All the concern being expressed by organisations such as the National Trust and CPRE, about the presumption in favour of sustainable development, as enshrined in the NPPF, is in danger of over-shadowing one of the NPPF’s potential negative outcomes – planning by appeal.
One of the strengths and, it has to be said, occasional weaknesses of having elected members involved in making planning decisions, is that we can occasional be a cumudgeony bunch. The officers do their professional best to come up with a balanced decision, based on the council’s policies and then make their recommendation – members then go and take the opposite view! Where this view is in favour of an application, then the appeal process doesn’t really apply, unless somebody has enough cash to go to the high court. However, where an application is refused, either by officers without going to committee, or by a decision of the members at committee, the applicant has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State through the Planning Inspectorate.
With the implementation of the NPPF, developers will be waving the presumption in favour of sustainable development under the noses of every local planning authority in the country, demanding the right to build on just about any spare bit of land they can lay their hands on. Meanwhile, the public will be realising the floodgates have been unlocked and will soon be swinging wide open, with elected members telephones’ ringing off of their hooks. Public concern and in some cases outrage, will ultimately lead elected members to become more and more concerned about the political fallout from runaway development.
Given the vague and abstract nature of the term, ‘sustainable development’, the requirement to give a presumption in its favour and the potential for a lack of up to date planning policies in many councils, members are going to feel that they have every right to give significant weight to the public’s and in particular any neighbour’s concerns. Once the NPPF becomes law, PINS, as the Planning Inspectorate is known, is going to become very, very busy.
Worse still, a planning inquiry can be a very expensive business, especially when it goes to a full- blown public hearing. Even if the appellant is not awarded costs against the planning authority, the cost of an inquiry can easily reach 4, or even 5 figures. Whilst planning officers will always advise members against making a decision that isn’t based on sound planning reasons, they would be extremely reluctant to use the cost of fighting an appeal as the main reason for not refusing a planning application.