National Planning Policy Framework revised in England

Out-Law News | 26 Jul 2018 | 2:56 pm | 4 min. read

The central planning policy in England has been updated in a bid to support the UK government's housebuilding targets.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (73-page / 795KB PDF) was set out by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) on Tuesday following an earlier consultation, for which the MHCLG has also published its response (64-page / 695KB PDF). From the day of publication, 24 July,  its policies will be material considerations to be taken into account in determining planning applications.

Planning expert Kate Brock of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said "The new NPPF largely reflects the consultation version incorporating the policy proposals previously consulted on by the government in its housing white paper and its 'planning for the right homes in the right places' consultation, however there are some changes of note which local planning authorities and developers will need to be mindful of when dealing with plan-making and submitting and determining applications."

"Housing secretary James Brokenshire has also indicated that further changes may come forward, for example in relation to the standard methodology, and so whilst we have a final published version of the NPPF we cannot rule out further amendments as the new policies bed in," she said.

The NPPF will require strategic planning across areas to ensure housing and related infrastructure can be delivered. The new NPPF has introduced clarifications to better distinguish between strategic policies and non-strategic policies and how these should be produced. Local authorities' 'development plans' must include strategic policies which "address each local planning authorities priorities for the development and use of land in its area". These can be contained in joint or individual local plans, which also contain non-strategic policies,  and/or a spatial development strategy in the case of an elected Mayor or combined authority.

Plans should make explicit which policies are strategic policies and these should be limited to those necessary to address the strategic priorities of the area, "to provide a clear starting point for non-strategic policies", according to the new NPPF. They should not extend to detailed matters which "are more appropriately dealt with through neighbourhood plans or other non-strategic policies", such as local plans). Strategic policies should "look ahead over a minimum 15 year period from adoption of the development plan"  

The changes incorporate a significant shift in the role of viability assessments from the decision-making stage to the plan-making stage, which means that local planning authorities, as opposed to developers, will become primarily responsible for this work. The premise is that if a planning application accords with all relevant policies in an up to date development plan, which would include what contributions were required from developers, no viability assessment should be submitted with the application.

The consultation draft had stated that plans would set out the circumstances in which further viability assessment may be required at the decision-taking stage for individual applications. The new NPPF has, however, removed the possibility for plans to do this and instead has placed the burden on the applicant.

"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 is up to the applicant to demonstrate whether particular circumstances justify the need for a viability assessment at the application stage," the revised NPPF states. "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."

The new housing delivery test is introduced as anticipated, meaning that authorities will need to measure how many new homes are actually built rather than those that are planned to determine housing requirements. The standard methodology for calculating housing need is also incorporated, however the government's consultation response indicates that this may change after the September 2018 housing figures have been published due to a concern that the methodology is producing lower outputs than will be required.

New wording in the NPPF also emphasises that developers and local planning authorities will be required to give greater focus to the quality and design of new homes.

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said: "This revised planning framework sets out our vision of a planning system that delivers the homes we need. I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules."

The onus will be on the authorities to work with their local communities to "reflect local aspirations" in their design policies to help give certainty on what developers should provide for.

Planning policies and decisions will need to adhere to a number of design-orientated factors, including in relation to long-term functionality, visual attractiveness and sympathy to "local character and history, including the surrounding built environment and landscape setting, while not preventing or discouraging appropriate innovation or change (such as increased densities)", according to the new NPPF.

"Permission should be refused for development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area and the way it functions, taking into account any local design standards or style guides in plans or supplementary planning documents," according to the revised NPPF. "Conversely, where the design of a development accords with clear expectations in plan policies, design should not be used by the decision-maker as a valid reason to object to development."

In addition, the MHCLG has opened a call for evidence (4-page / 140KB PDF) seeking views on the current planning appeal inquiries process and how it could be improved. Views submitted are likely to inform the independent end-to-end review of the planning appeal inquiries process opened earlier this summer that is being led by Bridget Rosewell OBE.

The government has previously said that it wants 300,000 new homes to be built each year up until the mid-2020s.