National Planning Policy Framework consultation – a rural perspective

The government has launched a consultation seeking views on the draft text of changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. The Framework was first introduced in 2012, providing central government guidance for local planning authorities to guide them in drawing up development plans. It is also a material consideration for the determination of planning applications. This consultation proposes the first significant changes to the Framework since its inception.

Here we have summarised the potential impact some changes may have on rural areas.

The draft proposes a number of incremental changes, together with the Government's major reforms of planning policy to drive forward housing delivery.

In terms of rural planning there is no great change. However, key changes in associated national planning policy guidance have been proposed to permit Class Q – development rights to convert agricultural buildings to residential dwellings.

Of course, it’s impossible to predict how policy changes may impact the determination of an individual application without considering the specific circumstances. As Lord Carnwath made plain in the Supreme Court case of Suffolk Coastal District Council v Hopkins Homes Ltd and another; Richborough Estates Partnership LLP and another v Cheshire East Borough Council [2017] UKSC 37:

“It must be remembered that, whether in a development plan or in a non-statutory statement such as the NPPF, these are statements of policy, not statutory texts, and must be read in that light. Even where there are disputes over interpretation, they may well not be determinative of the outcome.”

With that caveat, here are some interesting changes signalled by the consultation draft Framework:


The draft foreshadows a new standard for determining the calculation of housing need at the local planning authority level. There is a requirement that there must be clear policies for addressing the needs of particular groups, including those who rent their homes.

At least 10% of homes must be affordable on sites with more than 10 houses or where a site is of 0.5 ha or more in area. Though, affordable housing should not be sought for developments that are not on major sites, other than in designated rural areas (where policies may set out a lower threshold of five units or fewer).

The definition of rural exception sites is unchanged, and the link to affordable housing continues.

The current wording suggesting ‘significant additional affordable housing’ is substituted with a more nuanced balance, which continues support for market housing where appropriate. The draft requires that at least 20% of sites allocated for housing in local plans have an area of half a hectare of less. The definition of affordable housing is expanded to include affordable housing for rent, discounted market housing and starter homes.

Isolated homes in the countryside

The draft describes a new case in which certain homes may be permitted: where ‘there is an essential need for a rural worker, including those taking majority control of a farm business, to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside’.

Rural tourism and leisure

The draft replicates the current Framework’s support for sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments that respect the character of the countryside. There is less emphasis that this should include ‘supporting the provision and expansion of tourist and visitor facilities’ provided needs are not met by ‘existing facilities in rural service centres’. This move might be perceived as a softening of policy.

Green Belt

The draft has resulted in policy tightening for the protection for the Green Belt, along with historic coastlines and ancient woodlands. The following types of developments are excluded from the policy:

  • buildings for agriculture and forestry;
  • limited infilling in villages
  • limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the development plan (including policies for rural exception sites)
  • limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed land, whether redundant or in continuing use (excluding temporary buildings). These developments are excluded as long as they contribute to meeting an identified local affordable housing need, do not cause substantial harm to or have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt.

These are just some of the changes that the Government is inviting consultation until 10 May 2018.

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