26th March 2021
Consultation Response Sent By Email From The Head Of Planning Policy And Economic Development.
National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: Consultation Proposals
Thank you for your invitation to make a representation on the government’s consultation on the ‘National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code’ that is open for consultation between 30 January 2021 and 27 March 2021.
The consultation seeks views on the draft revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that includes the text being revised to implement policy changes in response to the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission report’, amongst other matters. Most of the proposed changes within the NPPF relate to policy on the quality of design of new development and also include updates to the use of Article 4 Directions. The consultation is also seeking views on the draft National Model Design Code, which provides detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design.
This letter refers to questions that have been posed within the consultation document and is the Council’s formal response to the proposed changes to the planning system, starting with the proposed amendments to the NPPF.
Proposed Amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework
Chapter 2: Achieving Sustainable Development
Question 1. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 2?
The Council supports the inclusion of the United Nation’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development and agree that it is a widely recognised statement on this issue that should be included within the planning system.
The Council also supports the changes at paragraph 11 and considers that these changes provide clarity and a greater emphasis on those matters important to Wealden District including aligning growth with infrastructure, improving the environment and mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. The Council has recently published its Wealden Local Plan – Direction of Travel Document under regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 and has similarly sought to emphasise all of these elements and will continue to as we progress to the Draft Plan stage in Spring next year. On the 24 July 2019, the Council also declared a climate change emergency and is committed to work towards achieving net-zero carbon emission by 2050 for both the Council’s own operations and the wider district.
Chapter 3: Plan-Making
Question 2. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 3?
The Council supports the revisions to paragraph 20 of the revised NPPF that emphasises the importance of design quality and the need for this to be addressed through strategic policies.
The addition to paragraph 22 of the revised NPPF requires a vision looking further ahead (at least 30 years) for large-scale development such as new settlements to take into account the likely timescale for delivery. Whilst we support the ability to provide a longer-term vision for large-scale development, we note that there is no definition in terms of scale as to what would constitute larger-scale development or a new settlement. The delivery of large-scale development is dependent on a number of factors such as location, infrastructure requirements, constraints, demand for housing to name a few and these factors are likely to differ for each large-scale development / new settlement. We therefore wonder whether it would be more useful for this to be flexible with a lower number of years to be provided in the first instance, so that local authorities can consider a vision alongside the anticipated growth rate for large-scale development.
Chapter 4: Decision-Making
Question 3. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 4? Which option relating to change of use to residential do you prefer and why?
The impact of the proposed amendments to paragraph 53 of the revised NPPF will be to reduce the local authority’s ability to counteract the implementation of national permitted development rights, where potentially justified, at a local level to achieve the most beneficial outcomes. The proposed revisions to the NPPF significantly raise the policy bar for the use of Article 4 directions (specifically in relation to changes of use to residential) and in doing so, further limits the powers and levers available to local authorities to positively influence the development and use of land in their areas.
The Council agrees with the government that the use of Article 4 directions must be robustly justified and should not be used extensively to frustrate the implementation of national permitted development rights. For this reason, we would not object to the proposed requirement that the Article 4 directions should apply to the ‘smallest geographical area possible’. However, it is suggested that Article 4 directions are an important planning tool, if used appropriately, to prevent undesirable outcomes in small geographical areas and that the application of ‘one size fits all’ for national permitted development rights may not be successful for every location.
The NPPF consultation seeks views on two possible policy options relating for use of Article 4 directions that restrict permitted development rights for changes of use to residential. The two options presented are to limits the use of Article 4 Directions either to where it is 1) ‘essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts’ or where it is 2) ‘necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance.’
We view the two proposed options as overly restrictive in limiting the Council’s ability to prevent undesirable outcomes. We would favour the retention of the existing policy test or further revisions that strike an appropriate balance between protecting the government’s aims and objectives in bringing forward new permitted development rights, namely to boost housing delivery, whilst allowing local authorities the ability to tweak and refine the implementation in response to local circumstances.
Notwithstanding the points raised above for the two options presented, we would favour the first option as the least worse of the two. It would be very rare in a rural local authority such as Wealden that interests of national significance would be threatened through the implementation of permitted development rights relating to changes of use to residential development. Therefore, the effect of implementing this option would likely mean that the Council would lose its ability to use Article 4 directions in relation to changes of use to residential regardless of how unacceptable the consequences may be for local areas.
