The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The NPPF sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. It does so in a condensed form of only 59 pages in total which replace a whole host of documents in the form of Planning Policy Guidance, Minerals Policy Statements & Guidance, and Planning Policy Statements as well as one Circular - Circular 05/2005: Planning Obligations.

The NPPF does not replace or diminish the force of Development Plans where these are in harmony with the NPPF. Thus the NPPF reaffirms that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the Development Plan unless material circumstances indicate otherwise. One such ‘material circumstance’ could, of course, be that the Development Plan is not in accord with the NPPF.

The policies in the NPPF are material considerations which Local Planning Authorities must now take into account when determining Planning Applications or preparing new Local Plans. Policies in operative Local Plans adopted pre-2004 can still carry full weight if in harmony with the NPPF. For those Local Plans adopted since 2004 in accordance with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, full weight can be given to such policies up to 27th March 2013 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with the NPPF. (Whether such conflicts can be reasonably held to be ‘limited’ or not is likely to be a source of contention at Appeals and Inquiries in coming months). After the 27 March 2013, however, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with the NPPF: the closer the policies in the Plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight they may be given.

There is similar guidance in relation to emerging Plans. The weight to be attached to policies in emerging Plans will be governed by its stage of preparation, the extent to which there are unresolved objections, and the degree of consistency of the plan with the Framework.

Notwithstanding the Government’s aversion to Regional Planning, Regional strategies remain part of the list of documents in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 that local authorities must have regard to when preparing their Local Plans. A footnote on page 40 of the NPPF states: “Regional strategies remain part of the development plan until they are abolished by Order using powers taken in the Localism Act. It is the government’s clear policy intention to revoke regional strategies outside London, subject to the outcome of the environmental assessments that are currently being undertaken.” Such uncertainty is hardly helpful to Local Authorities as they seek to progress their new Local Plans. 

Local Planning Authorities are nevertheless now under enormous and immediate pressure to produce and adopt Local Plans which are up to date and consistent with the NPPF and to do so before 27th March next year. Failure to do so will expose existing and emerging Development Plans to challenge whereby national objectives and policies are then more likely to be determining factors than local considerations.

A period of frenzied plan-making is therefore about to commence throughout England resulting in the ‘rapid’ adoption of all manner of new and adapted policies and proposals. With ‘localism’ being at the heart of the process, and all new or revised Local Plans being the subject of Examinations leading to final decisions by Government Planning Inspectors, it is vital that the interests of inland waterways are safeguarded and promoted at the local level through the plan-making process. The NPPF is a good starting point for beginning to consider what action might be needed.

Key elements of the NPPF

This Planning Update now provides a selective summary of the various sections in the NPPF which appear to have implications for Inland Waterways.