The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has just been published. This sets out the Government’s overall strategy for the planning system and is a material consideration in determining a planning application. Ultimately emerging development plan documents must be tested for soundness with the principles set out in the NPPF. Plans should be consistent with requirements.
The new document does not radically overhaul the planning system or the understandings set out in its predecessor. There are, however, several changes in priorities and focus which should be noted. The document retains the now established focus on Sustainable Development but, consistent with changes since its 2012 predecessor, there is now more onus placed on Neighbourhood Plans in the NPPF with Sustainable Development. Overall, there is not a significant change in the principles of the Sustainable Development and the changes made seem to reflect the various judgements made in recent years regarding the planning making process, five-year housing land supply and Neighbourhood Plans etc.
In terms of plan making, there is a suggested shift back towards a two-tier planning system. A key change is the differentiation between strategic and non-strategic policies which must be made explicit in Plans. Strategic policies are to address the strategic priorities of the area by setting out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and quality of development, looking ahead over at least a 15-year period from the adoption of the plan. Whilst it was previously insinuated, there is now a requirement for Local Planning Authorities (LPA) to review policies in local plans every five years. The review will need to be sooner if local housing need is expected to change significantly. For decision making, there is an even greater encouragement to front-load the application process with the use of Councils’ pre-application advice services, involving consultees at an earlier stage, 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 the pre-application responses can be often poor. It is also a time-consuming process and the new NPPF doesn’t address the issue of accountability in pre-apps by LPAs. LPAs are encouraged to make decisions as quickly as possible. There is, however, an explicit allowance for agreeing to a longer period where necessary. Whilst this has often been used to extend time for the LPA, it does offer applicants the chance to challenge those LPAs who refuse to agree extensions of time even when a positive decision is close to being achieved.
A key change is that 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. Strategic policies should also set out a housing requirement for designated neighbourhood areas (these figures would not need to be re-tested at Neighbourhood Plan examination). The standard method is a big change with wide implications as it can lead to more or less housing needing to be provided by local authorities, so will have a significant impact for the five-year housing land supply/housing requirements. In addition, the need to provide affordable housing is expanded stating that affordable housing should not be sought for residential developments that are not major developments, other than is designated rural areas (where policies may set out lower threshold of five units or lower). The vacant building credit is also enshrined within the text to encourage the re-use of brownfield land. Whilst this is still only a material planning consideration, the caveat which allowed LPAs to argue exceptional sites, suitable for first-time buyers (or those looking to rent their first home), unless the need for such homes is already met within the authority’s area.
Other notable changes include:
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