The introduction of new permitted development rights allowing changes of use from Use Class E to residential is a radical relaxation in planning controls that could help to deliver much needed homes. However, there is the potential for undesirable impacts in some cases, such as creation of new homes in unsustainable / inappropriate locations, the loss of local services in rural areas or adverse impacts on town centres. This also comes at a time where there is a great need to consider the future role and function of town centres due to economic uncertainty for town centres as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We consider that it will be very important to carefully plan for our town centres to ensure they continue to be attractive places to visit as well as providing the services and facilities that our communities need.
This was recognised within the final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission that forms the basis for much of the proposed changes to the NPPF within this consultation. The report saw a role for Article 4 directions to be used in the ‘core’ of high streets to help prevent a ‘disastrous impact on the beauty and character of local high streets’ that might result from the unregulated conversion of shops to homes.
We request the ability to assess the impact of the new permitted development rights once implemented and to retain the power to limit adverse impacts where these are clearly evidenced, even if these undesirable outcomes fall marginally short of being ‘wholly unacceptable’.
Chapter 5: Delivering a Sufficient Supply of Homes
Question 4. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 5?
We support the amendments set out in chapter 5, which clarify the policy intention with regards to the national requirements for affordable housing provision, neighbourhood plans, transport options, place-making (specifically the role of design codes / masterplans) in larger scale development. We also support the strengthening of design expectations in relation to isolated homes in the countryside under paragraph 80 of the revised NPPF.
Chapter 8: Promoting Healthy and Safe Communities
Question 5. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 8?
The Council supports the proposed amendments to chapter 8 including clarifying expectations to provide for both attractive pedestrian and cycle routes as well as the opportunity to deliver wider benefits for nature and addressing climate change within open space provision.
Chapter 9: Promoting Sustainable Transport
Question 6. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 9?
The Council supports the proposed amendments to chapter 9 that seeks to ensure the delivery of good design for walking and cycling networks and seeks to ensure that the design of streets, parking areas, other transport elements reflects current national guidance.
Chapter 11: Making Effective Use of Land
Question 7. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 11?
The Council supports the amendments that emphasise the role that area-based character assessments, codes and masterplans can play in helping to ensure that land is used efficiently while also creating beautiful and sustainable places. It is anticipated that the government will provide sufficient funding to ensure that Councils have the resources required to successfully deliver these important documents (this is discussed further in our response to question 15).
Chapter 12: Achieving Well-Designed Places
Q8. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 12?
The Council supports the government in seeking to drive up the quality of new development through the changes proposed in chapter 12. Overall, the Council supports the amendments to the chapter.
The proposed update to paragraph 127 sets an expectation that all local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes. In supporting these changes, the Council anticipates that the government will recognise how important it is to properly fund local authorities to deliver these important documents to ensure that we have the capacity (both skills and staff) to help achieve the government’s policy objectives around beauty and good design. Such investment would bring long term dividends in the form of high quality places that can be enjoyed by future generations, as well as short term support for increased growth given that the design of new buildings would reflect local aspirations.
In contrast to the clarity and certainty provided by design guides and codes, the Council is concerned that an overt focus on ‘beauty’ in planning policy will have the opposite effect. The term ‘beauty’ is difficult to define and highly subjective and therefore provides a more difficult framework for assessing future development.
We support the amendment at paragraph 130 which confirms the importance of trees in relation to urban environments as well as mitigating and adapting to climate change. Paragraph 30 sets out that ‘planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined’. We welcome footnote 49 that clarifies that in specific cases, there may be clear, justifiable and compelling reasons why this would be inappropriate. However, although we recognise that suitability will be site dependant, it would be useful to provide further guidance in relation to what these circumstances may be to provide greater certainty to developers.
The Council supports the addition of paragraph 133 relating to the refusal of planning permission for new development that is not well designed, particularly where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance. We consider and hope that this additional paragraph will be helpful to ensure that design is a key factor in planning decisions, including where local planning authorities are unable to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply position. In relation to this, we consider that ‘design policies’ should be listed in footnote 7 (at paragraph 11(d)(i)) of the consultation version of the NPPF to ensure that good design can be supported by the planning system.
Chapter 13: Protecting Green Belt Land
Question 9. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 13?
Wealden District Council does not contain any Green Belt and therefore the proposed change to include ‘buildings’ within the criteria will not impact planning within our administrative boundary.
