Only 50% of local authorities have a local plan that is regarded as up to date in accordance with the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework. A similar number cannot evidence a record of delivering and maintaining a five year housing supply.
The effect of this is that many authorities are embarking on the process of reviewing local plans and their housing supply plans in an effort to protect their areas from applications coming forward that take advantage of that situation, and secure approval often with an appeal based scenario. This is occurring as a result of the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF and the lack of a five year land supply for housing.
There was a growing sentiment in local authorities that such an approach was not having due regard to the local plan process that many had embarked upon, and riding roughshod over a plan led system. Citing prematurity as a refusal reason had little or no weight, often being dismissed at appeal.
This feeling was strengthened by the publication of the draft national planning policy guidance, which indicated that prematurity was unlikely to justify refusal other than in 'exceptional circumstances'.
The final version of the guidance has now been published and the reference to exceptional circumstances has been removed.
The guidance provides that prematurity is 'unlikely to justify a refusal of planning permission other than where it is clear that the adverse impacts of granting permission would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, taking the policies in the NPPF and any other material considerations into account.'
The guidance goes on to list circumstances that may legitimise such an approach, namely that :-
- The development proposed is so substantial or its cumulative effect would be so significant that to grant permission would undermine the plan making process
- The emerging plan is at an advanced stage but not yet part of the development plan.
This guidance is not particularly helpful, as it introduces uncertainty into the process that had previously been clarified. It is likely to lead to more refusals of applications where prematurity is seen as a valid reason for refusal.
The interaction of the guidance and the NPPF will be an interesting issue for inspectors to resolve.