NPPF Reforms

We are not going to go into huge detail about the NPPF changes as this is the role of planning consultants, but we have picked out some key areas.

Michael Gove MP made his speech about the NPPF consultation response on the day Parliament rose for the Christmas break (19 December), and the government published its long-awaited revision of the NPPF.

New housing development

George Clerk

As we predicted, some of the proposals have been softened from what was consulted upon at the beginning of last year. But there is still criticism from developers that this will make housebuilding more difficult and will certainly not help the government achieve its 300,000 homes per year manifesto promise – not so good in a year when there is likely to be a General Election.

A key element in the revisions is that there is no requirement on councils to review their green belt boundaries. The new text does not say that this trumps the requirement on a council to meet housing need. It does say that councils can choose to change the boundary where exceptional circumstances exist, but does not detail what those circumstances could be and whether meeting housing need is one of them.

This provision is to address significant pressure from mainly Conservative councils in the south east which are bearing the brunt of development and is impacting on political support.

Another key element is that councils with an up-to-date local plan (less than five years old) need not demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. The 5 and 10 percent buffers have been scrapped, but the 20 per cent buffer applied for subsequent failure to hit targets remains in place.

A further area of contention is the calculation of housing need. The revision confirms that the housing need calculated by the standard method is advisory, as it has always been, apparently. An alternative approach can now be used in exceptional circumstances, but its example reinforces that the exceptional circumstances are just that. The government is also reviewing the ONS data used in the standard methodology, saying it will look at using the 2021 census data, but pointed out that this is not published until 2025.

A selection of other changes include:

  • The test of soundness remains,
  • Previous over-delivery can now be taken into account in plan making,
  • The question of density has been amended to ensure new development is in-keeping with existing communities,
  • Plans require councils to support small sites for community-led housing and self-build,
  • The 35% uplift in the 20 largest towns remains,
  • Specific mention is made of meeting the needs of retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes,
  • Require for clear detail in a scheme’s design and materials,
  • Promote mansard roofs, and
  • Poorer quality agricultural land should be given preference over ‘best and most versatile’.

The government says this is very much work in progress with a lot more to come later this year, and Labour has said it will scrap the changes the day it comes to power. It is set to be an interesting year!