Greater emphasis than ever before will now be placed on quality and design in the planning system. On 21 July 2021, the Government announced a variety of initiatives with the aim of creating “a planning system that make beautiful, sustainable and life-enhancing design a necessity, rather than a luxury”. This follows last year’s publication of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission’s report, ‘Living with Beauty’ and the 2020 White Paper on planning reform.
National Planning Policy Framework 2021
Last month, the Government published their updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was first launched in 2012 to provide a planning framework for England. The updated version places greater emphasis on beauty, place-making, the environment and sustainable development; and underlines the importance of local design codes, with Robert Jenrick announcing that the revised NPPF will “ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens [and] that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes which do not meet locally set standards.”
What are the key changes to the NPPF?
The overarching principle of Sustainable Development within the NPPF has been updated, with Paragraph 7 now including the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
The definitions of the social and environmental objectives of sustainable development have also been updated within Paragraph 8, with the social objective adding beauty as a requirement, and the environmental objective now including the requirement to “protect and enhance” the environment and “improve biodiversity” instead of “contribute to” protection and “helping to improve” biodiversity.
In terms of design, Paragraph 134 now states that “significant weight” should be given to development which reflects local design policies and outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability. It sets a clear emphasis on and standard for design, stating that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design”.
Furthermore, Paragraph 80, which aims to prevent the development of poorly designed and isolated homes in the countryside, has removed the criteria relating to innovative design, and now solely refers to design that is “truly outstanding”.
With regards to biodiversity and sustainability, Paragraph 131 has been added to acknowledge the importance of trees to the character and quality of urban environments, with a new requirement for planning policies and decisions to “ensure that new streets are tree-lined”. It is proposed that applicants and local authorities should work with highways and tree officers to ensure trees are planted in the right places. In addition to this, Paragraph 180 also states that design proposals should incorporate opportunities to improve biodiversity in and around developments.
The wording within Paragraphs 161 and 162 encourages an integrated approach to flood risk management, and now takes all sources of flood risk into account. Alongside this tightening of the restrictions around development in flood risk areas, there is an increased emphasis use of natural flood management techniques, including the improvement of green infrastructure, which seeks to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding. Finally, the new Flood Risk Vulnerability Classifications are set out within Annex 3, as referenced in Paragraph 163.
The introduction of Paragraph 96 states that Local Planning Authorities should work “proactively and positively” with developers, delivery partners and statutory bodies, to promote faster delivery of public service infrastructure (such as education facilities and hospitals) and resolve any key issues ahead of applications.
In addition, Paragraph 22 emphasises the need to consider a “vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to take into account the likely timescale for delivery” for major infrastructure projects.
In relation to delivery of homes, Paragraph 65 provides clarification on the required quantity of provision of affordable homes, now stating that “planning policies and decisions should expect at least 10% of the total number of homes to be available for affordable home ownership”.
In a further bid to shape the quality and quantity of development, Paragraph 53 provides further guidance on the use of Article 4 directions to incorporate the changes to national permitted development regarding non-residential to residential uses, and to restricting application of Article 4 Directions to “the smallest possible geographical area”.
Paragraph 176 updates guidance regarding the scale and extent of development within all designated areas, to preserve beauty and conservation of heritage and wildlife.
Further to this, and possibly in response to recent socio-political movements, Paragraph 198 now provides guidance on applications to remove or alter historic statues or monuments, and emphasises the “importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.”
New National Model Design Code and Office for Place
Alongside the changes to the NPPF, and new National Model Design Code was launched, to provide a toolkit to help councils develop their local design codes, with the ultimate aim of ensuring consistent, beautiful development. The government propose this will shift power from big developers back to local communities and ensure that “residents and planners will find it easier to embrace beautiful, practical design while rejecting the ugly, unsustainable or poor quality.”
To aid this, and to reinforce the policy changes, the government also announced the launch of the ‘Office for Place’ which will offer “world-class design expertise to help local councils and communities develop user-friendly, effective design codes for their communities, requiring beauty by default within the planning system to drive up standards.”
This revised NPPF is now a material planning consideration and could indicate the possible direction of the wider planning reforms proposed within the 2020 Planning White Paper. If you have any questions relating to the NPPF, and what these changes could mean for your developments, contact Firstplan.