Consultation on proposed changes to NPPF and the National Model Design Code

Individual planning decisions, development designs and local and national plans for development all impact local communities. We urge the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to consider our views on the design codes and to continue to engage communities and groups such as ours in local planning decisions.

Here are our detailed responses to the consultation.


The changes proposed in Chapter 2 – Achieving sustainable development

Paragraph 7 – We agree with the introduction of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These have been adopted by Bristol as part of its One City Plan so their adoption in the NPPF will be essential for ensuring that the city’s core planning policies are aligned with its wider goals.

Paragraph 8 states:

‘Achieving sustainable development means that the planning system has three overarching objectives, which are interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive ways (so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains across each of the different objectives).’

We would also like it to be made as clear as possible that these three overarching objectives are indeed ‘interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive’ ways so that no one objective takes precedence over the others, as has been our experience with a number of recent planning decisions made in Bristol.

We propose that the paragraph amended to read: ‘Achieving sustainable development means that the planning system has three overarching objectives, which are interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive ways so that no one objective is treated as having precedence over the others (so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains across each of the different objectives)’

Paragraph 11 a) – We also endorse the proposed change that ‘all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects’. Trees are an important component of this, particularly where green space is limited.


The changes proposed in Chapter 3 – Plan making

Paragraph 22 – We agree that ‘where larger-scale development such as new settlements form part of the strategy for the area, policies should be set within a vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to take into account the likely timescale for delivery’. Too often, trees that were planted where a site was last developed (often only a few years before) are sacrificed to the short-term goals of the new proposal. Setting longer-term goals can help prevent this.


Proposed changes to Chapter 4 – Decision making

Paragraph 53 – Of the two options offered[1], we prefer the second – ‘where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance’. In our view, the phrase ‘wholly unacceptable adverse impacts is open to too wide an interpretation which may not be rooted in wider national goals.

We agree that that Article 4 directions should be restricted to the smallest geographical area possible. 


The changes proposed in Chapter 8 – Promoting healthy and safe communities

We welcome many of the additions and changes proposed, including the recognition that a well-connected network of high-quality, open, green and wooded spaces is important for both our mental and physical health.

Paragraph 97 – We believe that access to a network of high-quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and physical activity ‘should always deliver wider benefits for nature and efforts to address climate change.


The changes proposed in Chapter 12 – Achieving well-designed places

Paragraph 128 – We agree that all guides and codes should be based on effective community engagement and reflect local aspirations for the development of their area.

Meaningful community engagement at all stages of the planning process is essential if the changes proposed are to succeed. Too often, communities are not asked to engage with planning proposals until they are published and the formal approval process has started. By this time most of the key decisions have been agreed between the developer and the planner and it is too late for any meaningful consultation with the wider community.

Paragraph 130 – We welcome the introduction of this new paragraph:

‘Trees make an important contribution to the character and quality of urban environments, and can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change. Planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as community orchards), that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible. Applicants and local planning authorities should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places, and solutions are found that are compatible with highways standards and the needs of different users.’

We must learn to value our urban trees and woods growing in Bristol (and in other cities), so we were pleased to see this addition with the ambition to ensure that all new streets are treelined, but city-wide planning involving existing streets and road networks must also make space for new tree planting in the design process as well as ensuring that existing trees are retained.

Generally, planning requirements must be tightened to ensure that existing trees are retained. Only in exceptional cases where there are clear, justifiable and compelling reasons to do so should trees be removed. In all cases the cascading principles of the Mitigation Hierarchy must be applied and, where there is no option but to remove a tree, the loss of habitat and biodiversity that the tree provided must be compensated for by an adequate tree replacement calculation such as that used in the Biodiversity Metric calculation.

We agree that ‘development that is not well designed should be refused (paragraph 133). Designs that fail to make provision for preserving existing trees and providing new trees are not, in our view, well-designed and so should be refused.


The changes proposed in Chapter 13 – Protecting Green belt Land

New Paragraph 149 – We propose the deletion of this text, which is too general and open to interpretation. Certain other forms of development are also ‘not inappropriate in the Green Belt provided it preserves its openness and does not conflict with the purposes of including land within it’.

