The Government delivered on its promise to publish the revised NPPF ahead of its summer recess by one day, together with a suite of supporting documents and updated National Planning Policy Guidance. Despite over 29,000 responses made during the consultation period, the content of the revised NPPF (or “NPPF2”) remains remarkably similar to the draft.
The NPPF2 came into force immediately on 24 July for all current planning applications and appeals, meaning that it is the relevant national policy in place at the time of determination. However NPPF2 contains a transition period for Local Plans currently at or close to examination, so that those submitted to the Secretary of State for examination on or before 24 January 2019 can be assessed against the previous NPPF. That includes the new London Plan (as noted in a letter from James Brokenshire MP to London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Here is our summary of 11 key changes and new policies within the NPPF2 to be aware of:
1. Assessment of Housing Need There will be a standardised methodology for assessing housing needs based on household projection figures (due to be released in September 2018). It is not entirely clear if this is a compulsory obligation, although a standardised methodology is welcomed as a means to avoid the lengthy delays at local plan examinations which are often caused by protracted arguments around calculations and methods for housing needs figures. However, the Government has indicated that this standardised method may change in September 2018 once projection figures are released.
2. Housing Delivery Test From November 2018 the Secretary of State will publish an annual summary of each local authority’s performance in a new Housing Delivery Test. The focus is on delivery of new homes rather than planning for them. The new test measures the net additional dwellings provided against those required in line with the Housing Delivery Test Measurement Rule Book also released. Importantly, under-delivering local authorities will be penalised through new measures including a requirement to prepare an action plan and the triggering of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” where the local authority has met <75% of the test over the three previous years.
3. Design NPPF2 strengthens the importance and requirement of good design. This is seen by the Government as a localism issue, with the idea that good design creates better places in which to live and work and helps make development acceptable to communities. In order to encourage good design and engagement with local communities, new paragraph 128 states that “Applications that can demonstrate early, proactive and effective engagement with the community should be looked on more favourably than those that cannot”. New paragraph 130 sets out that design should not be used as a reason to object to a development where the plan’s policies on design are met. The NPPF2 recognises that the design quality of the original scheme can sometimes be lessened and paragraph 130 gives strong guidance to LPAs to resist subsequent changes to approved schemes (e.g. through s73 or NMA applications).
How these design standards this will be balanced against the need for housing delivery in light of the new test remains to be seen, however new Housing Secretary James Brokenshire MP has stated that: “I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules.”
4. Neighbourhood Plans NPPF2 confirms how planning applications should be determined in circumstances where the LPA cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of housing (and relevant policies are therefore out of date), but there is a ‘made’ neighbourhood plan in place. The position of Neighbourhood Plans is strengthened in new paragraph 14, which states that where relevant policies are “out-of-date”, “the adverse impact of allowing [housing] development that conflicts with the neighbourhood plan is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” on the proviso that the neighbourhood plan:
- is less than two years old
- contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing need
- the LPA has at least a three-year housing land supply, and
- the LPAs housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years
5. Viability The NPPG contains a push to front-load viability and include proposed development contributions in the local plan stage. New paragraph 57 states that “Where up-to-date policies have set out the contributions expected from development, planning applications that comply with them should be assumed to be viable.” It follows therefore that those schemes which do not comply with the expected contributions will need to be backed up with a viability assessment as to why this is not the case (with such assessments to be made public – or at least an executive summary to be made public in line with a standard template to be issued in the autumn).
6. Affordable housing There is an increased emphasis on planning for different affordable housing tenures and the definition of affordable housing has been expanded to include:
- affordable housing for rent (which includes specific reference to Build to Rent schemes)
- starter homes; discounted market sales housing
- other affordable routes to home ownership (including shared ownership and rent to buy)
There is a new requirement for major housing development (10 or more units or site area > 0.5ha) to provide at least 10% of the homes to be available for affordable home ownership (as part of the overall affordable housing contribution from the site), so off-site provision in lieu in the form of a financial contribution will now be the exception. The Written Ministerial Statement policy of excluding affordable housing from smaller sites other than in designated rural areas (where policies may set a lower threshold of five units or fewer) and the NPPG’s Vacant Building Credit have been incorporated into the NPPF2.
7. Small sites The Government has confirmed its view of the importance of small sites and the NPPF2 now expects councils to identify at least 10% of their housing requirement on small and medium sized sites (up to one hectare) through their development plans and brownfield site registers. This is a welcome change as it recognises the significant role that small sites can play by bringing forward housing quickly.
8. Building up The revised NPPF advises that planning policies and decisions should support schemes which propose extensions above existing residential and commercial properties in order to provide new homes. Such schemes will need to “be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene” (Paragraph 118). There could be cases where there are viability issues with extending above some buildings, and the additional floorspace will be liable to CIL payments, but the fact that the principle of building upwards is now supported in the NPPF is very welcome.
9. People Over Wind In April, the European Court turned existing law on its head in the recent case of People Over Wind, holding that mitigation measures cannot be taken into account at the initial Habitats Regulations Assessment process but must form part of the appropriate assessment. The NPPF2 repeats the policy contained in the previous NPPF that the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring an appropriate assessment is being planned or determined. This means that even if the mitigation adequately mitigates any potential harm to a habitats site, the development still does not benefit from a presumption in favour.
This issue was highlighted in the NPPF2 consultation process, but the Government’s response is that it is examining the implications of the European Court’s judgement and is not proposing any changes at this stage.We will have to watch this space to see how this issue pans out in practice.
10. Green Belt The lack of radical Green Belt policy amendments in the draft NPPF2 was disappointing for many. Whilst there have been no significant changes since the draft was released there are a two noteworthy inclusions relating to Green Belt boundary changes:
- New paragraph 137 provides a framework for local planning authorities to argue that exceptional circumstances for changes exist where it can demonstrate that all other options for meeting its development needs have been fully examined.
- New paragraph 136 provides for changes to Green Belt boundaries established through strategic policies to be made through non-strategic policies including neighbourhood plans that show how the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset through environmental and accessibility improvements.
11. Agent of change The “agent of change” principle is the principle by which the applicant introducing new land use is responsible for managing the impact of that change and has been enshrined in the NPPF2. The purpose is to ensure that any new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and facilities without them suffering restrictions caused by the development surrounding them.
The exact interpretation and implications of the NPPF2 will become clearer over time and when more information and guidance is released. In the meantime, please contact Lisa Da Silva, Chloe Karamian or any of our highly regarded team of planning consultants and lawyers for assistance on any of these issues.