National Planning Policy Framework Changes Consultation is Underway

On 22 December the government published proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and sought views on: National Development Management Policies; how policy might be developed to support levelling up; and how national planning policy is currently accessed.  This article focusses on the proposed changes to the NPPF in relation to housing.  The consultation is open until 11.45pm on 2 March 2023.

The marked up NPPF appears to be an attempt to win over the rebel MPs that threatened to vote against the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (you might recall that our last newsletter covered the delays to the Bill).  The result is a fairly significant watering down of some key NPPF principles. 

Anyone familiar with the NPPF is well aware of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.  The presumption, in terms of plan making, is that strategic policies should provide for objectively assessed needs unless specified exceptions apply.  Proposed wording now specifies that “adverse impacts may include situations where meeting need in full would mean building at densities significantly out of character with the existing area”.  A new exception is also proposed “clear evidence of past over-delivery”.

There are concerns with both of these concepts.  “Significantly out of character” is not defined, how will it be assessed? And might there not be times when it is appropriate to change densities?  Meeting demand for smaller, cheaper homes and meeting climate objectives might require higher density development.  There should be evolution over time.  Over-delivery does not distinguish between housing types, likely to lead to even lower affordable housing delivery, and the figures against which over delivery is to be measured in the existing plan might not fully reflect need. 

What constitutes a sound local plan is also changed.  A plan no longer needs to be “justified” and local authorities need only meet objectively assessed needs “so far as possible” with the requirement to satisfy unmet need from neighbouring authorities scrapped.  That a local plan sets out policies based on an appropriate strategy, taking into account reasonable alternatives and proportionate evidence is a common-sense check.  It seems slightly bizarre that the justification requirement is removed, taking this check away

The requirement for local authorities to demonstrate a deliverable five-year housing supply is removed as long as the housing requirement in strategic policies is less than five years old.  The standard methodology for establishing a housing requirement is confirmed to be advisory.  The methodology incorporates an uplift for the 20 most populated cities and urban centres, directing growth into centres.

Green Belt protections are enhanced. Wording is inserted meaning boundaries need not be reviewed and altered if it would be the only way of meeting objectively assessed need for housing.

Looking at the changes above collectively, a shift in emphasis is clear to see.  Local authorities will be able to avoid politically uncomfortable housing allocations and Green Belt boundary revisions.  Less political difficulty - more acute unmet housing need.

Government intends to implement the changes to the NPPF in the short term, spring 2023.  In the meantime, several local authorities have already delayed progress with their local plans whilst they wait for publication of the revised NPPF. 

Posted on 01/12/2023 by Ortolan

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