New NPPF Significant Changes

Extract of an article in Planning Daily :-

The finalised version of the revised National Planning Policy Framework was issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on 24 July 2018. Here are 25 areas where the new NPPF has confirmed or altered key proposals and policies.

1. The introduction of a housing delivery test for local authorities in November this year. The test will measure the number of homes created against local housing need and penalise councils that under deliver against various thresholds over a three-year period. This includes applying the presumption in favour of sustainable development where delivery is below 75 per cent of the housing requirement from 2020. However, this year, the presumption penalty threshold is less than 25 per cent, rising to 45 per cent next years.

2. The introduction of a new standardised method of calculating housing need. The method takes the government’s household growth projections and applies an affordabilty ratio, comparing local house prices with workplace earnings, to produce a need figure.

3. The reinstatement of “social rent” in the NPPF’s definition of affordable housing.
4. A controversial small sites requirement in the draft NPPF has been watered down in response to sector concerns. The new NPPF says councils must accommodate ten per cent of their housing requirement on small sites, as opposed to 20 per cent of sites under the draft version.

5. The importance of design standards is emphasised. The creation of high-quality buildings and places is ‘fundamental’ to what the planning and development process should achieve, the revised NPPF states. In particular, councils should try to “ensure that the quality of approved development is not materially diminished between permission and completion, as a result of changes being made to the permitted scheme.

6. The policy on green belt alterations has been revised. In new wording added to the draft, the new NPPF requires green belt reviews to be “fully evidenced and justified”.

7. The new NPPF strengthens the requirement for councils to produce local plans compared to the draft version. The draft stated that local policies “may” come forward “either as part of a single local plan or as part of a subsequent local plan or neighbourhood plan”, while the final version says that “non-strategic” policies “should be included in local plans”.

8. The NPPF’s policies come into effect straight away but local plans submitted before the end of January will be examined against the 2012 framework.

9. The glossary of the new framework confirms the revised definition of “deliverable” housing sites set out in the March draft, apart from one minor clarification. It says that “sites that are not major development” – rather than “small sites”, as in the draft – and sites with detailed planning permission “should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years”. Sites with outline planning permission, permission in principle, allocated in the development plan or identified on brownfield registers should only be considered deliverable “where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years”, it says. For housing, the glossary defines “major development” as schemes where ten or more homes will be provided or the site has an area of at least 0.5 hectares.

10. The approach advocated in the 2016 written ministerial statement on neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) is enshrined in the finalised framework. Paragraph 14 says that where the presumption in favour of sustainable development would otherwise apply in the absence of relevant or up-to-date plan policies, the adverse impact of allowing housing schemes that conflict with NDPs is likely to “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” where the plan was adopted two years or less before the decision, it contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement and the local planning authority has at least a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites against its five year requirement, including any appropriate buffer against underdelivery. In addition, the planning authority’s record must show that at least 45 per cent of homes required were delivered over the previous three years, the document says.

11. Policies on developer contributions should not undermine plans’ deliverability, the finalised framework insists. Paragraph 57 says applications that comply with contributions policies “should be assumed to be viable”. It adds: “It is up to the applicant to demonstrate whether particular circumstances justify the need for a viability assessment at the application stage.” This is in contrast to the March draft, which suggested that where proposals for development accord with all the relevant policies in an up-to-date development plan, “no viability assessment should be required to accompany the application”. The finalised framework explains: “The weight to be given to a viability assessment is a matter for the decision-maker, having regard to all the circumstances in the case, including whether the plan and the viability evidence underpinning it is up to date, and any change in site circumstances since the plan was brought into force.”

12. Local plans and spatial development strategies must, as a minimum, “seek to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs” to be declared sound. This phrase reinforces the soundness test laid down in paragraph 35 of the finalised framework, which requires plans that are positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy. A footnote adds that, for housing policies, such needs should be assessed using a clear and justified method. Paragraph 60. says that, in determining the minimum number of homes needed, strategic policies should be informed by a local housing need assessment conducted using a standard method to be prescribed in national planning guidance, “unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals”. It adds: “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.”

13. Larger-scale developments must be well located and designed and supported by the necessary infrastructure and facilities. This proviso appears in paragraph 72 of the finalised framework, which backs options such as new settlements and “significant extensions” to existing towns and villages as ways in which the supply of large numbers of new homes “can often be best achieved”. Newly added guidance says that before proposing such development, strategic policy-makers should consider the opportunities presented by existing or planned investment in infrastructure, the area’s economic potential and the scope for net environmental gains. It requires planning authorities to ensure that the size and location of such developments will support a sustainable community, make a “realistic assessment” of likely delivery rates and identify opportunities for supporting rapid implementation, “such as through joint ventures or locally led development corporations”. It also reinserts a reference to garden city principles, controversially omitted from the March draft, as an example of how “clear expectations” for development quality can be laid down.

14. Planning performance agreements (PPAs) are likely to be needed for applications that are particularly large or complex to determine. This suggestion, contained in paragraph 46 of the finalised framework, did not appear in the March draft. The final version reiterates the government’s view that applicants and local planning authorities should consider the potential for voluntary PPAs “where this might achieve a faster and more effective application process”.

