Revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) released

Revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) released

The government has published its updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The purpose of the updates is to address obstacles to development in the planning system, with an emphasis on growth and regeneration. In this article, we set out the key changes for the planning industry with reference to the latest version of the NPPF published on 20 December 2023.

The revised NPPF provides clarification for local planning authorities (LPAs) seeking to argue for divergence from objectively assessed housing need in specific circumstances. Importantly, authorities with an up-to-date local plan will no longer need to continually show a deliverable five-year housing land supply.

In a U-turn move, the government’s changes to the NPPF allow LPAs to set local plans with fewer homes when they can demonstrate to the Planning Inspectorate that such targets would damage the character of an existing area or require building on the green belt. Therefore, local councils will no longer be forced to set aside greenfield land and other land of environmental importance or aesthetic significance to meet their future housing needs. In addition, councils are given an exemption from building new homes on prime agricultural land.

The government insists that these changes do not allow LPAs to evade their responsibilities in addressing housing shortages, as LPAs must provide rigorous evidence of any divergence from targets. The Planning Inspectorate will not accept any departure from targets if the reasoning is not strongly rooted in environmental or aesthetic concerns.

By contrast, the document sets out the government’s aim to prioritise brownfield and higher-density development in inner-city areas. The NPPF also ensures greater promotion of small sites for community-led development for housing and self-build, custom build housing and upward extensions including mansard roof extensions on suitable properties.

The new NPPF contains revised guidance on the legal duty to cooperate, which requires cooperation between local planning authorities and other public bodies to maximise the effectiveness of policies for strategic matters in local plans. This is due to be replaced by the ‘alignment policy’, details of which remain subject to further consultation. In addition, the NPPF retains the controversial policy obligation for councils in the largest urban areas to increase their homes requirement by 35%. The NPPF requires local authorities in urban areas to ensure the uplift occurs within their own area, unless there are voluntary cross boundary redistribution agreements in place.

The government’s update also covers changes to the Housing Delivery Test based on LPA’s previous 3 years of delivery, with enforcement consequences continuing and a new action plan for improvement where LPAs are hitting below percentages of target requirement. The new NPPF confirms that the statistical model based on population growth remains the basis of assessment. These updates are set to incentivise LPAs to deliver.

The government highlights the need for LPAs to have up to date plans in place. In a statement on 19 December, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove announced new measures to hold LPAs to account for delays and failure to rollout increased homes, with robust league tables revealing the real performance of LPAs, showing the speed and level of approvals against targets. Further, Gove announced measures to restrict planning committees’ ability to block developments that have been approved in principle by officers.

In his speech, Gove also referred to changes brought about by the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act which will allow statutory consultees such as Natural England and Historic England to charge for pre-application advice to incentivise timely responses.

With severe under resourcing of LPAs being a major cause of underperformance, Gove pointed to extra funding announced in the Autumn statement and the upcoming raised planning fees and indexing arrangement which should add extra resource to LPAs.

Finally, the government’s development of proposed National Development Management Policies (NDMPs) remains subject to further consultation. NDMPs are set to standardise development management rules across a series of policy areas to avoid duplication in council’s local plans. Gove states that NDMPs will provide guidance to LPAs formulate local plans and criteria to apply on determining planning applications.

The long-awaited updates to the NPPF provide much-needed clarity to LPAs who have paused or delayed their local plan process due to a lack of certainty over planning policy over the past year. Gove has stated that plans already implemented, that include policies in anticipation of the NPPF, will be given “significant weight” by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

While the government claims that updates to the NPPF have been put in place to address chronic housing shortages in the UK, some industry sources claim that the revised NPPF will have the opposite effect. We can help clients navigate these changes to NPPF when approaching planning matters.

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