This is my analysis of new NPPF published on 24 July 2018.  You can find my first thoughts on this menu. Since then I have taken a bit more time to think through some of the implications. The NPPF  is now the policy that all planning application are judged against, together with appropriate Local plans.  I hope this is informative and a shorter read than the whole document that can be found here.

The final version of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 24 July 2018, on the very last day before summer Recess and avoiding Parliamentary debate. In contrast, the draft version (published in March for consultation) had been announced by the Prime Minister Theresa May at a dedicated launch event.

Much has changed in the make-up of Government in the four months since the consultation started (not least, the Housing Secretary and Housing Minister); however, and notwithstanding the huge amount of responses received (almost 30,000), changes made to the final version of the revised NPPF focus on clarifications and re-wording, with very few more significant amendments.

Naturally, wider implications and potential impacts of the new policies will become clearer over time; for now, we have identified eleven points where changes have been made following the draft NPPF’s consultation and which are worth bearing in mind.

1. Using design policies as a key to boosting house building

The revised NPPF gives greater importance to design policies, as they should ensure the standard of housing is improved. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said:

… Critically, progress must not be at the expense of quality or design. Houses must be right for communities. So the planning reforms in the new Framework should result in homes that are locally led, well-designed, and of a consistent and high quality standard.’

Chapter 12 ‘Achieving well-designed places’ is the place where we get more detail. Poor design is grounds for refusal for development. Good news. Developers have to make effective engagement with local communities. Local Planning authorities are also told to ensure that all those ‘non-material alterations’ application that we so often see from developers after the permission is granted does not result in a lowering of design standards.

2. Planning application viability assessments as exception to be justified

One of the problematic features that has developed in the housing market is the trend by developers to claim the viability of their scheme is worse than originally assessed. They then demand a reduction in the number of ‘affordable housing’ they are required to build as part of the deal. This has led to drastic reductions in the number of such social housing across the country. The cost of this ‘reassessment’ was placed on the Local Authority.

The NPPF now puts the burden on the developer to demonstrate that circumstances have changed after the grant of permission. Furthermore the decision is given to the Local Authority to make on the evidence available not the developer. The cost of any reassessment is placed on the developer.

This is clearly aimed at making sure developers can’t wriggle out of obligations they agreed to at the application stage.

3. Standardised methodology and Housing Delivery Test confirmed (for now)

Two new key features of the new NPPF are the new standardised methodology to assess housing needs and the Housing Delivery Test. The Standard Method baseline should be based on the projected average annual household growth over a 10-year period (step 1|), with the current year on the date of the calculation being the first year.  The step 2 calculation should be based on the most recent median work-place affordability ratios (2017) Together these two calculations give us (the government) the figure of 300,000 homes per year. Clear?

In addition, we have a new Housing Delivery Test (HDT) that measures each local authority’s performance in delivering new houses. If the HDT show a significant under delivery (>85%) over the last three years the LA must include a 20% buffer of deliverable sites to meet its 5 year supply of building land. If the HDT test fall to >75% things get grim again. Much of the planning protection goes and we are back in the situation we experienced when Cheshire East (CE) could not establish a 5-year supply of land.

4. Lower requirement for small (and medium) sized sites

The NPPF wants more houses built on small sites of 1 hectare or less. The target is set at 10% and LA’s must have strong reasons for failing to meet this level.

5. More clarity on strategic and non-strategic policies

The draft NPPF’s reference to ‘strategic’ and ‘local’ policies which caused confusion in relation to spatial development strategies, and appeared to undermine the need for local plans has been clarified.

The final revised NPPF now distinguishes between strategic policies (which should look over a minimum of a 15-year period) and non-strategic policies (included in local plans, when these are not considered strategic policies, and in neighbourhood plans).

6. Town centre diversification promoted

The NPPF sees the future of towns through greater diversification. The range of uses permitted in town centres needs to reflect this need for greater diversification if they are to survive and flourish long term.

7. Land assembly and compulsory purchase

LA’s will have more power to bring together larger assemblies of land for development. If they can secure better outcomes thencompulsory purchase of land should be used.

8. Green Belt: of course it’s here to stay

Of course the Green belt isto stay! Except when the LA has examined all other ‘reasonable‘ options for meeting its identified housing needs. Sounds stringent but this could be a more flexible ‘gateway’ than at present through which the LA and developers can get hold of more green belt sites. A bit of a worry. Time will tell – but by then it will, of course, be too late.

9. Heritage policies retained and restored

LA’s are expected to have access to or keep historic environment records. Great weight should be given to historic assets conservation. However, it goes on to say that where development proposals would cause ‘less than substantial harm’ this should be weighed against the public benefits of the proposal including where appropriate ‘securing optimal viable use’.

That looks like a ‘gateway’ for getting round some conservation sites.

10. A change to transition

The new NPPF must be used for all planning decisions from the date of its publication (24 July 2018). Any applications made before that date are to be evaluated against the previous (2012) NPPF.

11. ‘Social rent’ back in and starter homes loosen up

The revised version of the glossary at Annex 2 includes reference to social rent again, as an ‘affordable housing for rent’ product rather than in its own right; any reference to social rent housing was previously deleted from the draft revised NPPF’s definition of affordable housing.

Further amendments have been made to the definition of ‘affordable housing’, particularly about starter homes. Interestingly, previous reference to the maximum annual household income of eligible buyers (£80,000, or £90,000 in London) has now been removed and left as a matter for secondary legislation; this is to reflect that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 does not explicitly refer to those income thresholds.

Might this signal the ‘resurgence’ of starter homes? Unlikely.

Overall, the impression is that the process of updating and reviewing the 2012 NPPF has been more complicated than many expected it to be, and the continuous changes in the Department and the Ministry surely have not helped (five Housing Ministers and threeSecretaries of State since the NPPF review was first announced).

Clearly the housing crisis – if that is what it is- is now a central concern of the government. Has it struck the right balance between developer and local communities. Time will tell. But as the government becomes more agitated over housing the pendulum swings toward the developer and increased measures to push LA’s to get more house built.

About the Author

Peter Gorman ()

Now retired from teaching. Involved in supporting the Village Day Committee, Village websites and Secretary of the Bunbury Action Group.