Summer reading – the hotly anticipated revised NPPF
As promised, the Government yesterday published the revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), prior to the start of the parliamentary summer recess.
The policies of the NPPF will take effect immediately, albeit the policies of the 2012 version will still apply for the purposes of examining plans where those plans are submitted on or before 24 January 2019. Further transitional provisions are set out in Annex 1 of the NPPF.
In its own words, the NPPF sets out “the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied.” It therefore represents a clear message to all parties involved in the planning process as to what the government expects to see going forward.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the relatively short time between the closure of the consultation on the draft NPPF and the publication of the revised version, the changes between the two are relatively modest. and there remains a strong focus on achieving sustainable development, meaning “development which will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The planning system still needs to focus on economic, social and environmental objectives and the heart of the NPPF remains a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
What is perhaps interesting is that local planning authorities are expected to work together to agree statements of common ground dealing with strategic matters, which in turn should inform the strategic policies within their own local plans. This, to my mind, represents a return to regional planning in all but name. It should also be noted that paragraph 14(b) requires strategic policies should “as a minimum, provide for objectively assessed needs for housing and other uses, as well as any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring authorities.” Whilst this proposal emerged in the consultation draft, it is significant that it has been carried through, and will likely increase the pressure on local planning authorities to deliver even more housing.
The amended definition of ‘deliverable’ which appeared in the consultation draft remains, which means that “sites with outline permission, permission in principle, allocated in the development plan or identified in the brownfield register should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years”. As previously mentioned, I suspect this will suddenly mean a significant number of local authorities will need to reduce their housing land supply figures, particularly if the baseline requirement is increased as a consequence of paragraph 14(b).
The NPPF now requires (at paragraph 34) plans to set out contributions expected form developers. Where previously these might be addressed by way of supplementary planning documents/guidance they should now be included within the plans themselves. Such plans should set out the levels and types of affordable housing required, along with other infrastructure. The NPPF goes on to state in paragraph 57 that “Where up-to-date policies have set out the contributions expected from development, planning applications that comply with them should be assumed to be viable. It is up to the applicant to demonstrate whether particular circumstances justify the need for a viability assessment”. It goes on to note that all viability assessments will be required to reflect national guidance including standardised inputs and should be made publicly available.
Whilst this might be intended to limit the scope for arguments around viability my suspicion is that this will in fact have the opposite effect, and that viability will continue to be a hotly debated issue during the planning process,
As with all policy changes, it will inevitably take some time for the planning system to adapt to the changes proposed, the NPPF doesn’t seek to make dramatic changes to the long-standing government objective to deliver more market and affordable housing, and in that sense is more a continuation of the existing policies rather than a complete change of direction.