The Government has published the Revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), setting out the Government's planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The revised document replaces the previous NPPF published in March 2012, writes Richard Pigott.
It follows a consultation on the draft version in the spring of this year which generated 29,224 responses. So how does the revised NPPF differ from the 2012 version? I will discuss some of the key changes below.
Which NPPF applies and when?
It is important to stress that the revised NPPF does not take primacy with immediate effect in all situations, although its policies are material considerations in determining planning applications from day one. Local Plans may need to be revised to take into account the changes since the 2012 NPPF. For plan-making in progress, the 2012 NPPF will apply for the purposes of examining plans which are submitted on or before 24 January 2019. So local councils which have recently submitted their plans for examination, including Amber Valley and Staffordshire Moorlands, can continue safe in the knowledge that their plans will be assessed against the original NPPF.
Standardised methodology and Housing Delivery Test
The new standardised methodology to assess housing needs and the Housing Delivery Test are two of the biggest changes to housing policy that the Government is bringing forward, and they are reflected in the revised NPPF (and accompany documents). However, of interest in relation to the standardised methodology is the Government’s response to the draft revised NPPF consultation which states that the government will revisit the methodology and consider adjusting the method after the household projections are released in September 2018 if they result in lower housing targets across the country. In short, the methodology is confirmed for now, but everything may change, following the release of household projections in September 2018.
One notable change is that the definition of ‘deliverable’ has been altered. Previously all sites with planning permission which might reasonably be delivered in five years were included, unless there was evidence to the contrary. Now sites with outline planning permission or an allocation in a local plan may only be included in the supply where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.
Locally, the new methodology has had an immediate effect in Chesterfield where the council hasjust released its latest 5 year housing land supply calculation for the period 2018-2023. Using the new methodology, its annual target has been reduced from 265 dwellings per annum to 248.
From November 2018 councils will have a Housing Delivery Test focused on driving up the numbers of homes delivered in their area, rather than how many are planned for. This will penalise councils that under-deliver over three years.
New approach to viability
The revised NPPF no longer details the approach to be taken to viability. In the 2012 version, paragraph 173 was the central provision of the NPPF in respect of viability (and talked about the costs of development and competitive returns etc) but this has been removed. Instead, one needs to look to the planning practice guidance (PPG) and the specific updated viability guidance to understand viability in plan-making and decision-taking. The key developments are as follows:
• The role for viability assessment is primarily at the plan making stage;
• Where a viability assessment is submitted to accompany a planning application this should be based upon and refer back to the viability assessment that informed the plan and the applicant should provide evidence of what has changed since then;
• The previous guidance stated that there is no standard answer to questions of viability, nor is there a single approach to assessing viability. The new PPG, however, looks to standardise inputs to viability assessments in relation to the approach to development value, costs, returns and premiums etc;
• In terms of land value for any viability assessment, the PPG makes it clear that a benchmark land value should be calculated based on the existing use value of the land, plus a premium for the landowner (EUV+). This was the approach taken by the High Court in the recent Parkhurst case. In terms of the premium, this ‘… should reflect the minimum price at which it is considered a rational landowner would be willing to sell their land’.
• The PPG provides that ‘Any viability assessment should be prepared on the basis that it will be made publicly available other than in exceptional circumstances’
Increased focus on design quality
Housing secretary James Brokenshire said the revised NPPF will make it easier for planning authorities to challenge poor quality and unattractive development. In particular, it stresses that councils “have the confidence and tools” to refuse applications when the development does not prioritise design quality or complement its surroundings.
The new framework also aims to give communities a greater say in the design of developments. Councils are encouraged to make use of “innovative visual tools” to promote better design and quality and allow residents to see schemes before they are built.
Councils will have to apply design policies “in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting”.
“I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules,” said Brokenshire.
Notably, para.130 requires local planning authorities (LPAs) to make sure that the quality of approved developments does not materially diminish ‘between permission and completion, as a result of changes being made to the permitted schemes’.
The new NPPF even reflects Sir Oliver Letwin’s emerging findings on housing delivery, by effectively recognising that the quality and design of housing development is crucial to ensuring greater community support.
Green Belt protection remains
Unsurprisingly, the Green Belt is here to stay. Paragraph 136 confirms that exceptional circumstances must exist to amend Green Belt boundaries. Para 137 specifies that, to justify the existence of exceptional circumstances, an LPA ‘should be able to demonstrate that it has examined [it was ‘should have examined’] fully all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development’. Depending on how one reads this, it could give more flexibility and a clearer path for LPAs considering releasing Green Belt land in exceptional circumstances.
In a local context, this issue is very topical in Amber Valley where they are currently carrying out a Green Belt Review in order to consider the release of Green Belt land for housing.
New requirement for small and medium sized sites
The final version of the revised NPPF now requires LPAs to accommodate at least 10% of their housing requirement on ‘small and medium sized sites’ (up to one hectare) through their development plans and brownfield land registers. It is recognised that the 10% target may not be achievable in all circumstances; in such cases, the preparation of the relevant plan policies should detail the ‘strong reasons’ that make the target unachievable.
This is a significant departure from the status quo where development plans typically only allocate a small number of housing sites of, say, 50 or more dwellings. It reflects the government’s aim to allow more small to medium sized housebuilders into the market and reduce the ability of the major housebuilders to dictate the supply of new homes.
Affordable housing includes ‘social rent’
The definition of affordable housing once again includes homes for social rent. The draft NPPF had been criticised by the Local Government Association (LGA) for its omission of homes for social rent, but that definition was changed in the final document.
According to the glossary, affordable housing for rent is now defined as where “rent is set in accordance with the government’s rent policy for social rent or affordable rent, or is at least 20% below local market rent”.
Heritage protection retained
Little has changed with regards heritage in the planning system. However, changes to the way the impact of proposed development on the significance of designated heritage asset is assessed, which were already anticipated in the draft revised NPPF, are now confirmed and further clarified; paragraph 193 states that ‘great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation […] irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance’.
The government has indicated that numerous areas of planning practice guidance will be updated in due course in order to give further insight and clarity into new measures within the revised NPPF. In the context of promoting housing delivery, we are expecting the final report and recommendations of the Letwin ‘Independent review of build out’ ahead of the Autumn budget. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the revised NPPF will be interpreted and applied by local authorities, agents, planning inspectors and the courts across the country.
If you have any questions about the revised NPPF and how it might affect you please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Richard Pigott is a Chartered Town Planner and Director at Planning & Design Practice
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