31 July 2018
Aside from the inevitable grammatical and structural changes, comparing the revised National Planning Policy Framework (published 24th July) with its earlier draft is a game of ‘spot the difference.' It retains its focus on housing delivery and iterates on the previous framework rather than completely rewriting it. As anticipated, changes to the March 2018 consultation draft have been kept to a minimum. There are, however some notable exceptions and the key aspects of the new framework are included below.
Chapter 2: Achieving sustainable development
The presumption in favour of sustainable development remains (paragraph 11), including the list of policy constraints that may “…provide strong reason for restricting the overall scale of development in a plan area…” The Government has strengthened its commitment to the Green Belt by retaining it as one such policy constraint.
A new footnote (7) has been included to identify when plans should be considered out-of-date. Unsurprisingly, this includes the lack of a five-year housing land supply and the housing delivery test, if less than 75 percent of the requirement has been delivered.
Paragraph 14 incorporates the wording of the Written Ministerial Statement (12/12/2016) regarding the weight applied to neighbourhood plans and the need for a three-year housing land supply instead of five. This is conditional upon issues such as delivery and age of the neighbourhood plan.
Chapter 3: Plan-making
There is a new section on the preparation and review of plans, bringing into clear focus the need to keep plans up-to-date with a review at least once every five years.
The positively prepared soundness test is amended to remove the previous reference to ‘meeting as much as possible’ of the housing need. This is a positive step, championed by WYG, which should ensure local authorities will find it harder to ‘duck’ their responsibilities.
Chapter 4: Decision-making
The push for greater certainty on viability is retained, although the details are relegated to the guidance. Several clear principles are, however, included. These refer to policy compliant applications being assumed to be viable, assessments being in-line with national guidance where required, applicants being required to justify the need for a viability assessment, the decision-maker determining appropriate weight given to any assessment, and all assessments are to be made publicly available.
Chapter 5: Delivering a sufficient supply of homes
Paragraph 60 ushers in the standard method for determining the minimum number of homes required in an area. The detailed methodology, contained in guidance, remains unchanged. However, the Government has committed to an immediate review in light of the likely impact of updated household projections, due in September. The current method is likely to harm their commitment to deliver 300,000 homes by the mid 2020’s. WYG will continue to lobby for economic growth to be a part of the calculation.
In terms of affordable homes, the requirement for 10 percent of homes to be available for ‘affordable home ownership’ is retained, but the number of smaller sites to be planned for has decreased. Paragraph 68 requires 10 percent of the housing requirement to be on sites smaller than 1 hectare. The draft would have seen 20 percent of sites be a half hectare or less.
Whilst the percentage is lower and the site size higher, the change from a proportion of sites to a proportion of the housing requirement is likely to cause a significant increase in smaller-site supply for many local authorities, in addition to resource constraints. Despite the supply shortage for smaller developers, it remains to be seen if there is an appetite to deliver 1 in 10 homes on small sites.
Paragraph 71 includes a new requirement for local authorities to support entry-level exception sites for first-time buyers, unless this need is already met. Unfortunately, this support is not extended to National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or the Green Belt.
Paragraph 72 adds significant detail on the delivery of large-scale housing developments, including reference to Garden City principles.
As expected, the need to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply and the housing delivery test remains intact. The response to the consultation does, however, suggest a potential sting in the tail for the development industry by indicating that it will consider how planning authorities could have greater control over build out rates.
Chapter 13: Protecting Green Belt land
The alteration of Green Belt boundaries (paragraph 136) through the local plan can now only be undertaken when exceptional circumstances are “…fully justified and evidenced…” This highlights the need for robust justification of the exceptional circumstances.
Chapter 15: Conserving and enhancing the natural environment
This chapter includes numerous changes that seek to strengthen the protection and enhancement of the natural environment. Regard must also be had to the level of designation, be it international, national or local. The principal changes are set out within paragraphs 170, 171, 174 and 175(d).
Annex 1: Implementation
This section remains largely unchanged, with confirmation that the revised NPPF became a material consideration the day it was published and that plans submitted prior to 24th January 2019 will be considered against the former version of the NPPF.
Annex 2: Glossary
Clarity is now provided in relation to ‘other affordable routes to home ownership.’ It includes shared ownership, relevant equity loans, other low-cost homes for sale (at a price equivalent to at least 20 percent below market value) and rent to buy.
Although unchanged from the draft, the definition of deliverable is an important inclusion in the revised NPPF. Sites with outline permission, permission in principle, allocated in the development plan or identified on a brownfield register are not considered deliverable unless there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.