Government releases new NPPF – but is it enough?
On Monday 5th March the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government unveiled the new and improved draft National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”), the first review of the original NPPF since its initial publication in 2012. The draft incorporates the changes that have been consulted on following last year’s housing white paper and “planning for the right homes in the right places” consultation. The draft will be consulted on until 10th May with the Government hoping to adopt a final document before this summer.
The changes to the NPPF seek to place more pressure on local planning authorities to adopt up-to-date local plans and to introduce measures to make this an easier process, while at the same time putting pressure on developers not to delay in implementing planning permissions and providing enough affordable homes to meet the country’s needs.
Various new policies regarding plan-making are included in the draft NPPF. These include policies already announced including the new method for calculating objectively assessed housing need and the new housing delivery test which will be implemented from November 2018. The presumption in favour of sustainable development (now contained at paragraph 11, rather than paragraph 14) is updated to state that it will be triggered not just where a local planning authority’s relevant policies are out-of-date but also if the housing delivery test indicates that a local planning authority failed to meet the housing requirement over the previous three years. The housing delivery test will also impose other sanctions on local planning authorities if the results indicate that there has been significant under delivery of housing, such as imposing a 20% buffer on their housing need and implementing an action plan to assess the causes of under-delivery.
This now ensures that local planning authorities not only need to ensure that their five-year supply of housing is up-to-date but also that housing delivery in their area is consistently meeting targets to retain the ability to determine applications in line with their development plans.
The draft NPPF also features key new policies on viability assessments. These have long been seen by the media and politicians as a tool for developers to avoid or reduce affordable housing obligations. The draft NPPF states that if a proposed development complies with local policy, a viability assessment will not be required. Where a viability assessment is required, it shall now follow a standard nationalised approach which shall be set out in national planning guidance. All viability assessments are now required to be made public.
Other amendments to the new draft NPPF include policies that add clarity following court judgments in recent years. One such example includes the boost given to environmental protections such as a requirement that “development should, wherever possible, help to improve local environmental conditions such as air quality” and that local plans should allocate land with the “least environmental or amenity value” and “take a strategic approach to maintaining and strengthening networks of habitats and green infrastructure”. These introductions are added following several judgments made against the Government in legal challenges made by environmental pressure group, ClientEarth, which criticised the Government for not acting fast or thoroughly enough in preparing plans to deal with air quality.
Although the majority of the revisions to the NPPF were expected and had been announced in one form or another in 2017, it can now be seen how the various elements will work together. The key question is whether the changes to the NPPF, taken together, will truly generate the required step change increase in housing numbers. The majority of the measures seem well founded but many would argue that more dramatic changes in law and policy are required. For example, making it far easier for a wider range of bodies to deliver low cost housing, in particular local authorities.