status or identified quality in the development plan’. However, no definition or clarification is provided in the 2018 glossary.
The LI will therefore be considering, at a future planning workshop, whether the guidance is sufficient to enable policy-writers and decision-makers to identify and assess the value of cultural, historic, social or environmental qualities of a landscape. We will kick off this discussion on day 2 of Valuing Landscape Conference 2018, on Friday 7 September – we hope you can join us.