Guest blog by: Chris Bowden, Director of Navigus Planning
So, it is official…the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2) states in black and white that as long as your neighbourhood plan (NP) is no more than 2 years old and has policies and allocations to meet your housing requirements, then your local planning authority only need demonstrate a 3-year supply of housing to fend off poor quality speculative planning applications (rather than the usual 5-year supply). Consider the carrot of undertaking site allocations as part of your NP well and truly dangled… Nevertheless, it is all too easy for groups to focus simply on allocating sites as a way of fending off the unwanted rather than thinking positively about what they can secure for their communities through the site allocation process. The truth is that new development is the main show in town if you want to pay for community infrastructure; for example, new play areas, sports pitches and community centres. But that doesn’t mean that a developer offering to provide facilities in exchange for an allocation should be able to call the shots. Far from it. The fact is that communities have traditionally met the planning system when there is an application they may wish to oppose. Whether through placard-wielding protest or well-crafted speeches to planning committees it is 11th hour stuff. The ability to influence is significantly restricted as most of the matters at hand have been dealt with. By contrast, NP is part of the meat and drink of what planning is really all about, namely plan making. It is the opportunity to shape what happens early on. Under the NPPF regime, sites promoted for housing development have to present some pretty fundamental showstoppers to not be considered sustainable. This often leaves NP groups with a list of ‘sustainable’ sites adding up to a dwelling number far in excess of that which they need to find. For many, the fear is that they are then obliged to allocate them all and incur the wrath of their communities. But this is simply not the case and highlights the importance of being clear about the objectives of the NP for that community. Clear objectives lead to well-evidenced requirements. For example, one objective of a NP may be to provide greater choice in the facilities that serve the needs of families. The evidence from the community, coupled with the local planning authorities’ technical evidence (in its community facilities or play audit), identifies a shortage in the provision of play facilities for older children in the south of a town. Therefore it is reasonable to require a site allocation in this area to provide an appropriate play facility as part of an allocation for housing development; and one that is well connected to the rest of the community. So in the world of NP the site best able to do so will secure the allocation at the expense of the others. Developers may be quick to offer ‘benefits’ but NP groups should remember that this is their game and their evidenced needs can justify the contributions. If the developer will not follow the rules of the game then they won’t be allowed to play and if groups are firm and clear and use their evidence to justify their objectives, it is amazing how quickly developers will fall into line.