In Bristol there are just over 596 hectares of Green Belt left within the metropolitan boundary, mostly confined to the few remaining green margins of the city. The last draft of the Local Plan proposed the removal of some 50 hectares for development. Already parts of the Green Belt are disappearing without any hint that this ‘preserves its openness and does not conflict with the purposes of including land within it’. Little by little, development by development, Green Belt land is being lost.


The changes proposed in Chapter 14 – Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change

Paragraph 160 c) – Tree preservation and the planting of new trees are key elements of ‘using opportunities provided by new development and improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding, (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management)’ We would like to see text added that states this.


The changes proposed in Chapter 15 – Conserving and enhancing the natural environment

Paragraph 179 d) – This states that ‘development whose primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be supported; while opportunities to improve biodiversity in and around other developments should be pursued as an integral part of their design, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity and enhance public access to nature’.

It is essential that core planning policies mandate a standard metric for measuring baseline and created and enhanced habitat biodiversity proposals. Developers must be obliged to provide a Net Gain calculation when submitting their proposals. The latest version of the Biodiversity Metric Is designed for this purpose and should be mandated for all new planning proposals. All planning permissions should require the delivery of Biodiversity Net Gain plans of at least 10%.


We would be grateful for your views on the National Model Design Code, in terms of a) the content of the guidance b) the application and use of the guidance c) the approach to community engagement

The design codes must deliver three key things to ensure that new developments always provide access to high-quality, local green space and to trees, with all the benefits these provide for communities.


  • Protect and integrate existing trees  

New developments must incorporate and protect existing trees from the outset. There must be a presumption that the design will accommodate the existing trees growing on and around the site – especially those growing around the edges of sites. Designs should consider the long-term health of trees in and adjacent to new developments and aim to promote this. This will include providing adequate buffers for ancient, veteran and self-seeded trees and woods.

  • Increase canopy cover  

New developments must have a target of providing a combined minimum of 30% canopy cover on and off site. This should be made up of a mix of tree-lined streets, community woodlands, Tiny Forests, parks and gardens. Where tree provision will be made off site, the cost of providing, planting and caring for the trees on a long-term basis should be funded by the developer and incorporated into tree-specific S106 agreements (T&CPA 1990). Where possible, trees should be native and sourced and grown in the UK. Trees that will become large and are long-lived should be selected where possible.

  • Ensure trees thrive for the long term  
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Local authorities must be properly resourced so that they can implement design codes and other areas of planning policy. Resource needs to be available for decisions to be enforced and to ensure long-term management of trees by tree officers.Local authorities must be properly resourced so that they can implement design codes and other areas of planning policy. Resource needs to be available for decisions to be enforced and to ensure long-term management of trees by tree officers.
  • Community engagement

As we have already noted, meaningful community engagement is essential if communities are going to consider that they ‘own’ planning decisions rather than having them imposed on them.

We have published a paper on the issue as it relates to consultation on the management of trees which we commend to you: ‘Community engagement in urban tree management decisions: the Bristol case study’.

3 March 2021

You can download a copy of our submission here.

Here are copies of the draft National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code.

The consultation closes on 27 March 2021 and can be accessed here – National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: Consultation proposals.


[1]  ‘a) where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impactsorb) where they relate to change of use to residential, be limited to situations where this is necessary in order to protect an interest of national significance’.

Wales and West Utilities helps to protect Bristol’s precious trees

Wales and West Utilities has been congratulated by the Bristol Tree Forum, and thanked mightily for their understanding and practical approach to a possible future environmental catastrophe at one of their installations in Bristol.

Stoke Lodge Playing Field is a 26-acre site in Stoke Bishop in Bristol. In the north west corner of the field is a gas “kiosk” which houses gas pressure regulation equipment. It was built in 2009, replacing a smaller installation nearby which was not on the same land. It is the responsibility of Wales and West Utilities.

Many locally and nationally notable trees grow on the parkland, a number of them getting quite old now, and in need of some love and our protection.

The access to the compound is over the roots of some of these important trees, most of which are the subject of Tree Preservation Orders. Protected trees surround the compound, and their roots, which are very superficial (as is the way with tree roots) and in places even exposed, are at risk of damage from vehicles driving over them and parking on them.

The W&W gas kiosk

Tree Roots

Tree roots extend radially in every direction to a distance equal to at least the height of the tree (assuming no physical barriers) and grow predominantly near the soil surface.

Typically, 90% of all roots, and virtually all the large structural supporting roots, are in the upper 60cm of the soil.

