Property experts react to National Planning Policy Framework

The final version of the National Planning Policy Framework was unveiled on Tuesday and the UK commercial property industry has been quick to respond. Savills says this version is the same in most respects as the one announced last year, which “provoked an outcry from some quarters”. It notes the final version does contain some concessions, but the presumption in favour of sustainable development remains.

Savills’ head of planning Roger Hepher said the NPPF was to be welcomed. “In reality, the presumption in too many places has been against development for too long. However, although condensed, the new policy framework is still complex, and there is still much scope for debate as to what is or is not sustainable, so we must hope the Secretary of State is prepared to apply the spirit of the NPPF when he decides the inevitable appeals,” he added.

Karen Charles, planning director at DTZ, said the NPPF “has stream-lined much of the previous bureaucracy and complexity which has choked the system, and this has to be a very positive step.”

At Savills, Roger Hepher is concerned that the cancellation of existing PPGs and PPSs could lead to a vacuum of planning advice and thinks that as a result there could be a rush of advice from various quangos, representative and professional bodies – and that the status of some of this advice could be “very debatable”. Philip Robin, director in Jones Lang LaSalle’s planning team, also noted the lack of regional planning guidance and said this vacuum needed to be “addressed as a matter of urgency”.

The NPPF does not include a brownfield-first approach, which Mr. Hepher at Savills finds sensible. For example, he says, “it doesn’t make a lot of sense in sustainability terms to develop an old factory site isolated in the middle of the countryside (and which may have acquired significant biodiversity value) rather than an area of indifferent scrub land close to urban facilities and public transport”. The 12-month transitional period leaves many questions open and is expected to lead to much scope for discussion between planners and lawyers, he adds.

Stephen Hemming, director in the National Planning and Development Consultancy at Lambert Smith Hampton, adds a note about the implications for retail premises and office space in town centres. He says the framework includes “further safeguards to sustain the vitality of town centres by continuing to emphasis a ‘town centre first’ approach for retail development, as well as re-introducing the requirement for offices to be located in town and city centres”.