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The National Planning Policy Framework - unravelling the draft proposals
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in 2012; it sets out the government's planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. Six years on, consultation (which concluded in May of this year) has taken place on a revised NPPF which introduces some key changes to this document – we summarise these below.
The revised NPPF proposes to strip local authorities of the power to assess their own housing needs. It proposes a centrally determined methodology for deciding on housing need based on a formula that considers local house prices, salaries and projected household growth. To ensure deliverability, any resulting increase in targets will be capped by reference to figures in existing local plans. The finer detail on how the method actually works is contained in guidance ancillary to the NPPF.
The government proposes that where an application meets all the relevant policies in a local plan, there will be no need to submit a viability assessment. It also proposes to make public all viability assessments submitted on schemes which fail to meet local plan requirements.
In an attempt to revive town centres, the draft NPPF proposes clarifying the ‘sequential approach’ to development, which aims to direct development away from out-of-town sites. It says town centre or edge-of-centre sites do not have to be immediately available for them to be suitable alternatives to those further out. The government also proposes removing the current requirement for impact assessments on office schemes outside of town centres.
A tougher approach on density is proposed in an attempt to ensure best use of land in high-demand areas. The government proposes minimum density standards for town and city centres and around transport hubs where there is a shortage of land for development, giving greater weight to the value of using brownfield land for housing, making more use of empty space above shops and making it easier to convert shops and offices to housing. Councils would be given greater backing to refuse applications which fail to make the best use of land.
In keeping with the above, it is proposed that councils should allow upward extensions on top of existing homes. The government is also considering extending permitted development rights to these rooftop extensions- something it has previously spoken against.
Changes would allow for brownfield land in the green belt to be used for affordable housing, so long as there is no harm to ‘openness’. However, despite pressure from parts of the development sector, there’s no sign of relaxation of current green belt protections.
Proposals to tackle speed of delivery include councils having to ensure at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their local plans are 0.5ha or smaller. The government is, however, open to views and tweaks are likely to promote more medium-sized sites and consider whether the approach should be limited to those sites on authorities’ brownfield registers.
Also, planning conditions would be considered to require development to begin within a shorter timescale than the relevant default period (usually three years) and a requirement on planning authorities to consider why any earlier application for similar development on a major housing site has not started This will prompt local authorities to consider a developer’s track record to assess likelihood of delivery.
Wider proposals include a 20% increase on planning fees for local authorities delivering on their housing targets- this would be in addition to the blanket 20 per cent rise already introduced. A separate consultation is also looking into the existing system of developer contributions (through CIL and Section 106 Agreements). Proposals have also been penned to strengthen the requirements for good design. There is a comprehensive re-write of the design oriented paragraphs, with an expectation for local plans to set out a ‘clear design vision’ supported by visual tools such as design guides and design codes.
The government concluded its consultation on the proposals in May, and although the text of the Revised NPPF is not expected to change significantly. Dissenters within Government are already commenting that the proposals need to be "beefed up" if they are to solve the "housing crisis" - responses from developers, local councils and registered social landlords and the outcome of the consultation is therefore awaited.
As always, for advice and support on any issues relating to planning policy get in touch with our team.