The new National Planning Policy Framework

MOLA team
05.04.2011

The National Planning Policy Framework was released on 27 March. It has distilled over 1000 pages of planning guidance down to 50 and in the process has seen the demise of PPS5 which dealt with planning in the historic environment.

Chris Thomas, a Senior Consultant at MOLA, answers some of the questions that might arise from the new framework and gives his views on the consequences it might have for MOLA and MetroMOLA’s clients:

1. What is the framework’s key message?

There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Sustainable development has been given greater definition than in the draft and the default answer of ‘yes’ to a proposal has been removed, but the message remains strong, if open to interpretation.

2. Where might development be concentrated over the next few years?

The government seems to be encouraging retail and commercial developments in town centres and on brownfield sites but residential development may become increasingly focussed on greenfield sites. Mixed use still seems to be at the top of the agenda for urban developments.

3. Will local planning authorities need to create new plans?

LPAs must create plans that set out their strategic priorities, preferably over the next 15 years. They should actively consult with local neighbourhoods and groups; their plans should take account of housing, infrastructure, business, defence, the environment, the historic environment, and health. Their plans must also be consistent with the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Squaring all those circles and keeping all those groups happy may prove to be something of a challenge.

4. Are heritage issues dealt with in the new framework?

Yes

5. How are designated assets dealt with?

Designated assets are covered by law, not just guidance. The framework does, however, state that ‘great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation’. It also goes on to say that ‘substantial harm’ to a Grade II building should be ‘exceptional’ and to a Grade II* or Grade I building, or to Scheduled Monuments, protected wrecks, battlefields, registered parks or World Heritage sites should be ‘wholly exceptional’. We shall have to see how the terms ‘substantial harm’, ‘exceptional’ and ‘wholly exceptional’ are interpreted.

6. Will I need to carry out a desk-based assessment as part of the planning submission?

Where a site may have archaeological interest, yes, and there may also be a need to carry out a field evaluation. If the heritage asset is a building, then that too must be assessed but the assessment should be proportionate to the asset’s importance.

7. Will I need to assess the setting of heritage assets?

Yes, settings are specifically mentioned and will need to be assessed. Developments that improve the settings of Conservation Areas and World Heritage Sites are actively encouraged.

8. Will assessments have to consult the local Historic Environment Record?

Yes, and LPAs are under an obligation to keep that record up-to-date so those with closed Historic Environment Records may feel the need to address that.

9. Has anything changed if my site is in a conservation area?

Conservation areas remain an important part of both guidance and legislation. However, LPAs are reminded to ensure that conservation areas are deserving of their status. Appraisals for some remain long overdue.

10. If my site turns out to have an undesignated archaeological asset on it, will I still need to dig it archaeologically?

Developers are required to record and make publicly accessible archaeological assets that are to be destroyed in a manner proportionate to their importance.

11. If my site turns out to have an undesignated archaeological asset on it, might I have to preserve it in situ?

That depends. If it can be demonstrated to be of equivalent significance to a Scheduled Ancient Monument, then it should be considered as if it were scheduled. If it is not of that importance, then a ‘balanced judgement’ will need to be taken between the scale of the harm or loss and the significance of the asset.

12. On balance what might that mean for me?

Each individual case will need to be assessed and argued on its own merits but the presumption in favour of sustainable development may make it easier to argue for development to proceed on sites with undesignated archaeological assets, albeit with the need to carry out archaeological works beforehand.

13. Does the government care about heritage?

The government clearly feels that an increase in development is vital to the nation’s growth prospects but they are also encouraging LPAs to give strong consideration to their heritage. Phrases like ‘the desirability of sustaining and enhancing their significance of heritage assets’, ‘ the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits that conservation of the historic environment can bring’ and ‘opportunities to draw on the contribution made by the historic environment to the character of a place’ are all positive statements about the value of ‘heritage’.

14. So what’s changed?

In essence, not a great deal. However, LPAs are under greater pressure than before and will be expected to keep up-to-date plans. The framework says little different about designated assets which is unsurprising as those are already covered by their own primary legislation. The balance between preservation and excavation of undesignated assets may, however, change in the longer term. The presumption in favour of sustainable development may mean that what was once preserved in the ground may now be preserved in an archive. And we can hope that the government’s positive messages about the value of the historic environment will lead to developments that enhance and incorporate it rather than detract and isolate it.

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