The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has recently been published. This document is the Government’s advice for the whole planning system and should influence both policy writing and decision making. Whilst the new document does not radically overhaul the planning system (it doesn’t deviate far from its predecessor and the subsequent incremental changes through other documents) there are several important alterations. The concept of sustainable development and the previous definition remains unaltered.
In terms of plan making, there is a suggested shift back towards a two-tier planning system with Councils obliged to have separate strategic and non-strategic policies in their plans. There is now a requirement for Local Planning Authorities to review policies in local plans every five years and keep their local plan up to date. This places considerable onus on under-resourced councils and, given the punitive consequences that remain for Councils without an up to date local plan, this could provide more opportunities for developers.
Within the application process there is even greater encouragement to front-load it with the Councils’ pre-application advice services, involving consultees, discussing Section 106 Agreement requirements at an earlier stage and using Planning Performance Agreements where appropriate. This comes at a time when LPAs are under-resourced and the quality of pre-application responses can often be poor. It is also a time-consuming process and the new NPPF doesn’t address the issue of accountability in pre-applications by LPAs.
As long telegraphed, strategic policies should be informed by a local housing need assessment, conducted using the ‘standard method’, unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach. In addition to the local housing need figure, any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas should also be taken into account in establishing the amount of housing to be planned for. This is a significant change because it is, at least, a shift back towards imposed housing targets, not seen since the revocation of Regional Planning eight years ago. Many authorities, especially in London ad the South will see their housing need rise considerably which will then have a significant impact on their five-year housing land supply (which must still be demonstrated) and having up-to-date local plans and housing policies.
The new NPPF supports the development of entry-level exception sites. These are sites on the edge of settlements which wouldn’t normally get planning permission for new houses except if allocated in the development plan. Such exception sites have long been available for affordable housing but this is now extended to new dwellings suitable for first-time buyers (or those looking to rent their first home). The idea of starter homes being given preferential treatment in the planning system has been long discussed but this is the first definite action in their favour. As such, sites now have the potential for more developer/landowner profit (starter homes must be sold at 80% of the market value), this has the potential to bring previously unacceptable sites forward for development. There is also suggestion that new employment uses on the edge of settlements may be acceptable, perhaps an indicator that the planning system has been so focused on housing at the expense of employment sites and the balance needs redressing.
Of the other expected changes, there isn’t significant change on the re-use of previously developed land (or indeed the definition of PDL). The Government consistently encourages the re-use of PDL but there remains some confusion as to how this sits with the protection of employment uses. There remains no policy for housing on PDL outside of existing built-up areas except for in the Green Belt. This is a missed opportunity.
Should you wish to discuss the implications for your project or future project, please contact Nick Cobbold on 01256 766673.
To view the Government’s full release of the revised NPPF, please click here.