NPPF provides greater certainty for growth

The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was issued yesterday (24 July 2018) by the Government and replaces the 2012 version. Although significant progress has been made since 2012 in promoting housing and economic growth whilst maintaining a plan-led system and enhancing localism, the revised NPPF provides greater certainty to the development industry and local authorities to ensure that growth continues to be supported.

Key points from the revised NPPF are:

  • The continuation of the application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development;
  • The (interim) introduction of a standard methodology for calculating housing need;
  • The introduction of the Housing Delivery Test which seeks to ensure that authorities achieve the intended level of housing delivery;
  • Greater support for Neighbourhood Plans;
  • Continued support for development in the Green Belt in exceptional circumstances and greater clarification of the methodology for releasing such land through the review of plans;
  • Greater protection for important trees; and
  • Continuation of the support for the principles of Garden Cities.
  • The NPPF is applicable immediately to planning decisions, however, Local Plans have a six month grace for submission during which time it will not be applicable.

Other important new policy areas that the Government has introduced include:

  • Local plan and neighbourhood plans should seek to allocate 10% of housing need as small sites of up to 1 hectare in size (this has changed from the draft NPPF which had this as an absolute requirement and the size has also increased);
  • There will need to be strong evidence that Green Belt land is required for development and councils will need to demonstrate that they have maximised growth on brownfield land; increased densities; and discussed with neighbouring authorities taking some of their need;
  • Sequential approach to release of Green Belt land which requires consideration of brownfield land / sustainable sites first;
  • Reuse of brownfield land in Green Belt not inappropriate if not causing substantial harm and contributing to the provision of affordable housing;
  • The reference to valued landscapes remains (was removed in draft NPPF);
  • Introduction of specific protection for ancient woodland and veteran trees which should not be harmed unless wholly exceptional circumstances.

The NPPF is supported by changes to the Planning Practice Guidance including the viability and housing needs sections. It should be noted that the ‘standard methodology’ for calculating housing need is open for review in September 2018 when the new household projections are announced by the ONS. The challenge facing the Government is that with the reduction in the projected growth of the population, the use of the standard methodology will not lead to an overall figure of an additional 300,000 homes per annum, a long stated target for Government.

Whilst the 2012 NPPF put economic growth and employment as a key facilitator for change, the 2018 version downgrades the importance of economic growth through employment. However, the Government’s Industrial Strategy and the need to improve productivity are elements that are supported. The 2012 NPPF provided protection for industrial land and this has been removed as a specific policy, with the longer term protection of allocated land now linked to the prospects of submitting a planning application for the intended use within the plan period or allowing alternative uses where these meet local needs.

The issue of viability has been well trailed prior to the publication of the NPPF, and the new policy significantly reduces the flexibility that had been set out in the earlier draft. Most notably the NPPF states that applications that accord with up to date plans are assumed to be viable and does not provide an avenue for developers to challenge affordable housing and other contributions. In regard to viability there is an emphasis shift from LPA to Applicant to make the case as to why viability should be considered.

The Government has sought to increase flexibility in the house building industry and to promote greater development by small and medium housebuilders by requiring authorities to consider the allocation of smaller sites in their plans. The requirement to allocate smaller sites does not set any density requirement, so it is likely that sites will mainly be focused within small, dense city/town centre sites. The requirement might be less constraining in more urban authorities, where opportunity for regeneration exists. Sites of 1ha or less in suburban / rural areas might fuel more activity from SME Housebuilders / Developers, however, windfall sites are likely to achieve a significant proportion of this need.

The role of town centres and the changing nature of retail development are recognised. Gone is the requirement to define primary and secondary shopping frontages and the primary shopping area now acts as the main functional area within the town centre, recognising the greater flexibility that can be afforded in such centres for other uses.

In addition, given the inherent complexities of delivering high density urban residential projects, it is a welcome addition that the NPPF now allows for potential flexibility to be used by the decision maker in assessing the acceptability of a development scheme on a number of environmental, design and highway considerations. This more flexible policy approach recognises that in urban areas where there is either existing or proposed transport infrastructure, the delivery of high density residential development will boost housing supply in the most sustainable of locations.

Good design continues to be a key underlying principle which the Government seeks to promote. There is significant emphasis on the use of plans, supplementary planning documents and design codes to guide development prior to applications being developed. In addition, engagement with the local community should lead to applications being considered favourably. Whilst many authorities already utilise external review processes, the NPPF requires authorities to use these, as well as community workshops, particularly when larger housing and mixed use developments are being proposed.

The revised NPPF places considerably stronger emphasis on the potential for the supply of a significant number of new homes through new settlements and urban extensions. It seeks to ensure that the Plan maker, when considering potential a new settlement or urban extension location, considers carefully the impact of planned infrastructure, access to services and employment and potential environmental gains.

It does recognise that the timeframe to implement large scale new settlements or urban extensions may extend beyond individual plan periods. Associated infrastructure requirements may not therefore be identifiable at the outset. It retains recognition of the potential for the quality of development to be maintained by applying Garden City principles. However, the revised NPPF does not go any further in specific support for Garden City developments.

Finally, the revised NPPF provides a steer towards the potential use of locally-led development corporations to speed up the delivery of new settlements or urban extensions. However, the evidence or detail of how this may be successfully implemented to speed up delivery is not provided.

Stuart Baillie, Head of Planning (London and South East) said: “the revised NPPF has been long awaited by both the development industry and local authorities. The emphasis on delivery of new homes and allowing for increased densities in sustainable locations will be important in assisting increased housing delivery across London and the South East, where housing affordability issues are most acute”.

Andrew Bradshaw, Head of Planning (Manchester) said: “the revised NPPF emphasises the importance of strategic policies and joint working. Given the complex interrelationships in the North West, we see this as an opportunity to deliver the required growth in both housing and employment. There are differences between the draft NPPF and the published version including changing the definitions of affordable housing and town centres and we will see how these are taken forward in local plans and planning decisions”.

Adrian Hunter, Head of Planning (Bristol and South West), said “the NPPF recognises that in some cases sustainable Green Belt land can form part of the package of land to deliver growth. We welcome the increased role that brownfield land in the Green Belt can play in delivering affordable housing. The protection of the environment is an important role for the planning system and greater protection for important trees and woodlands is recognised”.

GL Hearn will be holding client briefing sessions in Manchester, Bristol and London to assess the effects of the NPPF.

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We welcome the increased role that brownfield land in the Green Belt can play in delivering affordable housing. The protection of the environment is an important role for the planning system and greater protection for important trees and woodlands is recognised.
Adrian Hunter
Head of Planning - Bristol and South West