Soil disturbance within the rooting area should be avoided, whenever and wherever possible as this can significantly adversely affect tree health and tree stability. 

Associated with roots are much finer, thread-like, mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae are symbiotic fungi which grow on or in roots, an association which is mutually beneficial to both the tree and the fungus. They are extremely efficient at nutrient absorption, especially phosphorus, and many trees cannot survive without them.

Diagram of a typical tree root system:

Cars, lorries and vans are heavy. They leak oil and hydraulic fluids from braking systems and power steering pipework and pumps. They also leak windscreen washer fluids. These chemicals are toxic for trees.  In the root area of a tree soil compaction caused by vehicles and the deposit of toxic or impermeable materials should be avoided. The nearer to the trunk these things take place the greater is the damage done and the greater the loss of roots.

Local residents are very protective of the trees – this whole Parkland is hugely important for them, and they have taken its care to their hearts.

Vans and lorries from Wales and West attend the site, both for routine maintenance visits and for any “emergencies”.

Recently one of the residents noted a Wales and West van parked on the exposed roots of one of the trees, so they contacted the Company to point out the dangers for the tree’s future that could be caused by this.

The response from a manager at the Company was immediate and most gratifying. Within hours a site meeting had been arranged with the W&W Manager, the Resident and the BTF BS9 Tree Champion in attendance – all suitably socially-distanced!

The Manager listened to everything we said. He told us that Wales and West had not previously been aware of the importance of these trees, nor aware of the peculiarities of the siting of the compound in relation to the trees.

He went on to say that he would do everything he could to inform future Wales and West employees visiting the site of the sensitive nature of the ground they would have to drive over, and that they would keep traffic passing over the root areas to a minimum, allowing only one vehicle to park on site at a time, parking any others required nearby on the highway. The one vehicle needed would not park under the canopies of the trees. It is possible for one vehicle to park clear of tree canopy areas.

He arranged for good quality signs to be affixed to their entrance gate and to the fence enclosing the kiosk, so that Wales and West operatives would be aware of the need to avoid damage to tree roots at this particular site.

This is the sign W&W attached.

The Bristol Tree Forum has been working hard in recent years, with local residents and their representatives, to encourage Bristol City Council, as owners of the land and as Landlord, to ensure that Tree Preservation Order regulations are complied with by their tenant using the Playing Field, and if necessary enforced. We have had some limited success. This made the attitude and actions of Wales and West Utilities all the more overwhelming.

So, we would like to thank W&W’s manager again for his actions on behalf of the trees, and to compliment Wales and West Utilities for supporting an ethos which encourages community engagement and action like this.

Postscript

The sign (see above) riveted to the main entrance gate onto the site and to the gas kiosk has been removed. It looks like the rivets have been drilled out, rather than the sign being removed by snapping it off, so it must have taken some effort and maybe even some planning to do this. The sign appears to have been taken away.

Who could possible think that doing this ‘vandalism’ could be for anyone’s benefit? It cannot have been Bristol City Council and it is hard to imagine who else would do such a thing. We are investigating.

Post Postscript

Wales & West have now told us that they removed the sign, saying “We put them in the wrong place. Now moved to the right place as agreed with the leaseholders of the land.” What leaseholders? As far as we know this bit of land is not leased. It belongs to Bristol City Council.

Finally

This is the notice that was on the gate:

This is the sign W&W attached.

It is all about protecting precious trees and safeguarding our environment.

There is no single Leaseholder with control of this gate. It is owned by Bristol City Council and the use of the gate and the access to the Field it grants is shared between Cotham School and Wales and West Utilities (W&W), two Leaseholders who use separate parts of the land beyond the gate. We do not know who asked W&W to remove the notice from the gate, but we are bound to ask what reasonable person, with any regard at all for trees, the environment and climate change, would ask W&W to remove it from a shared gate that they may not control, and why would they? Own up please?!

Bristol City Development – Where did all the Green go?

The Climate and Ecological Emergency

In 2018, with much fanfare, Bristol City Council (BCC) declared a Climate Emergency, the first UK city to do so, preceding the UK government by over a year. This has been followed up by the declaration of an Ecological Emergency, and a raft of sustainability aspirations detailed in the Bristol One City plan including doubling the tree canopy by 2046, doubling wildlife abundance by 2050, and City-wide carbon neutrality by 2030.

