Agenda item

Draft National Planning Framework (Agenda Item 7)

To receive an update.


The Chairman noted that the Chief Executive of the Water Management Alliance had been invited to address the Commission at 3 o’clock (for Agenda Item 9) and so the order of agenda items might need to be changed to accommodate his presentation.


The Principal Planner presented the report on what he described as a significant national consultation which had generated a lot of debate.  The draft sought to consolidate the existing Planning Policy Statements, Circulars, etc, which ran to about 1000 pages, into 58 pages covering six broad areas.  The consultation ended on 17 October.  It was therefore imperative that given the emphasis on planning at the local level in the draft National Planning Framework (NPF) that Breckland Council responded to the consultation.


The Principal Planner drew Members’ attention to pages 154 to 156 of the agenda supplement where the issues were set out.  The supplement also contained the Officer’s draft response to the technical questionnaire and he sought Members’ input to that.


The Chairman encouraged Members to put forward their views to assist the Executive Member in formulating his response.  It was noted that the draft consultation was aimed at all levels of authority and therefore some items did not apply to district councils.


Mr Borrett noted that only two options were provided, either to supplement the draft NPF or to make no comment.  He suggested that a third option should be added to allow alterations or changes.


Mr Kiddle-Morris (the Executive Member for Assets and Strategic Development, responsible for responding to the consultation) said that he was willing to take any comments.


Mr Borrett did not agree with most of the Officer’s responses.  He thought that there was a lot of good in the document and felt that the responses did not reflect his opinion.


Other Members agreed and the Chairman suggested that they should put proposals forward.


The Vice-Chairman said that Members were there to express their views whether they concurred with the Officer’s or not.  The proposal to add a third option was seconded and agreed.


The Chairman asked the Executive Member for his comments and Mr Kiddle-Morris gave his overview.  He felt that the draft was a very broad brush which would allow the current Core Strategy and Development Control Policies to be turned into a Local Plan that would accord with what Breckland wanted. 


Mr Byrne asked what the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ meant.


The Principal Planner acknowledged that the key issue at the operational level would be defining sustainable development.  At a local level, significant evidence of housing, employment and environment needs would provide the corner stone for a local definition.


Mr Kiddle-Morris pointed out that the LDF defined sustainable development but not as the Council wanted it.  The draft suggested that a definition needed to be in place.  He thought care was needed to avoid a definition that would not apply in rural areas.  The NPF should allow houses and employment to be put where they were needed and wanted.


The Chairman agreed.  Members were frustrated by previous central Government definitions which were not relevant to Breckland.  He felt that some strategies and policies needed to be more flexible to support rural communities.  He did not want sustainability defined at national level and suggested that the Council’s response should make that clear.


Mrs Jolly asked if the Council needed to be more robust about the way that Local Plans were drawn up in terms of consistency, openness and fairness.  Without National Guidelines she was concerned that the Council could be open to criticism.


Mr Kybird suggested that the Council needed to comment on the Environmental Assessment process (paragraph 35, page 24 of the agenda) which fed into the response on page 162.  He felt that it needed to be set out in advance what the Council understood it to mean.


Mr R Richmond had raised that subject at the recent Conservative Conference and felt that grass root consultation was needed, starting at Parish Council level. 


Mr Claussen was concerned at the Officer’s comments about wanting direct guidance from central government.  He felt it was not what was wanted.  The Council had an opportunity to create a Local Plan to suit Breckland.


The Chairman concurred.  Efforts had been made to create a Breckland Plan before but that had proved impossible.  The NPF gave the chance to do so.  He felt that the overarching strategy was to have a light touch from central government and a heavy touch from local government.  He did not think it was a problem if the Council was perceived to be different because Breckland was different from other areas.  The Policies needed to reflect local needs and plan for growth and prosperity.  There were fundamental differences in Breckland and the towns were different from the rural areas.


The Vice-Chairman noted that that was what everyone wanted, but it was hard to achieve.  Without a strong policy framework planning applications would be harder to determine and planning meetings might take much longer.


Mr S Rogers asked if the answers in the questionnaire were purely officer led and it was confirmed that Members had not seen the document before.  The responses by the officer were there to prompt debate and for Members to agree, disagree or modify.


