Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) the presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply where a local plan is absent, silent or its relevant policies are out of date, unless the adverse impacts of applying the presumption significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. This means starting from the proposition that the full, objectively assessed needs for housing, employment development, retailing and other aspects are met. The presumption in favour of sustainable development checks whether the plan positively seeks opportunities to meet development needs of the area and whether it meets objectively assessed needs with enough flexibility to adapt to rapid change.
Government guidance on soundness was issued in PPS12 (Local Spatial Planning) in 2008 and reaffirmed in this year’s NPPF, which supersedes the earlier guidance notes. Already evidence is accumulating on how the Planning Inspectorate are treating DPD’s, in applying the test of soundness, since the NPPF was published. Plans for Barnet and Taunton have been judged sound. So too has the joint plan for Preston, South Ribble and Chorley. Here the Inspector initially found the plan unsound because he was not convinced that the submitted plan delivered enough housing land at the right time in the right places. The authorities then revised the housing element, increasing the number of strategic locations and sites. In judging the revised plan sound, the Inspector had identified 7 main issues upon which soundness depended:
- Whether the Local Plan vision and proposals for sustainable growth are clear, effective, deliverable and consistent with all national policy.
- Whether the Local Plan provides satisfactorily for the delivery of developments, particularly its required infrastructure, and convincingly demonstrates adequate monitoring of its provision and measures designed to rectify any shortcomings.
- Whether the core strategy is effective in meeting local housing needs, including the provision of an appropriate mix of housing of suitable quality and at suitable densities.
- Whether the Local Plan is effective in meeting special housing needs, including affordable homes, accommodation for the elderly and for gypsies and travellers.
- Whether the Local Plan’s approach to economic development is clearly articulated, sufficiently justified and in line with national policy.
- Whether the Local Plan convincingly sets out the role of Preston City Centre, suitably protecting and enhancing its vitality and viability without serious detriment to other town centres, and whether suitable provision for other centres is being made.
- Whether the Local Plan provides sufficient protection, preservation and enhancement of the built and natural environment and introduces measures of sufficient force to mitigate any potentially adverse effects upon these interests.
By contrast, the core strategies of Wigan and Hull have been declared unsound and their examinations suspended for 6 months. At Wigan the Inspector expressed significant doubts about its attempts to demonstrate an adequate supply of deliverable housing land. Responding, the Council are examining scope for extra sites in the heart of Wigan, further developments in outer areas and greenbelt release. The same issue arose in Hull where the Council, in responding to the Inspector’s concerns about housing land undersupply, has pointed out the role that market weakness has played in under-delivery. Meanwhile at Rochdale the Council has withdrawn its core strategy from the examination process and is to start again following the Inspector’s questioning of a proposal to make a major deletion from the greenbelt and plans to build a new link road to the M62. At Torfaen the Council has withdrawn its development plan from examination after the Inspector questioned the Council’s later decision to delete a strategic housing site from the plan. York recently withdrew its core strategy from the examination process after the Inspector raised significant concerns regarding the delivery of housing under the emerging strategy.