16 March 2018
In the wake of several UK housing developments, including the revised draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Chancellor's Spring Statement, our housing expert and Associate Director of Planning at WYG, Matthew Good, shares his analysis.
With its long-awaited draft revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Government has consolidated a series of proposals made in the last two-and-a-half years, included in a range of consultation documents.
The revised NPPF is now set in 17 chapters and is said to be five percent shorter. The order of the chapters also reflects the priorities of the Government, focused on delivering solutions to the housing crisis and achieving their target of 300,000 homes by 2020. Alongside the draft NPPF, a revised PPG, the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, and an update by Sir Oliver Letwin on his review of build-out rates for large sites, all have implications that are considered in this briefing note. Furthermore, the separate consultation on ‘Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions’ could impact land availability, and hence, housing delivery. This will be the subject of a separate briefing note.
The range of measures to promote increased rates of housing delivery are spread throughout the document, further indicating the importance placed upon it by Government. As a package, they are likely to have some success, and whilst many changes are to be welcomed, there are inevitable ‘stings in the tail’ for developers and local authorities alike. Although the measures are expected to improve delivery rates, it remains to be seen if they go far enough to meet the Government’s 300,000 target.
The presumption in favour of sustainable development is retained, albeit in an altered format and new paragraph number, paragraph 11. The presumption is now “at the heart of the framework,” rather than “as a golden thread”. This reflects several court decisions that have struggled to define how a “golden thread” should apply.
The amended presumption includes a requirement to meet, at minimum, the objectively assessed needs for housing and any unmet needs from neighbouring authorities. This strengthens the current position in the NPPF. Unfortunately, it is somewhat undermined by the amended tests of soundness (paragraph 36), which refer to, at a minimum, meeting as much as of the areas’ objectively assessed needs as possible.
The previous caveats upon restrictive policies and designations are retained, although these are now set out within a definitive list. It is, however, clear that policies in a plan are not considered reasons not to meet needs (footnote 7). The list comprises: Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, within a National Park (or the Broads Authority) or defined as Heritage Coast; irreplaceable habitats including ancient woodland; aged or veteran trees; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in footnote 55); and areas at risk of flooding or coastal change.
The retention of the presumption is important as it is a successful element of the current NPPF. The inclusion of a definitive list in footnote 7, rather than the previous ‘open-ended list’ is welcomed as this should increase certainty. Many will, however, be disappointed to note that Green Belt has been retained in this list.
A standard method for determining the minimum number of homes needed should be used, unless there are exceptional circumstances to justify an alternative approach. The draft PPG sets out the proposed methodology, which is largely consistent with the earlier Government consultation ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places.’ This is a three-step process, starting with the most recent household projections, applying an uplift based upon affordability and applying a cap to the scale of uplift. (paragraph 61). Disappointingly, the proposed methodology does not specifically require a link between economic growth aspirations and housing need, nor does it advocate the inclusion of a vacancy allowance to covert households to dwellings.
Where a local authority wishes to exceed the standard methodology, this can be expressed as a range, with the lower end of range being the figure produced by the standard methodology, plus any agreed, unmet needs from neighbouring authorities (draft PPG). This will have implications for the five-year supply and Housing Delivery test.
Strategic plans are also required to set out an indicative housing requirement figure for a neighbourhood area (paragraph 66). This is welcomed and should limit the potential for neighbourhood plans to be anti-development.
The draft NPPF incorporates the written ministerial statement, November 2014, that introduced thresholds, below which affordable housing should not be sought from new developments and the vacant building credit, which reduces contributions to affordable housing proportionate to the existing gross floor space of existing buildings (paragraph 64).
A new provision for at least 10 percent of homes to be available for affordable home ownership is also included, provided this does not exceed the level of affordable housing required on site or significantly prejudice the ability to meet the identified affordable housing needs of specific groups (paragraph 65), and several exceptions to this are provided. This is an expansion upon the previous ‘Starter Homes’ initiative. This requirement could limit the ability for local authorities to require other forms of affordable housing without a robust evidence and policy basis. It is, therefore, likely that local authorities will seek to define the types of affordable housing required within their area through specific plan policy provisions.
The glossary sets out four new definitions of affordable housing, which includes starter homes and other affordable routes to home ownership. This broadens the scope of affordable housing provision, which should provide greater flexibility. There is, however, a danger that some local authorities may wish to be very prescriptive in terms of their requirements for each form of affordable housing.
There is a new provision for at least 20 percent of sites identified for housing in plans to be half a hectare or less (paragraph 69b). This is aimed at increasing the diversity of developers active in the market. The Government does, however, seem uncertain whether it has chosen the correct site size threshold and percentage. Our view is that whilst diversity in sites is a useful way to increase delivery rates, half a hectare is small and will not provide sufficient diversity to ensure that a wide range of developers are involved. This could have implications for delivery of the plan. A larger site size threshold is, consequently, considered more appropriate.
It is interesting to note that Oliver Letwin, in the update to the Chancellor and Secretary of State on his review of build-out rates, identifies market absorption as a key restraint to build-out rates. The research to-date goes on to explore the importance of expanding the availability of different types of housing (size and style), which increase absorption and lead to higher build-out rate.
Read the rest of Matthew's analysis: https://www.wyg.com/news-and-press-releases/wyg-housing-expert-reflects-on-spring-statement-and-nppf-part-ii