The new draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was released for consultation on Monday 5th March.
The draft NPPF is supported by a separate document which explains the consultation proposals and is further accompanied by draft planning practice guidance on assessing viability, alongside a rulebook on measurement of the proposed Housing Delivery Test.
A Residential Led NPPF
With housing the Government’s stated top planning priority and Brexit taking up all available time in the House, implementation of last year’s Housing White Paper principally falls to the NPPF to deliver.
Key to this is the new standard calculation of ‘affordability-led’ local Objectively Assessed Need (OAN), based on ONS growth multiplied by a local affordability index, alongside a Housing Delivery Test, requiring Authorities to plan for housing supply or face the prospect of ‘build anytime anywhere’ under the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The draft text also sets out an expectation for OAN to be accommodated, including any unmet needs from neighbouring areas, unless there are strong reasons not to.
Notably, from 2020, it is proposed that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply where an Authority’s delivery is below 75% of its OAN housing requirement.
The importance of BTR/PRS as additional drivers of the housing market is recognised, with a concession that these sectors may look at alternative ways of delivering affordable housing via ‘affordable rental’. Elsewhere, affordable housing is expected in situ with a minimum of 10% available for home ownership.
There is also support for smaller sites which can deliver circa 10 dwellings, to assist the smaller builder with the draft text proposing local authorities should ensure that at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less.
Re-assertion of ‘Plan-led’
There is nothing in the document to suggest that the Government is proposing a radical move away from its ‘plan led’ approach. However, the wording of the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ (para 11) has been reordered to reflect the way that plan and decision-making is approached in practice.
The decision-making part of the presumption has also been changed to provide greater clarity, so that it refers to circumstances where ‘there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies most important to determining the application are out of date’.
Elsewhere, the draft NPPF follows the housing White Paper in proposing changes to plan-making policy, which include:
- A new plan-making framework which requires authorities to plan for strategic priorities in an
Appropriate way to meet OAN;
- Amendments to the tests for a ‘sound’ plan, to make clear that it should set out ‘an’ appropriate strategy rather than ‘the most appropriate strategy’ (to avoid the need for disproportionate work to demonstrate that a strategy is optimal);
- Enabling spatial development strategies to allocate sites if there is unanimous agreement;
- The new requirement for authorities to review plan policies every five years following the date of adoption, with updates, if necessary, to reflect changing circumstances;
- Changing the ‘effective’ and ‘positively prepared’ soundness test so that these more clearly;
- Encourage joint working which should be evidenced in a statement of common ground;
- A new approach to viability, through which plans are expected to be clear about the contributions expected to provide certainty about what will be expected at the decision-making stage.
As part of the rhetoric supporting the draft, the Government has also threatened to step into authorities failing their planning functions, although it remains to be seen the extent to which this will take place.
The Framework maintains the strong protection of the Green Belt and retains a high bar before Green Belt land may be released or developed.
However, the consultation seeks views on the ability to allow brownfield land in the Green Belt to be used for affordable housing / starter homes, where there is no substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt and recommends where Green Belt release is justified, developing policies which explore how the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset without ultimately comprising its openness.
Commercial Developments and Town Centres
The draft NPPF makes explicit the importance of supporting business growth and improved productivity, in a way that links to key aspects of planning policy to the Government’s Industrial Strategy.
There are suggested amendments to the ‘sequential approach’ to planning applications for town centre uses, so that out of centre sites should be considered only if suitable town centre or edge of centre sites are unavailable or not expected to become available within a reasonable period. This addition makes clear that suitable town centre or edge of centre sites do not have to be available immediately, to avoid prejudicing town centre or edge of centre sites that are in the pipeline but may not available straight away.
The draft framework also clarifies that in allocating sites to meet the need for town centre uses, policies should look at least ten years ahead but not necessarily over the full plan period, given the uncertainty in forecasting long-term retail trends.
Recognising the need for town centres to evolve from simply being places to shop, there is promotion of density-driven, residential led development within and on the edge of town centres and at key transport nodes, notably railway stations and other transport interchanges.
The draft NPPF is subject to full consultation, with a deadline for any comments by 10th May 2018.
The final framework is anticipated during the summer.