Stories & News Blogs The Good, The Bad & The Ugly In early 2021 the Government proposed further changes to the planning system which are designed to improve the attractiveness of new buildings but at the same time would also reduce local control over development. CambridgePPF supports the former but has serious concerns about the latter. In this blog you can find out what the government is proposing and the response that we have made to government. We have written to our two local MPs asking them to raise our points with the minister. We are launching a consultation set to run for eight weeks on proposed changes to revisions to National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which include: i) making beauty and placemaking a strategic objective of the current planning system ii) setting an expectation that councils will produce design codes or guides iii) putting an emphasis on approving good design and refusing poor quality design iv) setting an expectation that all new streets are to be lined with trees. We have taken the opportunity to propose revisions which address environmental issues relating to flooding, incorporate wording on heritage listing and amend policy on the use of Article 4 Directions, as well as reference to sustainable development targets as a key objective which relates to net zero targets by 2050. We will be publishing a draft National Model Design Code and supporting guidance notes for design codes. The National Model Design Code is expected to be used by local authorities as a guide for developing their own local design codes and their detailed content. The design codes will set the rules for the design of new development, building on the ten characteristics of well-designed places set out in the National Design Guide. They will be prepared locally and be based on genuine community involvement, so that local residents have a real say in the design of new developments. It is our ambition that every local planning authority will produce its own local design code or guide, reflecting local character and making clear the design standards that new developments will be expected to meet. The proposed changes to the NPPF will mean every council with planning responsibilities can use design codes and guides to engage local people, including neighbourhood planning groups, to have their say on the design of new developments. We are seeking views on the draft National Model Design code, alongside the NPPF changes. CambridgePPF strongly opposes the proposed changes to Article 4 Directions which fly in the face of the Government’s localism objectives. Cambridge PPF welcomes the proposed changes to give local planning authorities greater powers to promote high quality design in new developments and to refuse poor quality design. It also welcomes the objective of engaging local communities early in the development process, but this should not be at the expense of restricting engagement when detailed proposals are submitted later on. Financial cuts in local planning authorities’ budgets over the last ten years have severely hampered authorities’ ability to engage with local communities, and significant new funding will be required if the Government’s ambitions in this area are to be realised. Below you can read our response to the questions posed by government. Proposed change: Improve the design of new development, in response to the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, by: changing the overarching social objective of the planning system to include the fostering of “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”, where previously it required “a well-designed and safe built environment”. requiring all local planning authorities to prepare design guides or codes consistent with the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code which reflect local character and design preferences (paragraph 127). All design guides and codes should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations for the development of their area. introducing a new test that development should be well-designed (paragraph 133), which says that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes”. paragraph 133 also says that: “Conversely, significant weight should be given to: development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents which use visual tools such as design guides and codes; and/or outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability,, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings. introducing a new paragraph 130 requiring that “planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as community orchards), that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible. Applicants and local planning authorities should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places”. Cambridge PPF response: Cambridge PPF welcomes the proposed changes to give local planning authorities greater powers to promote high quality design in new developments and to refuse poor quality design. It also welcomes the objective of engaging local communities early in the development process, but this should not be at the expense of restricting engagement when detailed proposals are submitted later on. Financial cuts in local planning authorities’ budgets over the last ten years have severely hampered authorities’ ability to engage with local communities, and significant new funding will be required if the Government’s ambitions in this area are to be realised. We have some concerns about definitions and terminology in the proposed changes. Words are important in planning policy, and key words need to be defined. We welcome the additional definition of sustainable development found in paragraph 11 of the NPPF but believe that the use of the word ‘beautiful’ in planning terminology will lead to endless debate at appeals. If the Government is unable to provide a definition, then it should be omitted. Similarly, the words Design Code and Design Guide are often used interchangeably, which is confusing. A Design Code specifies what must be done in developing a site, whereas a Design Guide is more advisory. A properly conceived Design Guidance document, whether area-wide or site-specific, will often contain elements of both, but is rarely just a Design Code unless every last detail of design is to be specified. This needs to be made clear in the revised NPPF. We believe that there should be some mediation between paragraph 124, that seeks to optimise the density of new developments, with the ambition of the new paragraphs 127 and 128 that promote greater involvement of local communities in setting the design vision for new development. In our experience it is often the desire of developers to optimise