15. Plan reviews will be needed at least every five years where local housing need figures have or look set to “change significantly”. Paragraph 33 of the finalised framework says: “Relevant strategic policies will need updating at least once every five years if their applicable local housing need figure has changed significantly; and they are likely to require earlier review if local housing need is expected to change significantly in the near future.” This appears to be a less stringent review requirement than proposed in the March draft, which referred only to actual or anticipated “increases” in housing need figures.

16. Warehousing and logistics support is beefed up. The new NPPF says that the specific locational requirements of storage and distribution operations should be recognised in planning policies and decisions. This requirement, set out in paragraph 82 of the finalised framework, was absent from the March draft, which made no mention of the sector. The framework says policies and decisions should make provision for storage and distribution operations “at a variety of scales and in suitably accessible locations”. The framework also includes brand-new support for lorry parking facilities in paragraph 107. Elsewhere, paragraph 20 reinstates employment in the list of land uses for which strategic policies will be required to set the pattern, scale and quality of development and make sufficient provision.

17. Ancient woodland and veteran trees are accorded more protection. Paragraph 175(c) says that development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees, should be refused, “unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”. The glossary of the March specifically excluded draft individual aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland from its definition of irreplaceable habitat.

18. Councils planning for town centres will no longer be expected to identify primary and secondary shopping frontages but should “respond to rapid changes in the retail and leisure industries”. March’s draft version said councils should, when defining the extent of town centres and primary shopping areas, “identify primary and secondary frontages” and make clear which uses will be permitted in such locations. The final NPPF, in paragraph 85, drops both the frontages requirement and a policy in the draft version which said authorities should “support diversification and changes of use where town centres are in decline”. More details here.

19/ Councils are encouraged to use their compulsory purchase powers to boost delivery. Paragraph 119 includes additional text compared to the draft on what the MHCLG consultation response describes as “the proactive role that planning can play”. The new NPPF states that councils should “identify opportunities to facilitate land assembly, supported where necessary by compulsory purchase powers, where this can help to bring more land forward for meeting development needs and/or secure better development outcomes”.

20/ The new NPPF does not take account of a recent landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on habitat protection. The presumption in favour of sustainable development penalty does not apply where a plan or project requires an ‘appropriate assessment’ as part of the habitat regulation assessment process. This can occur when the plan or project is near a special area of conservation (SAC), or a special protection area (SPA). A “screening” process is used by the planning authority to determine if the plan or development is likely to impact on the protected area, and if an appropriate assessment is therefore required. Established practice has been to take mitigation measures into account at this stage to avoid the need for an appropriate assessment. But the recent ECJ ruling in the “People over Wind” case means that mitigation cannot be considered at screening stage, and as a result, experts believe that more appropriate assessments are likely to be required. In its consultation response, the government said it is “examining the implications of this judgement closely and is not proposing any changes to the framework at this stage”.

21/ The new NPPF introduces minimum density standards for city and town centres and other locations that are well served by public transport. The consultation response says that, compared to the draft, the policy has “been amended to reflect concerns raised about some of the wider considerations that should be taken into account, such as the type of housing needed in an area”. The policy now says planners should consider the need for “different types of housing”. It also stiffens the draft policy on daylight and sunlight, saying authorities should still “take a flexible approach” when considering such issues, but adding “as long as the resulting scheme would provide acceptable living standards”.

22. The plan’s focus on economic development has diminished, some commentators fear. The new NPPF states that “significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth and productivity”. However, some consultants have expressed concerns that less significance is attached to planning for economic development and business needs. The 2012 document included a requirement for authorities to “assess the needs for land or floorspace for economic development”, which has been removed from the latest version. Instead, local planning policies should merely have “regard to” local economic development and regeneration policies.

23. Support for build to rent and other specialist housing. The revised NPPF confirms proposals in the draft document to exempt purpose-built build to rent housing and accommodation for students or the elderly from the framework’s 10 per cent affordable housing requirement in major schemes. Build to rent is also recognised as a form of affordable housing. Furthermore, the NPPF says councils should make sure that “the size, type and tenure of housing” should meet the needs of “different groups in the community” including those requiring affordable housing, “people who rent their homes”, older people, and students.

24. New cross-boundary working requirements are introduced. Local authorities already have a legal duty to cooperate on “strategic matters that cross administrative boundaries”, the new NPPF says. In addition, the document confirms a proposal in the draft framework that requires “strategic policy-making authorities” to “prepare and maintain” statements of common ground with neighbouring authorities. These should document “cross-boundary matters being addressed and progress in co-operating to address these”. Such statements should “be made publicly available throughout the plan-making process to provide transparency”.

25. The new NPPF confirms the ‘agent of change’ principle. In a move designed to protect existing businesses from complaints from residents of newly-built schemes, paragraph 182 of the framework states: “Where the operation of an existing business or community facility could have a significant adverse effect on new development (including changes of use) in its vicinity, the applicant (or ‘agent of change’) should be required to provide suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.”

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