So why is it that so much of our informal green spaces are still being lost, and so many of our trees continue to be felled?

Is the BCC Development Office blocking Climate and Environmental Action?

A clue to this came out of a recent planning application to build a 4-storey block of flats in St Paul’s, in a street with one of the highest illegal levels of pollution in Bristol, above recommended noise levels, in a known high flood risk area and on land thought to be contaminated.  It was shown that the planned development would increase pollution and noise levels. Furthermore, in an area with one of the lowest tree density in Bristol, five mature maple trees were to be felled, removing the last mitigation for noise, pollution and flooding in the street. The trees are on the very edge of the development site and could therefore have been retained, readily complying with BCS9 which states “Individual green assets should be retained wherever possible and integrated into new development”.

Bristol’s Planning policies are contained in two main documents:

These are supplemented by the Planning Obligations Supplementary Planning Document. All were variously adopted and implemented by the Council between 2011 and 2014.

Despite contravening core strategy planning policies on green infrastructure (BCS9, DM15), pollution (BCS23, DM33), climate change (BCS13), flood risk (BCS16), noise (BCS23, DM35) and health (DM14), the Development Office did everything in its power to promote and advocate this development.

The reasons for this became clearer when officers were asked during the Planning process specifically why they supported a development which breached so many core policies aimed at protecting the health of citizens, the environment and the City’s crucial green infrastructure.

The Head of Development Management responded, “With regard to this application, the policy aims of the Core Strategy could be seen as the delivery of housing (BCS5), including affordable housing (BCS17)”. Further, “Loss of green infrastructure will only be acceptable where it is…… necessary, on balance, to achieve the policy aims of the Core Strategy”.

The statement effectively says that, whilst the need for new and affordable houses remains, BCS5 and BCS17 can override other policies including those mentioned above. Thus, green infrastructure that could have been retained is ignored, pollution and noise levels above legal limits are permitted, and the worsening health of residents would be tolerated. This position seems to be contrary to that previously held, with development under BCS5 and BCS17 needing to be also in compliance with the other core policies. As there will always be a need for new homes and affordable homes, the concern is that all other policies can be set aside indefinitely.

We would suggest that BCC Development Office interpretation is in contravention of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which states that: “the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development (remember that phrase), including “an environmental objective” – to contribute to protecting and enhancing our natural environment, including helping to improve biodiversity, mitigating and adapting to climate change and moving to a low carbon economy”.

So how has the BCC Development Office responded to BCC’s Climate and Ecological declarations?

The Development Office was also asked how implementation of planning policies had been influenced by the Climate and Ecological Emergencies. Their response was:

“Whilst Climate and Ecological Emergencies have been declared by the Council, the Bristol Local Plan has not been fully reviewed in the light of these and the policies referred to remain unchanged. Changes to Local Plan policies would have to balance the objectives of the respective declarations with the requirement to deliver sustainable development for the city”.   

By “balance”, it seems they may effectively mean “ignore”. Clearly their definition of sustainable development is somewhat different to that defined in the NPPF, with no intrinsic “environmental objective”, and, as one Councillor on the Committee remarked, the development will “lead to poorer people having shorter lifespans”. Unpacking their response still further, the implication is that there are currently no core policies in place to implement the Climate and Ecological emergencies. As described above, this is not true. Were BCS9, DM15, BCS23, DM33, BCS13, BCS16, DM35 and DM14 to be applied as intended in the NPPF, there would be sufficient policy support at least for the principles of the two emergency declarations.

Is this being led by bureaucratic or political decision making?

It is not clear why the Development Office has taken this position, but there are two possibilities that should be of concern:

  • The Development Office is acting contrary to the aspiration of the City’s political leaders.
  • Senior Council politicians who have made much political capital from the highly praised environmental declarations, have at the same time permitted, or perhaps even encouraged, Council Officers to disregard existing planning policies that would otherwise enable implementation of these declarations.

Thus, selective policy compliance allows development of second-rate housing in a race for quantity over quality.

It seems that Bristol City Council are choosing to emphasise some core strategic policies aimed at hastening house building, whilst demoting other core strategic policies aimed at protecting public health, green infrastructure, air quality and the environment. This is a recipe for slum development, and we deserve to know whether these decisions are being taken at a political or bureaucratic level.

Professor John Tarlton.