the density of a development that generates most objections from the local community. It is the unenviable role of the local planning authority to mediate between the national objective of optimising densities and the community’s understandable desire to maintain local character and resist developments that may increase local traffic and reduce green spaces. This tension needs to be recognised both in para 124 and in para 127. We suggest that the second sentence of the introductory paragraph of para 124 should read: ‘…and ensure that developments make optimal use of the potential of each site, taking into account local aspirations for the development of the area’. Reflecting the other side of the coin, we suggest that the second sentence of paragraph 127 should read: ‘These provide a local framework for creating ….. distinctive places with a consistent and high-quality standard of design and recognise the national priority to optimise the use of land’. In paragraph 127 the threshold for demonstrating local design ‘preferences’ should be set out more clearly or the term should be omitted. What percentage of a local community should vote in favour of a particular ‘preference’ before it can be adopted? How should that vote be conducted? As with ‘beauty’ this introduces an unwelcome subjectivity into planning policy and should be omitted if it cannot be defined. We welcome the paragraph promoting tree-lined streets. Primary roads and most secondary roads should normally be tree-lined, and more minor streets where appropriate. The budgets of Highways Authorities will need to be enhanced to bear the additional maintenance costs, or developers required to pay into a maintenance fund via a S106 Agreement. Proposed change: Spell out that meeting infrastructure provision, environmental and climate change requirements are key to achieving sustainable development, by: adjusting the presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that it requires plan-makers to “align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”. Cambridge PPF response: We strongly support this change, which strengthens and clarifies the definition of sustainable development and stresses the importance of aligning growth with infrastructure and mitigating climate change. We believe that this change will have particular relevance for the future growth plans for the Greater Cambridge area. Proposed change: Clarify aspects of policy concerning planning and flood risk, by: among other changes, spelling out that plans should manage any residual flood risk by using opportunities provided by new development and improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques). Cambridge PPF response: We strongly support this change. Flood risk is a major issue for the Cambridge area, and new developments should ensure that the risk is reduced by incorporating natural flood management techniques. The measures used by Cambridge University at their Eddington development are a good example of how this can be done. Proposed change: Put new limits on the use of article 4 directions to restrict development by: limiting the use of article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights related to conversions to housing, so that: where they relate to change of use to residential, they are limited to situations “where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts” (or, alternatively “where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance”), and so they are “in all cases” applied “to the smallest geographical area possible”. Cambridge PPF response: We strongly object to these changes and the paragraph should remain as it is. Local communities, through their local planning authorities, are best placed to make judgements about the circumstances in which Article 4 Directions should be introduced, including changes to residential use. These proposed changes suggest that local amenity and the well-being of the area should be ignored where changes to residential use are permitted. This is an unwelcome infringement of local democracy and flies in the face of the Government’s localism agenda. Proposed change: Spell out that ten per cent of all major housing schemes should comprise affordable home ownership properties by: amending paragraph 65 to spell out that “where major development involving the provision of housing is proposed, planning policies and decisions should expect at least ten per cent of the “total number” of homes to be available for affordable home ownership. This, an accompanying government document says, is “to address confusion as to whether the ten per cent requirement applies to all units or the affordable housing contribution”. Cambridge PPF response: We object to this change, and do not support the current paragraph 65. The type of affordable housing to be sought by local planning authorities should be decided at a local level based on local needs. Proposed change: Require planning authorities to factor in new considerations when assessing proposals to remove statues, by: introducing a new paragraph 197, that says “in considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque or memorial (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of retaining these heritage assets and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal”. Cambridge PPF response: We consider this new paragraph to be unnecessary. Proposed change: Introduce a new transport test for new settlements and urban extensions, by: introducing (paragraph 73) a new proviso for new settlements and urban extensions that they should include “a genuine choice of transport modes”. Cambridge PPF response: We support this change which emphasises the importance of providing a range of transport options for the future residents of the new neighbourhoods being planned in the Greater Cambridge area. We also support the wording in para 73(c) which emphasises the importance of using masterplans and design codes in new major developments, which has been common practice in the recent developments around Cambridge. Proposed change: Tighten the rules governing when isolated homes in the countryside can be acceptable, by: amending the circumstances in which isolated homes in the countryside can be acceptable, which previously included instances in which a design was “truly outstanding or innovative” to remove the word “innovative”. Cambridge PPF response: We support this change. The inclusion of ‘innovative’ design as a separate reason for allowing an isolated house in the countryside is confusing. The key test should be ‘truly outstanding design’ on its own, in that ‘innovation’ can be considered as an aspect of outstanding design. The public consultation runs until 27 March 2021, click here for details.