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19/02/2015

Crystal ball gazing...

Crystal ball

Beverley Firth, a partner in planning law at Mills & Reeve LLP, offers some predictions for 2015 ahead of the forthcoming election

Beverley FirthFirst off, I make it clear I just didn’t see the Plain English Guide To The Planning System in my 2015 crystal ball – so you may want to take that oversight into account when weighing up whether or not I am likely to be right about any of the following.

Although there were lots of reservations at the time, most of us are living quite comfortably with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and appreciating its brevity and focus.

But there has been a growing concern about recognising when development becomes sustainable development and can claim the benefit of the presumption in favour within paragraph 14 of the framework. Without that clarity, many argue that NPPF is giving rise to the opposite – unsustainable development.

This concern seems to have different facets to it, but a key issue is the apparent conflict between the reference to the three dimensions on page two, and the statement in paragraph six that paragraphs 18 to 219 of the NPPF “taken as a whole” constitute sustainable development.

What’s more, there are concerns that the application of the NPPF is happening in a way that over-emphasises the economic role of the definition. This is all dangerous territory in the run-up to an election, so my first prediction is that there is a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on the point – but that when examined, this does little more than take us back to the page two definition, and the paragraph six reference to the rest of NPPF.

Even though a number of local authorities took the opportunity to be ‘Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) frontrunners’, how many CIL supporters are there out there now? And many local authorities are staring April 2015 in the face with no prospect of a charging schedule in place by then.

"I predict the April 2015 community infrastructure levy review deadline will be pushed back to take the pressure off"

We are promised a review of CIL this year, so I make two predictions: first, we will have sufficient manifesto words on CIL to give us something to talk about before May, with more than a hint that CIL will be phased out or scaled back post-election; and second, the April 2015 deadline will be pushed back to take the pressure off.

The other government policy about which there were lots of reservations at the time was the scrapping of strategic planning. I like to think that even at the heart of DCLG there is recognition that this has been a backward move. Plus there is the realisation that many areas are not covered by up-to-date local plans.

Forward planning deserves a prediction, so here I say that DCLG will set up a bidding round for local plan resources for authorities who have strong ‘duty to cooperate’ credentials and can make a case for early adoption of a plan if resources can be made available.

I don’t want to leave National Planning Practice Guidance out of the reckoning, so I predict two amendments to the guidance: first, to soften footnote 11 in paragraph 47 to benefit local planning authorities with a lot of supply locked up in large-scale sites; and second, a reintroduction of disaggregation to the sequential assessment process so that large-scale retail or leisure proposals are considered in their component parts as well as combined.

Finally, there could be votes to be won by scrapping the A1/A2 to C3 permitted development rights – so that’s my final prediction

Beverley Firth is a partner in planning law at Mills & Reeve LLP

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