The NPPF two years on: CPRE’s new report

CPRE has just published a major ‘two years on’ report on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Community Control or Countryside Chaos? It is based on an analysis of 29 local plans prepared or adopted in the last year, and over 70 decisions on major planning applications and appeals.

Nick Boles has dismissed the report as ‘inaccurate, exaggerated and based on a spurious analysis of the facts’, so I urge you to read it and make up your own mind. Planning can be a private language, but I hope the report’s gist is clear.  Among the conclusions I draw from it are that:

  • the NPPF has given too much power to developers to decide where housing should go, particularly when a local authority does not have an up to date local plan;
  • faced with the need to meet fantasy housing numbers, local authorities are finding it increasingly hard to complete local plans;
  • the Planning Inspectorate, reading government intentions, has favoured housing delivery over the other aims of the NPPF;
  • local authorities who want to promote brownfield development have been prevented from doing so; and
  • communities feel increasingly under siege and are losing faith in local democracy (aka the planning system).

On the first point, it is fair to acknowledge that many developers do not want the free-for-all we now have in many areas. In a blog last October, Peter Andrew of Taylor Wimpey noted that where local authorities have not agreed a plan, the house builders are ‘effectively determining councils’ land allocations for them. That’s no way to run a planning system. Developers are in the business of building homes but it’s not up to us to map out where they need to be located. This needs to be done by local authorities under the scrutiny of a robust democratic system – but this simply isn’t happening in many areas.’


The Government may think it is punishing local authorities without a plan by preventing them from saying ‘no’ to damaging schemes. But it is not the local authority that is being punished, it is people in villages facing multiple development schemes (generally for large market houses) which they feel powerless to influence or stop.


Much of the difficulty comes from the obligation on local authorities to plan to meet ‘objectively assessed’ housing need. But what is ‘objectively assessed’ need? Different people will ‘objectively assess’ it in different ways.  One of the ironies of recent planning debates is that a minister (Nick Boles) who is instinctively suspicious of government imposing solutions, let alone setting targets, has an almost mystical faith in ‘objectively assessed’ housing targets, provided the objective assessment results in the allocation of much more land for housing.


Many local authorities have to allocate enough land to meet five years’ housing need + 20% to make up for the slump years when few homes were built. In many areas the housing numbers require rates of house building that have never been achieved. Who is going to build the houses now? Certainly not the big builders: they have made that clear. The Government has recently offered welcome support for small builders, customs building, and even council housing, but there is not the faintest hope of the housing numbers in local plans being achieved without a revolution in housing supply, which would require state investment so revolutionary that only an out-and-out red along the lines of a Harold Macmillan or Winston Churchill could conceive it.


The Government seems to think that by forcing local authorities to allocate more land, it will get more houses built. It won’t, it will just get more houses built in the countryside as developers cherry pick the most profitable sites and neglect harder sites within towns and cities.


This is gloomy stuff, but there is also some good news in the report, and praise for the Government. It seems to be getting at least some of the message. In recent weeks it has strengthened Green Belt protection and promised to do more to support brownfield development. Some local authorities with large areas of locally protected land have been allowed to set lower housing numbers in order to protect it.  And recent appeal decisions show that NPPF policies on countryside protection and good design can be given as much weight as the need for more housing.

So I was tempted to end on a hopeful note. Then came the budget announcement that people will be able to invest their pension pots in buy-to-let properties (or, as the pensions Minister Steve Webb has it, Lamborghinis – but buy-to-let mortgages seem more likely). This policy is now supported by all three parties, and I can only conclude that all three want to see house prices continuing to rise above inflation.

So, prepare for another housing bubble, and the inevitable calls for a splurge of house building in the countryside in order to bring down prices (even though under-supply will have played a relatively small part in increasing them). Quite aside from the effect of ever more unaffordable housing on social justice, intergenerational equity and the wider economy, it will have serious implications for the countryside.

The planning system cannot solve the housing crisis, which has many causes. But it can help prevent attempts to solve it causing needless damage to the countryside. Which is why I hope that once they have got over their irritation, Ministers will seriously consider our report’s recommendations.




7 Responses to “The NPPF two years on: CPRE’s new report”

  1. 1 Helen Marshall, CPRE Oxfordshire March 24, 2014 at 10:06 am

    The report doesn’t feel ‘inaccurate’ or ‘exaggerated’ from here in Oxfordshire. Our ‘objectively assessed housing need’ has just been set at 100,000 houses – which would effectively increase every settlement in the county by a third by 2031. As well as being unsustainable, the figures are completely unrealistic. Even at the height of the housing boom, only about 3,000 houses a year were built in the county – these figures set a proposed target of 5,000 a year. You might think our District Councils would take time out to consider the environmental implications. However, one has already adopted the targets and is using them as justification for proposing 1,700 houses in the Green Belt and 1,400 in the North Wessex Downs AONB. Our district councillors say they have spoken repeatedly to the Planning Minister, Nick Boles, but their concerns are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps Mr Boles would like to come and tell the residents of Radley (a Green Belt village, currently 950 houses, 600 new houses proposed within 5 years) how their fears are being exaggerated?

  2. 2 andrew needham March 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Shaun spoke well on R2 this morning. I had a question from a local member about it – and the Times editorial:-

    ”When one thinks of the landscape of Britain, it is perilously easy to conflate our green belt with areas of outstanding natural beauty. In fact, the two rarely coincide. Some green belt land is, indeed, aesthetically striking. Much more, however, is not. It is frequently forgotten, but when the idea of green belt land was formalised in the 1930s, the impetus was not to protect rural land from urban encroachment, but to protect the cities themselves from lapsing into sprawls. Plenty of Green Belt land is underwhelmingly scrubland.”

    “Ultimately, Britain has little choice. If we are to preserve our countryside, we can only do so by coming to a more nuanced understanding of which bits of it are worth preserving. Meanwhile, people need places to live.” – Times editorial (£)

    I said that not all GB is sacrosanct – but there have to be exceptional circumstances for review.

    • 3 Robert Flunder March 24, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Since Green Belt land is there to stop cities lapsing into sprawls, the fact that some GB might be scrubland is therefore absolutely no justification for developing over it.

    • 4 Carole Gale May 13, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      What to us is scrubland is to a nightingale a desirable home.

      • 5 sspiers May 13, 2015 at 6:13 pm

        Agreed! CPRE wants to maximise the use of suitable brownfield land for development, but that doesn’t mean all brownfield land, and it certainly doesn’t mean Lodge Hill in Kent, if that’s what you’re referring to.

  3. 6 Robert Flunder March 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    So Nick Boles has labelled this report as “inaccurate, exaggerated and based on a spurious analysis of the facts”.
    That would be the same Nick Boles who previous labelled countryside protection campaigners as – ““hysterical, scaremongering, latter-day Luddites”.
    We’re never going to manage a meeting of the minds with those such as him, and its to Cameron’s shame that he made Boles a Minister after his outburst.

  1. 1 CPRE -’Villages under Seige’ on second anniversary of #NPPF | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions Trackback on March 24, 2014 at 7:31 am

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