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Published: 06 March 2018
Area of Law: Planning, Planning Consultancy

NPPF 2.0 - What does this mean for the planning sector?

The government has launched a consultation on the long promised revision to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF consultation draft largely falls in to a few key categories.

Presumption in favour

The changes to paragraph 14 of the NPPF (which are now found in paragraph 11) represent a subtle shifting of policy.  For plan-making, it is no longer enough to plan positively to meet the objectively assessed needs of an area.  Instead, this should now be a minimum, with the onus on authorities to also meet any needs, which cannot be met within neighbouring areas.  Similarly, the absolute prohibition of the old footnote 9 list has been watered down slightly, so that an exception should only be made where policies in the Framework provide a “strong” reason for restricting development.

For decision-taking the presumption in favour now means approving proposals that accord with an up-to-date development plan without delay or where there are no relevant policies, or the policies which “are the most important” are out of date approving proposals unless the specific policies in the Framework provide a “clear reason” for refusal or adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

Assuming these changes survive the consultation, it will be interesting to see how “strong” and “clear” reasons are interpreted by decision takers, but it perhaps opens the door for some schemes which the current wording has prevented from coming forward,

Starter homes - not later living

The focus on starter homes (and the potential for entry- level exception sites to be granted outside existing settlements) once again highlights the government focus on first time buyers. However, the NPPF largely ignores the significant role that delivering greater housing options for later living could play.  Greater investment and opportunity in the later living sector will allow people to ‘right size’, allowing those with grown up children to move out of the larger houses, so that people with young families can move in. In turn, this will free up smaller homes for first time buyers.  However, disappointingly, this is once again ignored in favour of a push to build more homes for first time buyers.

The risks of front loading

The NPPF Consultation makes clear that pre-commencement conditions should be avoided wherever possible. Whilst this illustrates that the government are seeking to cut down the time between the grant of planning permission and a developer starting on site (effectively seeking to speed up delivery), the consequent effect of this approach will be to further front-load the application process with developers being required to fund detailed surveys whilst the principle of development remains unclear.  This will make it harder to secure external funding and has the potential to inhibit smaller developers and deter speculative applications.

The ongoing encouragement for developers to engage in community consultation prior to the submission of a planning application also fails to address the fact that, at that stage, locals could still submit a vexatious village green application (as the protections afforded under the Commons Act 2006 do not apply until the planning application is lodged).  Why government think any developer would knowingly show their hand, and risk a costly and potentially show stopping village green application is baffling. If they want greater community engagement, then the Commons Act needs to be changed.
The administrative burden of five-year plans

There is a big push on plan making, with local authorities being pushed to have both long-term strategic policies (with a fifteen-year lifespan) and shorter-term policies (which should be reviewed every five years).  Given the struggles which some Councils have in adopting planning policies, for them to regularly review and update plans every five years means there will need to be a significant level of investment in planning policy teams to cope with this demand.  Safe to say one should besceptical that every local authority will be able to meet such timescales.

What next?

There’s a lot of information in the consultation, and the above is simply intended as an initial reaction to some of the headlines in the draft document - they don’t begin to look at the consultation on reforming developer contributions, which was also published yesterday.  Watch this space for further comment, which will follow over the coming days.

If you are likely to be affected by the proposed measures then I’d encourage you to engage with the consultation process, which runs until 23.45 on 10 May 2018.  If you would like to discuss these issues in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the planning team

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