Chapter 14: Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change, Flooding and Coastal Change
Question 10. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 14?
The Council supports the additions and clarifications to chapter 14 especially with regards to the clear reference to address/consider all sources of flood risk. Wealden District is susceptible to flooding from all sources and this risk will increase with climate change. The Council is committed to meeting the challenge of climate change following the declaration of a climate emergency on 24th July 2019. We are committed to ensure that new development is appropriately flood resistant and resilient and we welcome the greater clarity provided through this consultation. We are working with our partners to assess flood risk in Wealden through the Local Plan process.
Chapter 15: Conserving and Enhancing the Natural Environment
Question 11. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 15?
Within the administrative boundaries of Wealden District, we have both the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the South Downs National Park (SDNP) located to the north and south of our District respectively. These areas cover around 60% of our district. We also have a high housing need figure of 1,225 dwellings per year. We are supportive of measures that seek to conserve and enhance areas of high landscape value, including the setting and limiting the scale and extent of development in these areas. However, we would like to raise that there is potential for there to be a conflict between meeting both our housing need figure and ensuring that any development is sensitively located and designed within the setting of these nationally protected landscapes. This is in considering the far-reaching views from both the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty over an area of landscape that is not nationally designated i.e. the Low Weald. Should it be necessary to develop within the setting of the South Downs or High Weald protected landscapes we would like to raise that sensitively locating development may also reduce the ability to optimise the use of land and meet as much of the identified need for housing as possible as per updated paragraph 124(a).
The Council welcomes the clarification set out at paragraph 176 that the policy tests relating to major development within the National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty applies at the Development Management stage only and not to earlier plan making stages, such as the production of Development Plan Documents.
The Council supports amendments at paragraph 179c that seeks to ensure that biodiversity improvements are an integral part of the design of new development. The Council believes that the planning system can help deliver environmental benefits and we support measures such as the biodiversity net gain principle that ensures that new development also create positive environmental outcomes for our District.
Chapter 16: Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment
Question 12. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 16?
The Council supports the proposed addition of paragraph 197 of the revised NPPF that relates to the removal of historic statutes, plaques or memorials and that local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of retaining these heritage assets, and where appropriate, explaining their historic and social context rather than removing them.
Chapter 17: Facilitating the Sustainable Use of Minerals
Question 13. Do you agree with the changes proposed in Chapter 17?
Wealden District Council is not a minerals planning authority for its area and therefore we do not have any substantive comments to make on the amendments to chapter 17.
Annex 2: Glossary
Question 14. Do you have any comments on the changes to the glossary?
Wealden District Council supports the proposed changes to the Glossary and agrees that the revised definition provided for green infrastructure better reflects practice.
National Model Design Code
Question 15. We would be grateful for your views on the National Model Design Code, in terms of:
a) the content of the guidance
The Council supports the government in seeking to drive up the quality of new development through reforms to the planning system. We agree that design codes and design guides have an important role to play in delivering these wider aims at a local level.
The Council generally supports the National Model Design Code, which provides detailed guidance on design parameters and issues that need to be considered when producing local design codes and guides. We believe that the guidance is a useful and accessible tool in helping local authorities to produce design guidance and will help to deliver a consistent approach across the country. This will be particularly important for the development of ‘new settlements’ and ‘major urban extensions’ where these will likely come forward.
b) the application and use of the guidance
The draft Model Design Guide Code is an important and very welcome step forward in helping to deliver better quality design in new development. However, the success of the Model Design Guide Code and the wider admirable aims for improving design quality requires government investment to build capacity and resources within local planning departments across the country.
It is considered that appropriate funding should be made available to provide local authorities with the staff and skills that are needed to deliver a comprehensive roll out of high quality design codes and guides that will ensure that developers account for design issues as part of their developments. By investing in additional capacity and giving local planning authorities the tools to deliver, the government will help secure a long lasting legacy of high quality places for future generations.
c) the approach to community engagement
The Council supports the overall approach to community engagement.
Public Sector Equality Duty
Question 16. We would be grateful for your comments on any potential impacts under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
The Council has no comments to make with regards to any potential impacts under the Public Sector Equality Duty with reference to this consultation.
I trust that the above comments are helpful at this stage. If you have any further queries, then please do not hesitate to contact us.
Head of Policy and Economic Development
 BBBC, Living with Beauty: promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth, (2020); page 96.