Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)  

At a time when Brexit seems to be the only topic on the Government’s agenda, attention has been turned back to issues closer to home, notably the on-going housing crisis and the policy response to 2017’s Housing White Paper.

The Government has now launched its long-anticipated Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for consultation from the 5 March 2018 to 10 May 2018, with a view to a final Framework being published before the summer. The Government has launched a separate consultation running in parallel, dealing with developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure.

The Government says that the updated NPPF guidance, which acts as a material consideration in both plan-making and decision-taking, reflects important political and economic changes which have occurred since the Framework was first published in 2012.

The draft revised NPPF incorporates policy proposals previously consulted on in the Housing White Paper, published last February, which set out a comprehensive approach to ‘fixing our broken housing market’, as well as the ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places’ paper, consulted on in September 2017. The housing-focused reforms to the NPPF, which this KnowHOW concentrates on, reflect the Government’s ambitions to release the right land for development and fulfil its pledge to deliver 1 million new homes by 2022.

The Government is also considering further planning reforms which could include a new permitted development right for upwards extensions and more effective ways of bringing forward agricultural land for housing. This will be the subject of separate consultation.

Along with some structural changes to the format of the document, the draft includes a number of key policy proposals which will be of particular interest to those in the development industry. These are summarised below:

Plan-making & Decision-taking

Several changes are proposed for plan-making which build on changes to the law introduced in the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.  Changes have also been proposed which will influence decision-taking by local authorities.  These include:

  • Plan review timescales -  A requirement for authorities to review plan policies every five years following the date of adoption, with updates, if necessary, to reflect changing circumstances.
  • Soundness tests - Several amendments to the ‘soundness’ tests and tightening the evidence expected in respect of policies to support a ‘sound’ plan including a requirement for authorities to prepare and maintain a statement of common ground, as evidence of the duty to co-operate.
  • Viability assessments - To speed up the decision-making process, where a proposed development accords with all relevant policies in the plan, there is no need for a viability assessment to accompany the planning application. It is also expected that all viability assessments reflect the Government’s recommended approach set out in draft revised national planning guidance published alongside the Framework.
  • Infrastructure and affordable housing - Additional text has been proposed stating the need for infrastructure and affordable housing to be addressed early on at the pre-application stage.

Housing Delivery

One of the core issues underpinning the Government’s planning reforms is the need to deliver a wide choice of high quality homes. The key areas of change are:

  • Encouraging greater use of small sites – It is proposed that authorities should ensure that at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less.
  • New standard method for calculating housing need – A new standard methodology for assessing housing need has been introduced, the details of which are set out in draft revised national planning policy guidance published alongside the Framework.
  • 5-year land supply agreed within a 1-year period – It is proposed that local authorities agree their housing land supply on an annual basis, which should be demonstrated either through a recently adopted plan or an annual position statement.
  • Housing delivery test – A new test is to be introduced from 2020 to ensure authorities are accountable for ensuring new homes are delivered. If delivery is below 75% of the identified housing requirement, the presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply, allowing automatic planning permission on sustainable schemes apart from in exceptional circumstances.
  • Shorter development commencement timescales - Authorities should consider imposing a planning condition to bring forward development within two years, except where a shorter timescale could hinder the viability or deliverability of a scheme. This aims to tackle the alleged 'land-banking'.
  • Affordable homes on major sites - At least 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership, with certain exemptions.

Effective Use of Land

As anticipated, the draft changes refer to the requirement to balance the need to deliver housing with continued protection of the Green Belt. The key changes relating to land use include:

  • Maintaining protection of the Green Belt  -  Certain criteria should be satisfied before ‘exceptional circumstances’ are used to change Green Belt boundaries. First consideration for release should be given to land which has been previously-developed or which is well-served by public transport. Policies are also expected to set out how the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset.
  • Using brownfield land within settlements for homes - The revised NPPF reflects the White Paper proposal to give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for new homes.
  • Development of empty land/properties – Redevelopment of redundant land for housing is encouraged, including making effective use of under-utilised retail or industrial space and more flexibility is given to convert retail or employment land to housing.
  • Greater use of brownfield land for housing in the Green Belt – A new exception to “inappropriate development" is proposed which permits brownfield land in the Green Belt to be used for affordable housing, where there is no substantial harm to openness.
  • Achieving appropriate densities – The revised NPPF encourages higher density housing through the proposed introduction of minimum density standards in towns and city centres and around transport hubs where there is a shortage of land to meet identified housing needs.

