Better by design: NPPF consultation considers design, sustainability and environment

02 Feb 2021

The Government has published consultation proposals for an amended National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and a National Model Design Code (NMDG) that seek to implement the findings of the January 2020 report ‘Living with Beauty’, prepared by the (now defunct) ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’.
The amendments within the NPPF broadly underline the importance of high quality (or beautiful) design, but also include significant guidance on the making of Article 4 Directions and the importance of trees.
The main proposed alterations to the NPPF are as follows:
  • Amending Paragraph 11 with regards to the presumption in favour of sustainable development making it clear that for plan making this means not only meeting development needs, but also improving the environment and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
  • Where strategic policies involve larger scale developments such as new settlements, policies should set a vision that look at least 30 years ahead.
  • Significant changes to Paragraph 53 clarifying that Article 4 directions prohibiting changes of use to residential should only be used to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts and that in all cases Article 4 directions should apply to the smallest geographical area possible.
  • A new criterion has been added to Paragraph 109 requiring that when assessing sites for allocations or applications for development local authorities should consider the design of streets, parking, other transport elements and ensure that they reflect national guidance including the National Design Guide and the National Model Design Code.
  • Amending Paragraph 127 to require all local authorities to prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code.
  • A new Paragraph 128 confirming that design guides and codes can be prepared at area-wide or site specific scale and adopted as part of a local plan process or as a supplementary planning document.
  • A new Paragraph 130 highlighting the important contribution that trees make to the urban environment and mitigation and adaption to climate change. Planning decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined and that opportunities are taken to locate trees elsewhere throughout the development, and that existing trees should be retained wherever possible.
  • A new Paragraph 133 making it clear that development that is not well designed should be refused particularly where it fails to take into account local policies and government guidance. It indicates that significant weight should be given to development that does accord with local and national design guides and/or incorporates outstanding or innovative design that helps to raise the standard of design within an area more generally.
  • A new Paragraph 197 stating that when considering applications to remove a historic statue or plaque or memorial, local planning authorities should have regards of the importance of retaining these heritage assets.
Clearly the main thrust of the amendments is the requirement for local authorities to prepare design guides and codes and to implement them during their decision making process. For some authorities this will be straight forward (and many already use design codes). However, for more poorly resourced local authorities, this will be an additional burden on budgets which are likely to be further stretched by new responsibilities to be introduced by the Environment Bill.
In addition to the heightened importance of design, for developers one of the more significant amendments is the introduction of Paragraph 130. This will mean that trees are now likely to play an increasingly important part of the design process. Whilst developers are used to seeking to retain existing trees, new requirements for tree lined streets and separate areas of tree planting will have an impact on layout, including the design of highways.
The amendments to the NPPF also provide a clear warning to local authorities that  plan to use blanket Article 4 directions to protect high street and business areas from changes of use to residential. This is likely to become of heightened importance when new legislation anticipated to extend permitted changes of use to residential to the whole of the new Class E use class is introduced later this year.
The details of the NMDG at this stage are limited and the consultation only seeks feedback on its contents, application and its use and the approach to community engagement that should be undertaken.
Interested parties have until 27 March 2021 to respond to the consultation.  You can find more detail here:
If you are affected by or would like to discuss the proposals in more detail, or if you need any assistance in respect of planning, please get in touch with our dedicated Planning team.

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