COMMENT | Interrogating the NPPF

The revised NPPF has been long awaited and is the first time this major policy document has been formally updated since its introduction in 2012. Along the way it’s been subject to much debate and many legal cases interrogating its true meaning and interpretation, writes Gary Halman of GVA How Planning.

The new policy requirements will necessitate a shift in approach by both the development industry and local authorities alike. For example, developers will now need to contend with the fact that viability reports will be made publically available, as a minimum in a summary format with key figures whereas previously these were generally kept confidential by planning authorities. In terms of transparency, particularly where viability is being used as an argument to reduce affordable housing provision, local communities will welcome this change.

There is also a suggestion that, in order to encourage swifter delivery and avoid “land banking” by housebuilders, a perennial accusation, permissions could if councils wish to, have a life span of even less than the three years which is currently the default position. Given the lengthy lead in time needed to secure detailed approvals and deal with infrastructure/utility providers before any development can actually commence this is an unhelpful move. We hope the new measure will be used very sparingly and in exceptional circumstances only.

From a local authority perspective in addition to the need to always maintain a minimum five-year housing land supply, the new Housing Delivery Test represents a further major incentive to process housing applications as swiftly as possible and work with developers to speed up implementation and delivery on the ground. This recognises that merely granting permissions doesn’t guarantee new homes and authorities need to be more curious about what is actually happening with their approved sites, and what practically they can do together with other agencies like Homes England, to get development moving.

The new NPPF has undoubtedly boosted the affordable housing sector through the broadening of the traditional definition to make clear that there are a number of new innovations which can help provide much needed affordable homes. This is of benefit to developers and affordable housing providers.

There is a somewhat stronger approach toward ensuring good design in new development. Ministerial statements which accompanied the launch of the new NPPF placed strong emphasis on this, suggesting that there will be greater licence for councils to refuse permission if a scheme doesn’t sufficiently prioritise design quality or complement its surroundings. Poor quality design and an absence of good “placemaking” fuels local objections and makes planning that much harder to achieve. Enlightened developers already recognise this and ensure they promote the best scheme that is appropriate to its surroundings. Evidence suggests their reward is a quicker permission and often better values are achieved.

NPPF: Changes you need to know

Conor Vallelly GVA HowSome five months on from first consulting on the draft Framework, the Government published the final version on Tuesday. The below is an overview of the key changes, writes Conor Vallelly.

The new policy requirements will necessitate a shift in approach by both the development industry and local authorities alike. Developers will now need to contend with the fact that viability reports will be made publically available, as a minimum in a summary format with key figures, whilst the pressure may well and truly be on to kick-start delivery on sites where pared back time limits are imposed by way of planning condition.

It is evident that increasing pressure will be applied to maximise development densities, especially in city and town centres. This is balanced, to some extent, by the now “great weight” to be applied to windfall development opportunities, within the urban area.

Local authorities will be equally affected by the changes. In addition to maintaining a deliverable five-year housing land supply, the new Housing Delivery Test imposes a major incentive to process housing applications as swiftly as possible and work with developers to speed up implementation and delivery.

The Framework has undoubtedly boosted the affordable housing sector through the broadening of the traditional definition. There is specific recognition of the need for entry level exception sites for first time buyers which should be in addition to the standard supply. It will be of interest to see whether these measures will truly boost affordable provision and get to the root of the chronic undersupply problem.

What can be concluded from the new Framework is that whilst the changes may not be revolutionary, the pressure to deliver more homes more quickly has certainly been ratcheted up by Government with real implications for underperformance.

Presumption in favour of sustainable development

The presumption has been refined in order to be clear about its scope and how it is intended to be applied. The footnotes to paragraph 11 confirm that for decision taking, where policies most important for determining applications are out of date, permission should be granted unless the site is protected from development or where the adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. This presumption will now include, for housing schemes, situations where there is no five-year supply or where the Housing Delivery Test has not been met.

Annex 1 confirms that the HDT will apply from the day following publication of the first HDT results in November 2018. Determining whether delivery of housing was substantially below the requirement is based on the following measures:

“a) November 2018 indicate that delivery was below 25% of housing required over the previous three years;

  1. b) November 2019 indicate that delivery was below 45% of housing required over the previous three years;
  2. c) November 2020 and in subsequent years indicate that delivery was below 75% of housing required over the previous three years”

There are also important caveats in relation to Neighbourhood Planning. The Framework states that in situations where housing proposals conflict with a Neighbourhood Plan, then this would result in adverse impacts that are not capable of outweighing the benefits. This is dependent on the following four criteria:

“a) the neighbourhood plan became part of the development plan two years or less before the date on which the decision is made;

  1. b) the neighbourhood plan contains policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement;
  2. c) the local planning authority has at least a three year supply of deliverable housing sites (against its five-year housing supply requirement, including the appropriate buffer as set out in paragraph 73); and
  3. d) the local planning authority’s housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years”

Decision-making

The updated policy presents a new starting point for local planning authorities when considering development viability, in that schemes should be assumed capable of meeting up to date policy requirements for contributions. It also confirms that all viability assessments should be made publicly available.

Delivering sufficient supply of homes

The most significant measures include:

  • In establishing housing need, the number of new homes must now include (but not limited to), affordable housing, older persons, students, people who rent their homes and self/custom build
  • Affordable housing should not be sought on schemes of less than 10 dwellings (other than in designated rural areas where the threshold may be 5 units or lower)
  • Major housing schemes (10+ houses) should incorporate at least 10% of units for affordable home ownership
  • Local authorities will need to identify land to accommodate at least 10% of need on sites smaller than one hectare (this compares to the proposed 20% and 0.5ha figures in the draft)
  • Decision making should give “great weight” to windfall housing sites within existing settlements
  • “Entry-level exception sites” for first time buyers/renters should be supported. These should be sites which are not already allocated for housing, adjacent to existing settlements and proportionate in size to them

Of real significance to the housebuilding industry is the inclusion of new policy content on the time limits for planning permission. The Framework now says that to assist with implementation, consideration should be given to reducing the standard time limit for commencement, currently three years, “where this would expedite the development without threatening its deliverability or viability”.

Affordable housing

The definition of affordable housing has been revised. The changes confirm that “social rent” and “affordable rent” products now fall within the scope of what is referred to as “affordable housing for rent”. The Framework now also refers to “other affordable routes to home ownership” which means other low cost home ownership products which are available at a price equivalent to at least 20% below local market value.

Effective use of land

There is a firm commitment by the Government to ramp up development density. Minimum density standards for housing have been absent from national guidance for many years, however changes to the Framework will now equip plans to introduce these where justified.

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