Sector - Finance & Legislation

What do changes to the National Planning Policy Framework mean?

Chartered town planner Stephen Mair from Andrew Granger & Co summarises the key changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and looks at how these could affect the construction industry.

The government’s target of building 300,000 new homes every year might sound like great news for the construction industry, but there are still many difficult areas for planners, builders and developers to negotiate.

As the documentation that sets out the government’s approach to a whole range of planning issues, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is a critical document for all those involved in any form of development. First published in 2012, the amended version which came out in the summer of 2018, has been designed to try and address areas that were open to interpretation and reduce any ambiguity. It also aims to have a more forceful impact on key issues such as affordable housing.

So, what are some of the key changes?

Keeping it local

The housing delivery test, which was introduced in November 2018, requires Councils to ensure an increase in the delivery of new homes as well as considering the future supply of housing. Whilst local plans are still the starting point for the determination of any planning application, LPAs are now required to provide clear evidence of housing completions over the previous three-year period, as well as the projected supply over the coming five years. This includes housing commitments, permissions in principle, allocated sites or sites included on the brownfield land register.

Furthermore, within the plan-making process, there is a requirement for LPAs to accommodate at least 10% of their housing requirement on sites of less than 1 hectare. This is part of a strategy to increase the opportunities for small/medium sized housebuilders in order to ensure a greater variety in the housing market.

There is also a renewed requirement for LPAs to ensure consistent quality throughout the planning and delivery process – from approval to completion. This renewed commitment to good design has been highlighted as ‘fundamental to what planning and development should achieve…and helps make development acceptable to communities’. Builders and developers are encouraged to liaise with LPAs as early as possible in the process and also to enter into Planning Performance Agreements for larger, more complex developments.

Keeping it affordable

One of the key issues for the government in terms of housing policy, is ensuring the delivery of sufficient affordable housing – both to buy and rent. The revised NPPF introduces some fundamental changes to policy and includes a number of issues previously encompassed in Written Ministerial Statements, such as the provision of starter homes (discounted market sale dwellings). There is also a new requirement that a minimum of ten per cent of dwellings built as a part of a major development should be provided as affordable housing. This suggests that the government is sustaining its commitment to affordable housing as part of a strategy to encourage home ownership.

Furthermore, the revised NPPF includes a change in the definition of major development, which is now defined as:

  • ten dwellings or more (previously was 11); or
  • Sites over 0.5 hectares in size (previously 1,000sq m gross floorspace)

‘Making effective use of land’

Local planning authorities are now required to maintain a register of brownfield sites within their administrative boundaries that is suitable for residential development. Sites that are entered into ‘Part 2’ of the new brownfield registers will be granted permission in principle, whereby a site is granted consent for a specified amount of residential-led development in principle and, as such, it is only technical details which require further consent.

The section on ‘Making effective use of land’ emphasises the importance of using brownfield land for development, as well as ensuring that all developments are at an appropriate density. In particular, LPAs are encouraged to avoid low density developments where there is an existing or anticipated shortage in the supply of housing.

Local authorities are also encouraged to take a positive approach to applications for alternative uses on land which is allocated but development has not been forthcoming. This includes the use of retail/commercial land for residential development in areas where there is a high demand.

While few of the changes contained in the revised NPPF are radical, they do indicate a small opening of development opportunities and some increased flexibility. They also place a subtle but firm pressure on LPAs to ensure a greater supply and delivery of new homes that is urgently needed to ensure the government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year is achieved.

About the author: Stephen Mair is a chartered town planner and works in the planning and development department of independent estate agency and chartered surveyors Andrew Granger & Co. Stephen has extensive experience working with clients to navigate the Local Plan process and Neighbourhood Plan documents, advising on the planning/development potential and co-ordinating planning applications and appeals from submission through to determination.

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