What’s changed (and what hasn’t) under the new NPPF

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The government’s ongoing efforts to change the face of planning in England has this week seen the unveiling of its long-awaited new National Planning Policy Framework.

But with housing targets being relaxed and policies centred around subjective concepts such as “beauty”, is it achieving what the government has promised it will do? Here’s what you need to know:

What is the National Planning Policy Framework?

The NPPF, as it is more commonly known, sets out the government’s policies and provides a framework within which locally-prepared plans for housing and other development can be produced.

Unveiling the new policy on Tuesday 19 December, Secretary of State Michael Gove said that the new NPPF focused on five key principles – beauty, infrastructure, democracy, the environment and neighbourhood – and affirmed the “vital importance” of planning, the central role planning professionals have in shaping communities and the delivery of more beautiful homes through a plan-led system.

Running in parallel to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, which was brought into law back in October, the new NPPF sets out the plan for achieving sustainable development through three overarching objectives:

  • Economic – Ensuring the availability of sufficient amounts of the “right types” of land;
  • Social – Providing a sufficient number and variety of homes to meet the needs future generations; and
  • Environmental – Protecting and enhancing nature, making effective use of land, improving biodiversity and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Key highlights

Whilst promising a much-needed modernisation to the planning system and both empowerment and accountability for local planning authorities (LPAs), many of the policies proposed in the public consultation this year appear to have been watered down.

Among the key headlines from the new NPPF are:

  • Housing targets: A big headline grabber that the NPPF gives LPAs more latitude to build fewer homes than their targets require – despite continued failure to achieve the national 300,000 new homes a year target – but in reality, little has changed with the targets remaining advisory and the standard method for assessing local housing need remaining unchanged;
  • Diluting the five-year land supply requirement: Linked to achieving housing targets, LPAs will now no longer be required to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply if their adopted Local Plan is less than five years old and their plan has at least a five-year supply of specific, deliverable sites at the time its examination is concluded;
  • Holding local authorities to account: In unveiling the NPPF, the Secretary of State promised the government would be “rigorous and robust in rooting out the delays, blockages and bad practice”. This was reflected in the announced creation of robust league tables to showcase and compare the speed, approvals and delivery performance of LPAs and prevent “gaming” of the system;
  • Greenbelt and Greenfield: An apparent last-minute watering down of originally proposed policy to give LPAs no requirement to revise Green Belt boundaries to meet housing need, the policy now appears to simply restate what is currently in existence. A notable change however is the NPPF makes no reference to Greenfield allocation, indicating the concept has been scrapped altogether;
  • Focus on “beauty”: Moving away from the more objective factors that traditionally encapsulate planning, Gove’s speech highlighted the concept of beauty as a new priority in the delivery of houses and cultivation of communities. This includes in the key principles of the NPPF as well as in the objectives of the new public body – the Office for Place.

What does this mean?

Fred Quartermain, Partner in the Thrings Planning and Environment team, said: “It is safe to say that, with a General Election looming sometime next year, the new NPPF has not made changes that were as significant as had originally been anticipated.

“Whilst steps taken in areas such as increased accountability for LPAs are positive news for developers met with delay after delay on delivering their projects, watering down of government-approved housing targets and the impossible nature of being able to empirically evidence abstract concepts such as beauty have the potential to create confusion in an already complicated system.

“With a number of restrictions and easings of policy across the planning system, the new year is going to be a testing time for anyone seeking to progress through it and we would always recommend seeking robust professional advice to ensure you are avoiding any potential legal issues.”

Thrings’ Planning and Environment lawyers have extensive experience in navigating complex local and national planning policy and legislation and has successfully supported commercial and residential applications through the approval and appeal processes. To find out more and for advice on your development proposals, including how to address enforcement notices, please do get in touch.


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