Consultation has recently commenced on the Government’s proposed Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, setting out how the Government intends to reform national planning policy over the medium to longer-term, but also proposing a number of more immediate changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The proposed reforms to national planning policy predominantly concern housing, namely the five-year land supply and the significance of local strategic planning in setting housing targets. Further changes proposed relate to the life-extension of existing renewable sites, notably to promote onshore wind development, and to give policy protection to agricultural land for food production.
In addition, the written ministerial document also sets out the envisaged role for National Development Management Policies (NDMPs). These are intended to save plan-makers from having to repeat nationally important policies in their own plans, so that plans can be quicker to produce and focus on locally relevant policies. These proposed policies will also potentially provide more consistency for small and medium housebuilders, who otherwise must navigate a complex patchwork of similar but different requirements.
This article explores the indicative changes proposed for the NPPF and explores the potential implications of these changes for the planning sector.
The proposals listed in the written ministerial document are designed to support the wider objectives of making the planning system work better for communities, delivering more homes through sustainable development, building pride in place, and supporting levelling up more generally. The following policy objectives associated with the consultation document are as follows:
-Building beautiful and refusing ugliness;
-Securing the infrastructure needed to support development;
-More democratic engagement with communities on local plans;
-Better environmental outcomes;
-Empowering communities to shape their neighbourhoods; and,
-Sustainable and integrated infrastructure for our communities and our economy.
Proposed ‘Immediate Amendments’ to the NPPF
The ministerial statement sets out a summary of the proposed changes to the NPPF. It states that the NPPF should, moving forward:
-Make clear how housing figures should be derived and applied so that communities can respond to local circumstances;
-Address issues in the operation of the housing delivery and land supply tests;
-Tackle problems of slow build out;
-Encourage local planning authorities to support the role of community-led groups in delivering affordable housing on exception sites;
-Set clearer expectations around planning for older peoples’ housing;
-Promote ‘more beautiful’ homes, including through ‘gentle density’;
-Make sure that food security considerations are factored into planning decisions that affect farmland; and,
-Enable new methods for demonstrating local support for onshore wind development.
As can be seen, the majority of the proposed changes to the NPPF are related to the housing sector, particularly in respect of both the setting of housing targets and ensuring the delivery of new homes, with the remaining changes concerning food security and farmland, and onshore wind development. The Consultation document states that the government remains committed to delivering 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s, and the immediate changes to the NPPF proposed, as will be reviewed below, demonstrate the Government’s prioritisation of delivering more homes.
National Development Management Policies (NDMPs)
An NDMP is a proposed new instrument which would act as national policy and would in effect be statutory. As stated above, these are intended to save plan-makers from having to repeat nationally important policies in their own plans, so that plans can be quicker to produce and focus on locally relevant policies.
The NDMPs will be set out in a document separate to the NPPF, and we are expecting a future separate consultation on NDMPs to go live in 2023. They will cover planning considerations that typically apply in decision-making across England, such as general policies for conserving heritage assets, and preventing inappropriate development in the Green Belt and areas of high flood risk. Further, before any NDMP was designated by the Secretary of State, there would be a public consultation. Separately, the NPPF would remain focussed on plan-making principles and requirements.
The written ministerial document states that the Government’s initial view is that the NDMPs would fall within three broad categories:
1. Existing policies aimed at decision-making already provided within the NPPF, subject to these being reviewed on a case-by-case basis so that the rationale for their inclusion is clear;
2. Selective new additions to reflect new national priorities, for example net zero policies that it would be difficult to provide evidence to support at a district level, but which are nationally important; and,
3. Selective new additions to close ‘gaps’ where existing national policy is silent on planning considerations that regularly affect decision-making across the country (or significant parts of it).
In addition, the government proposes that any NDMP would adhere to a number of principles:
-Cover only matters that have a direct bearing on the determination of planning applications;
-Limited to key nationally important issues commonly encountered in making decisions on planning applications across the country (or significant parts of the country); and
-Solely addressing planning issues, in other words that concern the development and use of land. An NDMP would not address subjects which are regulated through other legislation, for example the building regulations or acts relating to public health, pollution, and employment; although the government is minded to retain the scope for optional technical standards to be set locally through plans, where these remain appropriate, so that local planning authorities can go above certain minima set through building standards.
With the above in mind, it will be interesting to see how the consultation for NDMPs plays out in the near future, as it could influence national policy and play a crucial role in the decision-making process, due to a more top-down development management system.
