Government 'burying its head in the sand' on unsustainable developments


The Government has been accused of ‘burying its head in the sand’ and allowing unsustainable developments to go unchecked after it refused to act on recommendations made by influential cross-party MPs.

The Communities and Local Government select committee had warned ministers in its report on the operation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that the document ‘was not preventing unsustainable development in some places’.

CLG committee members claimed in December that loopholes were being exploited to foist unwanted developments, mainly on the outskirts of towns, which could undermine city retail centres and the wider system of Local Plans.

However in its response to the warnings today, the Government rejected the majority of the committee’s recommendations, which were based on evidence ranging from parish councils, house builders, wildlife groups and the property sector.

Committee chair Clive Betts said he was ‘very disappointed’ by the response, which showed the Government is ‘burying its head in the sand about these important public concerns’.

‘Current ministers have missed an opportunity to provide greater protection against unsustainable development in England and to ensure communities aren’t subject to unwanted housing development.

‘By refusing to countenance these changes, the Government risks damaging the good work that went into producing the NPPF and undermining the confidence of communities across the country in both the planning system and local decision making.’

The committee heard that ‘inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications’. Developers would claim sites were unviable in order to secure planning permission in more profitable areas.

These unsustainable developments were typically housing developments sited on the edge of towns and villages and could be granted planning permission in the absence of a Local Plan or a five-year supply of land in place.

Committee members called for guidance making clear that assessments of site viability should consider not only current prices and costs but also projections of prices and costs over the next five years and that such assessments should be ‘open book’, placing the developers accounts under scrutiny.

In addition a standard approach to determining viability was needed, the report said.

However the Government responded by saying this would not be appropriate in all cases as it might slow down the system.

‘The Government is considering strengthening existing guidance on transparency, in particular in relation to the use of section 106 planning obligations agreements. This will include related viability assessment processes, subject to the caveat of not compromising commercial confidentiality where this would risk harming or inhibiting commercial activity,’ Whitehall officials added.

The Government also refused to revoke its decision to limit to five the number of planning obligations that can contribute to a single piece of infrastructure until a proposed review of the Community Infrastructure Levy has taken place this year.

However officials added: ‘The Government agrees that local authorities should support the delivery of infrastructure priorities identified by local communities. The Government proposes to consider strengthening existing guidance on the use of section 106 planning obligations agreements to this effect.’


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