Changes to the NPPF: now is the time to have your say

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has opened its consultation on proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Responses are encouraged from ‘all interested parties’ until Monday 25 January 2016, providing developers with an opportunity to have their say on a framework that they work within. The government is proposing changes to the following broad areas: the definition of affordable housing; higher density residential development around commuter hubs, ;development on brownfield land and small sites to support sustainable new settlements and the delivery of housing allocated in Local Plans; and new policy to support the delivery of starter homes.

It is proposed that the definition of affordable housing will be broadened to include support for those aspiring to home ownership, such as low cost market housing, intermediate rent, and innovative rent-to-buy housing. Including these housing products in the definition means that local authorities will be able to negotiate with developers to have starter homes included in affordable housing contributions. The government states that the changes would be delivered alongside social housing, but critics fear that changing the definition could reduce both social rented and shared ownership homes. The Royal Town Planning Institute has said that there is ‘a risk that homes for social rent and shared ownership would be squeezed out and replaced by Starter Homes, without any guarantee of a net increase in overall housing supply.’

The government defines ‘commuter hubs’ as public transport interchanges (rail, tube or tram) where people can board or alight to continue their journey by other public transport means (including buses, walking or cycling) and a place that has or could accommodate a service every 15 minutes during normal commuting hours. It is suggested that, where possible, local authorities will have to require higher density development around these locations, both when forming Local Plans and when determining planning applications. It is intended that these changes will encourage regeneration and reduce reliance on private transport.

Changes regarding new settlements are aimed at encouraging local authorities to work with developers and provide proposals for new settlements within their jurisdiction. The government states its ambition that 90% of brownfield land deemed suitable for housing will have planning permission by 2020. In effort to meet this ambition, it is proposed that the NPPF will make it clearer that ‘substantial weight should be given to the benefits of using brownfield land for housing’ and that housing proposals on brownfield sites should be supported by councils unless there are conflicts with a Local Plan or the NPPF that cannot be mitigated i.e. a presumption in favour of brownfield land.

The government also wants to put pressure on local planning authorities to ‘ensure homes delivered match local requirements’ by allocating a good mix of sites in Local Plans, efficiently discharging planning conditions and ensuring a pipeline of deliverable planning permissions. The consultation is seeking feedback from developers on how they can play their part in addressing housing shortfalls.

The government wants to amend the wording of the NPPF guidance that states unviable or underused commercial or industrial brownfield land can be released for starter homes to strengthen this, and state that land ’should be released unless there is significant and compelling evidence to justify why such land should be retained for employment use.’ Feedback is sought on whether new housing, in particular starter homes, can be encouraged in mixed-use commercial-led developments, with the hope that this could increase footfall in town centres.

Community support for housing has doubled in recent years, from 28% in 2010 to 56% in 2014, while opposition to local housebuilding has more than halved during the same period (1 DCLG, British Social Attitudes survey 2014: attitudes to new house building). With the public’s attitudes towards new housing changing fairly rapidly, it makes sense for the government to update the NPPF and it is unsurprising that there is a clear focus on policy to assist those who aspire to own their own home. Within the suggested changes, there is a lot of emphasis on the responsibility of local authorities at a time when many are already functioning with stretched resources, potentially presenting challenges for the future. But for now, the focus is on feedback, with the government inviting written responses until Monday 25 January. Remarkable is experienced in drafting national consultation responses, to get the right messages to decision-makers. Get in touch if you’d like help making your voice heard.

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