The National Planning Policy Framework and house building in the countryside

After having spent all of my working life with PPG's and PPS's, we now have to throw all of our town planning policy guidance into the recycling bin. Instead, all Government policy is contained within 59 pages of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). I do not imagine that the Government will stick to having all of its policy being contained within just 59 pages. I suspect that over time we will have additional guidance to fill some of the gaps that emerge following the withdrawal of ministerial advice on policy and procedure.

There are so many recent changes to the planning system that it is impossible to comment on them all in one blog post. I will concentrate on one small area, the replacement of Planning Policy Statement 7 (Sustainable Development in Rural Areas) and the section on rural housing in the NPPF, Paragraph 55.

When a planning application is determined, regard is to be had to the Local Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Areas which have a Core Strategy are luckier than regions with an out of date local plan. The NPPF is a material consideration and should be given due weight when an application is determined.

In relation to housing in rural areas the new wording in the NPPF is not as clear as the previous PPS 7. Paragraph 55 states that local authorities should avoid new isolated homes unless there are special circumstances. The policy states that one of the special circumstances is the "essential need for a rural worker". Unhelpfully, it does not explain what the term "essential need" means.

In the past PPS 7 stated that applicants had to meet a functional and financial test; they had to show why they needed to live in a rural location. Applicants had to show that the housing was linked to a tourism or employment use and that the business would be financially viable. Applicants also had to submit business plans showing projections and the investment in the business. To meet the functional need test, the applicant had to show why other housing in the area would not be suitable. They had to show why they had to live on the application site, and why the use of technology such as CCTV or alarms would not be sufficient.

As applicants previously had to meet these high standards it meant that the local authority was able to challenge non-viable or hobby businesses. The applicant might simply want a new house in a rural location, and did not have any real intention of running a genuine business providing rural employment.

We will have to wait for appeal decisions and court cases to offer us some clarity on this matter. I suspect that we might see a flurry of applications in the short term, in which the applicant claims that they have an "essential need". I would point out that applicants will still have to meet the requirements laid down in local plans, which I am hoping will be sufficiently robust to resist urban sprawl in the countryside.