Exceptional Circumstances: How the draft National Planning Policy Framework fails rural communities
The Chief Executives of the Campaign to Protect Rural England & Hastoe Housing Association writes that the draft text of the revised NPPF continues to turn its back on the principles of community-led planning, and fails to take the specific needs of rural communities into account.
First published in 2012, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was supposed to be the government’s rulebook for planning, providing an overarching vision for the future development of the country. When used sensitively and democratically, planning policy can help to address regional inequalities, shape thriving rural communities and make sure their residents can access affordable places to live.
CPRE and Hastoe both have proud traditions of promoting good planning practice in the countryside. Only last year, a Hastoe scheme at Brede in East Sussex won a CPRE Sussex ‘Making Places Award’ for providing ten affordable homes for local families, with energy-efficient designs in keeping with village character.
CPRE Sussex developed the ‘Making Places’ project to bridge the gap between communities’ own vision of development, and the ‘inappropriate or dysfunctional’ version that can happen when planners and decision makers don’t listen. And while we celebrated when Making Places won the ‘Community-Led Placemaking’ category of the 2017 Planning Awards, the fact the project had to be created in the first place is an indictment of the way that, for the past six years, government planning policies have ignored the views of local people.
So we are extremely disappointed to see that the draft text of the revised NPPF continues to turn its back on the principles of community-led planning, and fails to take the specific needs of rural communities into account. In particular, it does little to address the need for good quality, genuinely affordable housing in the countryside, where house prices tend to be higher and wages lower than in urban areas.
In fact, several policies in the draft NPPF look set to have serious negative consequences for rural affordable housing provision, especially the proposed introduction of so-called ‘Entry Level Exception Sites’. We fear that this policy will undermine the great success of Rural Exception Sites in providing genuinely affordable homes in rural communities.
Established in the 1980s, Rural Exception Sites serve as a means for communities to get homes built that local people can afford to live in. Landowners are incentivised to part with small sites at close to agricultural value, on the understanding that they will be benefiting their community and would not otherwise receive planning permission for housing on the site. Local communities are involved at every stage of the development process, and a clear majority of the resulting homes must be affordable and for people with local connections, and remain so in perpetuity.
In stark contrast, the Entry Level Exception Sites policy proposed in the NPPF requires only ‘a high proportion’ of units to be ‘offered for discounted sale or affordable rent’ – neither of which may be genuinely affordable to local people in need of a home. There is no definition of ‘a high proportion’, no mention of community involvement or local connections, and no requirement that homes remain available at ‘sub-market’ rates into the future.
In opening up the prospect of building homes for discounted sale, which may become market housing within a matter of months, Entry Level Exception Sites are likely to significantly inflate land prices. As a result, landowners will be less likely to bring forward land cheaply for Rural Exception Sites.
In a context where local authorities are not empowered to seek affordable housing contributions on sites of fewer than 10 dwellings, any policy which threatens the development of Rural Exception Sites could prove disastrous for the continued vitality of our villages and market towns. Analysis of DEFRA and Land Registry data by the National Housing Federation found that in over 90% of rural local authorities, average house prices were more than 8 times higher than average incomes. There is clear evidence of the need for more affordable rented homes in the countryside, which the introduction of Entry Level Exception Sites would do nothing to address, and much to undermine.
Instead of creating more exceptions to local planning policies, the government should seek to revive a plan-led system that actually delivers for rural people. A greater number of appropriate sites should be allocated for development through local and neighbourhood plans, where there is an identified local need, and councils must be supported in setting targets for affordable housing contributions on all sites, including developments of fewer than 10 homes.
Only by encouraging a proactive and community-led approach to development can the NPPF ensure that rural England continues to thrive.
Crispin Truman is the Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England & Sue Chalkley is Chief Executive of Hastoe Housing Association