On the day of the Oscars, it was revisions to planning policy that (momentarily) stole the headlines. The Prime Minister launched a ‘major overhaul’ to the National Planning Policy Framework today aimed at delivering ‘the homes the country needs’.
The long-awaited revisions to the NPPF pull together policy proposals consulted on in the Housing White Paper as well as those promised in the Budget 2017, and whilst ‘major overhaul’ could perhaps be substituted for ‘helpful evolution’, there are nonetheless some useful policy revisions included in the document.
Firstplan will be poring over the all-important proposed wording of the revised document over the next few days and providing a detailed analysis in due course. In the meantime, some of the key revisions are highlighted below:
It comes as no surprise that many of the revisions revolve around housing provision and seek to deliver new homes as quickly as possible. Amendments include:
· Introduction of a standardised approach to calculating local housing need;
· A requirement that a minimum of 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership, with certain exemptions;
· Specific (and welcome) recognition that small sites can make an important contribution to meeting the housing requirement and a requirement that at least 20% of sites identified for housing in local plans are of half a hectare or less (although the Government remain open to views as to whether this is the most appropriate threshold);
· Support for the development of small scale windfall sites with great weight being given to the benefits of using suitable sites within existing settlements for homes;
· A requirement for authorities to consider imposing a planning condition to bring forward development within two years, except where a shorter timescale could hinder the viability or deliverability of a scheme.
With Green Belt land protections being strengthened, a whole new chapter is inserted into the new NPPF dedicated to ‘making effective use of land’. As we have seen in the recent draft London Plan, the revisions seek to make more intensive use of land (with a continued focus on utilising brownfield land) and avoid building homes at low density. Amendments include:
· Encouraging the conversion of buildings on or above service yards, car parks, lock-ups and railway infrastructure as well as empty space above shops to provide additional homes;
· Support for the use of airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. In particular, upward extensions should be permitted where the development would ‘be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene’ (although the usefulness of this policy may be hindered by the requirement that any extension needs to be ‘well-designed including comply with any local design policies and standards’);
· Support for proposals to use retail and employment land for homes in areas of high housing demand (albeit with a somewhat broad caveat that this would not undermine key economic sectors or town centres, and would be compatible with other policies in the Framework);
· A requirement for minimum density standards to be used in town and city centres and around transport hubs where there is a shortage of land for meeting housing needs. The proposed wording confirms that these standards should seek a ‘significant uplift’ in the average density of residential development within these areas, unless this can be shown to be inappropriate;
· A requirement for authorities to refuse applications which they consider fail to make efficient use of land. Significantly, the proposed policies goes onto state that, in this context, when considering applications for housing, authorities should take a flexible approach in applying policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight, where they would otherwise inhibit making efficient use of a site.
Whilst housing takes centre stage, the role of the planning system in supporting economic development is not forgotten. The revisions make more explicit the importance of supporting business growth and improved productivity. There is also recognition that sites to meet local business and community needs in rural areas may have to be found outside existing settlement, and in locations that are not well served by public transport.
The current town centres first approach remains intact with authorities required to look at least ten years ahead in allocating sites to meet the need for town centre uses and requiring town centre boundaries to be kept under review. Potentially significant changes are made to the ‘sequential approach’ to planning applications, so that out of centre sites should be considered only if suitable town centre or edge of centre sites are unavailable or not expected to become available within a reasonable period (although the term ‘reasonable period’ is not defined).
This is not a full list of policy revisions but we hope it gives you a feel for the direction the NPPF is taking. The new NPPF will be subject to consultation – co-ordinated by the RTPI – until 10 May 2018 and can be viewed here. The final Framework will be published before the summer.
If you would like to discuss the new NPPF and its potential implications for developers, or would like Firstplan to prepare representations on your behalf, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team.