Proposed changes to NPPF wording (first consultation)
As per the ministerial statement, the government proposes to make several immediate changes to the NPPF, in order to allow them to deliver their “commitments to building enough of the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, ensuring the environment is protected and giving local people a greater say on where and where not to place new, beautiful development.”
Housing and Housing Need
Paragraph 60 of Chapter 5 of the proposed amended NPPF regarding the delivery of a sufficient supply of homes now includes the following:
“The overall aim should be to meet as much housing need as possible with an appropriate mix of housing types to meet the needs of communities.”
It should be noted, however, that there are no immediate changes proposed to the standard method of calculating housing need. Despite this, it is evident from the proposed changes that the government is keen for local plans to play a bigger role in helping to achieve its housing targets, with an incentive for more local authorities to update their local plans. Paragraph 75 of the proposed amended NPPF regarding the maintenance of housing supply and delivery, is proposed as follows:
“Local planning authorities should monitor their deliverable land supply against their housing requirement as set out in adopted strategic policies. When the housing requirement set out in strategic policies becomes more than five years old, local planning authorities should identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide a minimum of five years’ worth of housing against their local housing need (taking into account any previous under or over-supply as set out in planning practice guidance).”
Significantly, this means that the obligation for Local Planning Authorities to maintain five-year rolling housing land will be removed in instances where local plans are considered to be up-to-date. Previously identified 5%, 10% and 20% buffers (of varying considerations), as was included within this paragraph of the NPPF, have been removed. Authorities with recently adopted Local Plans will therefore benefit, as will those with Local Plans that are at an advanced stage. The Government indicates that these changes will provide an incentive for local planning authorities to focus on and prioritise completing their respective Local Plans for the benefit of housing delivery.
Paragraph 122 includes a new addition regarding Mansard Roof extensions. This states that Mansard Roof Extensions should be allowed where “their external appearance harmonises with the original building, including extensions to terraces where one or more of the terraced houses already has a mansard.” Of note, the Paragraph 122 also states that “A condition of simultaneous development should not be imposed on an application for multiple mansard extensions unless there is an exceptional justification.” Although minor, this will likely have considerable implications for Local Planning Authorities in their determination of applications in respect of roof extensions.
In terms of protecting green belt land, a new addition has been added to paragraph 142, which states that:
“Green Belt boundaries are not required to be reviewed and altered if this would be the only means of meeting the objectively assessed need for housing over the plan period.”
This has a considerable implication for Local Planning Authorities, who will not need to review their green belts, even if meeting their housing need would be impossible without such a review. Though this strengthens green belt policy, it is considered that in instances where the requirement for the intensification of urban areas has been demonstrated to be undeliverable, there will be no immediate solution to meeting housing needs. In such cases there may be no improvement to the delays currently being experienced in local plan making.
Support for Onshore Wind Development
With regard to meeting the challenges of climate change, Paragraph 160 (c) has been included as a new addition to the document. This states that when determining planning applications for renewables and low carbon development, local planning authorities should:
“approve an application for the repowering and life-extension of existing renewables sites, where its impacts are or can be made acceptable. The impacts of repowered and life-extended sites should be considered for the purposes of this policy from the baseline existing on the site.”
This is notable for planning applications seeking to re-establish the use and life extension of existing renewable sites, for example replacing old wind turbines with more powerful and efficient models will be made easier, and therefore suitable for the goal of sustainable, low-carbon development.
Summary and next steps
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will consider even greater reforms to national planning policy in the coming months, and these will deliver potentially significant impacts on the planning system in 2023. In addition to the NDMP consultation highlighted above, consultations will also be held on matters such as permitted development rights and design codes; the design of the infrastructure levy; increases in planning fees; exploring how to do more through planning to measure and reduce emissions in the built environment, “Neighbourhood Priorities Statements” and “Street Views”, in addition to others. Significantly, the Government has already said that further proposed changes to the NPPF will be forthcoming. These are expected to be the subject of separate consultations.
The current consultation provides considerable scope to influence the draft proposed changes to the NPPF and indicates how future consultations can also be influenced. It will be important to follow and consider the implications for the housebuilding and construction industries, as well as Local Planning Authorities. Firstplan will continue to provide coverage on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and will provide further updates on its journey through parliament.
A link to the latest written ministerial statement can be found here:
Article by Rory Coles