What opportunities does the updated NPPF present?
Six years after the Government consolidated 1,000 pages of national policy guidance into just 50, an updated version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published at the end of July 2018, writes Colin Brown, Partner, Planning & Development at Carter Jonas .
An earlier draft version had been released in March 2018 resulting in more than 29,000 consultation responses. So, what has changed between the draft (NPPF1) and the revised final version (NPPF2), and what opportunities does this present?
In summary, not much has changed. At 73 pages it is slightly longer than its predecessor version, but you have to look pretty hard to find any significant changes.
There are a number of changes to definitions and clarifications in the glossary at Annex 2 and subtle text changes throughout but little of substance has changed on the big-ticket issues of Green Belt, heritage and town centres.
The parts that have seen most change relate to housing and to development plans. Local Planning Authority’s (LPAs) responses may have had some sway in watering down unachievable expectations but the Government’s clear ambition to ‘deliver more homes’ is still predominant throughout NPPF2.
Good design has been significantly strengthened as it is ‘fundamental to what planning and development should achieve’.
Early liaison with LPAs is promoted and entering into voluntary Planning Performance Agreements for large and complex projects is encouraged. The use of collaborative workshops as one way of achieving early engagement with local communities is suggested.
These requirements have the potential to frontload the development process resulting in a lengthier pre-application process but potentially fewer resident objections and a more streamlined determination period. Reference to Garden City principles for large scale development has been reinserted following its omission in NPPF1.
A key addition in NPPF2 is the requirement for LPAs to ensure quality is consistent from approval to completion. This could result in more detailed submissions and less LPA flexibility on planning condition discharge. It could also vary the perception of what constitutes a non-material amendment. Might this be the end of post consent value engineering?
A finer detailed point is the inclusion of a footnote setting out that the Government’s accessible and inclusiveness standards should be used in housing policies where there is an identified need. This requirement will to be factored into development appraisals at an early stage.
NPPF2 has scaled backed the percentage of small sites that should be allocated in a development plan and within Brownfield Registers from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. Sites must not be larger than 1 hectare.
A get-out clause has also been inserted for those LPA’s unable to meet this requirement, no doubt driven by LPA’s consultation responses. NPPF2 promotes the use of Local Development Orders for not only small sites, as per NPPF1, but also for ‘medium’ sized sites therefore confirming the acceptability of brownfield developments of 10 plus units on sites less than one hectare in size.
There is a clear intention of optimising density in city and town centre locations that are well served by public transport.
Acknowledgement of the timescales to deliver large scale development is recognised and it asks for identification of measures to support delivery. The revised NPPF seeks to clarify the role of Neighbourhood Plans following significant litigation.
It sets that strategic policies should establish a housing requirement figure for designated neighbourhood plan areas and there should be no need to review this at examination stage. The intention here must be to speed up Neighbourhood Plan Examinations.
A subtle change in wording in NPPF2 sets out that planning obligations ‘must’ only be sought when they meet the CIL Regulations. This compares to the ‘should’ wording in NPPF1. This clear position should make the process more transparent for the Applicant and LPA.
It also sets out that the onus is on the applicant to justify a viability assessment and the weight to be given to it is a matter for the decision maker. As up-to-date policies that set out the contributions are assumed to be viable, viability assessments in this case could carry less weight.
NPPF2 omits an entire paragraph on when the presumption in favour of sustainable development should apply if an authority cannot meet its five-year supply of housing- the legal interpretation of this is one to watch.
It also amends the wording of ‘Strategic Plan’ to ‘Strategic Policies’ and ‘Local Plan’ to ‘Non-Strategic Policies’. This is perhaps to avoid perceptions of the defunct regional planning.
The only real change in NPPF2 relating to the Green Belt, is the strengthening of the need for ‘fully evidenced and justified’ exceptional circumstances in which to amend Green Belt boundaries.
Support of high tech industries and the knowledge economy is emphasised whilst greater flexibility and diversity in town centres is encouraged to deliver ‘a positive strategy for the future of each centre’. This can be through identifying a range rather than a fixed set of use classes.
Lastly, the section on environmental issues has been amended in NPPF2 to be in line with the obligations and provisions in the Climate Act 2008.
The word ‘enhance’ has been incorporated several times in reference to areas of outstanding natural beauty and amendments have been made to definitions of Veteran and Ancient tree and the Bird and Habitats EU Directives have been removed from the glossary.