Affordable Housing

A core aspiration of the Government’s planning reforms is to help more people on to the housing ladder. Reflecting the 2017 Budget, the draft proposes that authorities support the development of entry-level exception sites which are outside existing settlements and on land which is not already allocated for housing. These sites should comprise a high proportion of entry-level homes that will be offered for discounted sale or affordable rent.

The updated glossary proposes a broader definition of affordable housing which now includes starter homes, a new form of affordable housing for first time buyers. The proposed wording states that the definition of a starter home should reflect the meaning set out in statute at the time of plan-preparation or decision-making. Eligibility to purchase a starter home will be restricted to those who have maximum household incomes of £80,000 a year or less (or £90,000 a year or less in Greater London).

Revised Planning Practice Guidance (PPG)

In addition to the proposed updates to the NPPF, last week also saw a number of key changes made to the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). PPG comprises 51 pieces of concise individual guidance covering a range of planning-related topics, from appeals to advertisements to air quality. Seven of the PPG documents were updated on 22 February 2018. The key changes within each are:

  • Fees for planning applications - Various amendments have been made throughout to reflect the 20% increase in planning fees recently introduced by the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) Regulations 2017.
  • Neighbourhood planning – Following the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017, a number of modifications have been made to PPG.   These include guidance on how amendments can be made to boundaries of neighbourhood areas, additional information on the Independent Examiner’s role in considering a proposal for the modification of a neighbourhood plan, information on changes to the process of Referendum and bringing the neighbourhood plan or Order into force and additional text reflecting new legislation which gives the community greater powers to amend designated neighbourhood areas.
  • Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – Guidance on CIL has been amended to reflect changes regarding the process of exemption of ‘self-builders’ from paying the levy, including further explanation of the application process that needs to be followed to gain a self-build exemption.

Analysis

There are a number of changes proposed to the NPPF which are to be seen as an attempt to address the on-going housing crisis. The standardised methodology for calculating housing need should be welcomed as a tool to hopefully speed up both plan-making and decision-taking and reduce time spent at appeal analysing matters of housing demand and supply. Furthermore, the new housing delivery test could present new opportunities for land owners and developers, as will the measures to encourage the redevelopment of under-utilised retail or industrial space for residential purposes.

There are some helpful references to further emphasise the suitability of urban brownfield land for housing and to encourage the release of sites which have no realistic prospect of being taken up for their designated use. This may well help to unlock stalled retail supermarket sites or longstanding vacant employment land which is unattractive to the market. The delivery of affordable housing is to be boosted although there is no mention of a specific delivery vehicle for the numbers required (such as Local Authority build).

There are clarifications around the Green Belt too, allowing Neighbourhood Plans, which seek to deliver new development, the power to do so by amending the designation but only where this is based on appropriate needs evidence. Affordable housing on brownfield land which does not reduce openness is to be added to the list of development that is not inappropriate, however the sanctity of the Green Belt is to be preserved and is still to be seen as a last resort for Councils planning where to locate their housing and employment requirements.

The draft follows through on the White Paper, in proposing to allow Councils to reduce the standard time limit for implementation of consents from three to two years which could create significant pressure on sites with complex technical issues but is to be seen as a “stick” to speed up housing delivery. Pressure is also proposed to be placed on Councils should delivery fall below 75% of the housing target, with an automatic presumption in favour of housing where this is the case.

Both the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have been at pains to acknowledge and highlight the major shortcomings of the housing market in England however the amendments proposed would appear to be a continuation of a theme, incremental change, and cannot be described as radical. The sheer scale of the housing crisis requires fundamental change to the way housing is both planned for and delivered, and the consultation will be a disappointment to those expecting major change. It can best be described as an attempt to further streamline the system and a tweaking of existing guidance.

The final format of the changes to the NPPF will only be known following the current consultation and therefore the industry has an opportunity to influence the guidance. A further update will be provided once the Government has confirmed the content of the updated Framework.

For any queries on the consultation or guidance as to what the changes might mean for you, please do get in touch.


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Alice Henderson
Graduate Planner
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0161 835 1333
alice.henderson@howplanning.com