Posted by: dorsetcpre | May 30, 2012

Remote affordable housing and the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

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In the last week of March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework became law. It replaces all previous national planning guidance and I thought it would be interesting to CPRE members to discuss its implications for rural exception sites for affordable housing and related areas of concern.

First, I had better explain where I am coming from on this issue. It has become something of a mantra in CPRE circles, as well as the wider community, that ‘affordable housing is good’. Without qualification, I believe this statement is not considering the sustainable development issues, especially in respect to the following factors:

  • Provision of essential local services that are safely accessible on foot or by cycle
  • Access to general services or employment by frequent and convenient public transport
  • The protection of countryside, especially protected areas
  • The existence of local accessible employment which cannot be carried out elsewhere
  • The ability to provide low cost housing that protects the built quality of a location
  • The notion of the right to housing where one or one’s family was born or have lived.

What does the new NPPF say on these matters? Remember that local planning authorities have to incorporate its principles in their Local Plans and in considering planning applications. Where they have no Local Plan, or an outdated one, they have to move quickly to get a new one.

I’ll deal with the last bullet first and get it out of the way. The notion that people have a right to live in the community where they were born, or lived a few years, is to me self-evidently daft. The first draft of the NPPF that included some words to that effect, that have thankfully been removed. In any case it did not define what a ‘community’ was. Nobody in a neighbourhood of a large town or city would think they had a right to live in that area, so why should someone who once lived in a remote relic village consider that they have such a right, and at public expense to boot? I find the concept essentially a patronising one, but that is not to say anything about real need to live somewhere. Real need is when there is employment opportunity at a location, not in the wider area, and that employment could not be carried out anywhere else.

If we can agree on that, then the next issue to consider is that of sustainable transport arrangements.

The first draft of the NPPF had a clear statement, when referring specifically to affordable housing. It stated:

‘In rural areas, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local requirements, particularly for affordable housing. Local planning authorities should in particular consider whether allowing some market housing would facilitate the provision of significant additional affordable housing to meet local needs. to promote sustainable development, housing in rural areas should not be located in places distant from local services (my emphasis).’

In fact, in the final published version, this sentence was removed. Do you know any landowners who have a redundant area next to a remote village lacking basic facilities, on which that they would like to make an easy profit?’ More innocently, perhaps that last emphasised sentence of the Draft NPPF may have been judged superfluous, given that the front end of the final NPPF waxes lyrical about the need for sustainable development that should be a ‘golden thread’ (para 14 NPPF) through all decision taking on policies, but I would have preferred that this specific statement had remained.

So what is a sustainable location? It will be important for all of us responding to our new Draft Local Plans, because, as you are now, doubtless with raised eyebrows, noting that the Government threw into the ring that an affordable housing development may now be achieved by incorporation of market housing, regardless of whether it is within defined development boundaries or otherwise. This was both in the draft and the final version. This final approved policy substitutes for the paragraph I cited above. Judge for yourselves if it is an improvement. It reads:

in rural areas, exercising the duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local needs, particularly for affordable housing, including through rural exception sites where appropriate.

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