The Executive Member asked the Commission for guidance.  Officers were not happy to retain a five year housing land supply and he endorsed that view.  Did Members agree to that?  Also, there was a duty to provide cross-border co-operation with neighbouring authorities, but he felt that there was also a duty to provide co-operation with utility companies and he suggested that should be added to the draft.


The Chairman thought that was highly relevant.  The Commission had received presentations from utility companies and they had explained that they were not able to front load development with infrastructure as the regulators did not allow it.  That created a fundamental problem which was often a bar to development.


Mr Kybird was concerned that without a five year land supply it might create a free for all.  The Chairman saw it the other way and thought that taking the requirement away would give the Council more freedom.


The Principal Planner felt that was a fair assessment.  Due to the Council’s absence of the required five year housing land supply some developers were bypassing the plan-led system.  If the requirement was removed it would give the Council stronger local control to deliver growth in the locations they had chosen.


The Planning Manager pointed out that the five year land supply had been predicated on the Regional Strategy which was likely to disappear.  The Council would then be able to set its own target.  The benefit of setting a target was that the Council could then resist anything else that came along.  The Council would also need a Policy which set out where it wanted development.


Mr Borrett felt that the response at 2(c) on page 163 of the agenda should be that the Council did agree with the duty for cross border co-operation and co-operation with Utility companies.  He felt that the draft was a quite positive document for Breckland but that a lot of the officer responses sought more Central Government guidance and as a Member he did not agree with that.  The responses gave the impression that Breckland was not keen on the proposals.  He asked the Executive Member to take on the tone of the meeting and suggested that authority should be delegated to him to amend the response.


The Chairman felt that the Vice-Chairman’s comments about the need for guidance provided a counter-argument.  However he felt that Members knew what was required in the District and would ensure that controls were put in place.  He asked the Commission Members to give their views to provide a steer to the Executive Member.


The Vice-Chairman clarified that he was not fundamentally disagreeing with Mr Borrett. Brecklandising’ was good but rules and regulations, whether set locally or by Central Government, were needed, or people would exploit the system.  Rural transport and infrastructure were problems for Breckland which had to be firmly addressed.


Councillor Gould said that the problem with rules and regulations meant that you ended up with housing non-specific to the area.  The framework provided an opportunity to produce Norfolk-looking houses and it was an opportunity that should be grasped.


Mr J Rogers noted that under the current system only the towns had any chance of development, but many parishes had roads, water, electricity supply and sewers.  If development took place in the parishes it would negate the need and the huge cost of more infrastructure in the towns.


Discussion was deferred at this point to allow Agenda Item 9 to be presented.  After which Members continued with their discussions.


Mr C Carter supported the Executive Member’s views which he thought were exactly along the right lines.  Structure and guidance rather than strict procedures would allow Brecklandisation without leading to extensive planning debates.


Mr Joel quoted the Government Minister Eric Pickles who had said that the Framework gave Councils a chance to do what they wanted to do as part of their Local Plan.


Mr Kiddle-Morris picked up on Mr J Roger’s point about development in the countryside and said that Neighbourhood Plans would provide the opportunity for communities to put development where they wanted it. 


His biggest concern was that currently the LDF and Policies were in place but nothing was in place for a transition to a Local Plan.  He had concerns if the transition had to take place quickly and wanted to highlight that in the Council’s response.  He suggested that he should work with the Planning Manager and the Principal Planning Policy Officer to provide a response for the Leader to send.


Mr Bambridge thought that it would be appropriate to have a representative from the Commission taking part in that discussion. Mr Kybird suggested the Chairman of the Commission and that was agreed by Members.


The Vice-Chairman noted that one person’s interpretation of views might differ from another’s.  He thought the response should be signed off by both the Leader and the Chairman of the Commission.


Mr R Richmond asked Members to be mindful of the development of Brownfield sites which could be expensive.


Finally the Chairman reminded Members about windfall sites which he said, to paraphrase the document, had no part to play.  He was concerned, because windfall sites had been included in the LDF due to the lack of allocation in the villages, and to try to address the needs of those disenfranchised by sustainability requirements.  He was nervous about losing that and asked Members to remember why windfall sites had been included.


RESOLVED that the Commission’s Chairman and Vice-Chairman should work with the Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development, the Planning Manager and the Principal Planner to make recommendations for the Leader to sign off.

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