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Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework: evolution not revolution

The long anticipated draft revised National Planning Policy Framework was released today by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Consultation is open until 10 May 2018 and the Framework can be viewed here.

A range of other documents were also released, including “Draft Planning Guidance for Viability”, details of the “Housing Delivery Test (Draft Measurement Rule Book)” and “Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions”.

Also released is the “Government response to the housing White Paper consultation: Fixing our broken housing market”.

Despite much talk in recent weeks of punitive measures against developers ‘land-banking’ and intervention for ‘NIMBY’ councils, the documents released so far are lacking on details of the mechanisms to enforce such statements.

We recently previewed the announcement by sharing our top 10 'wants' from the revised framework. In advance of our full and detailed consideration of these documents, we asked our co-owners for their initial thoughts on the document:

Nick Graham, Associate Director

“The standard method for calculating housing needs has not been published. It is expected that it will be contained within the draft revised PPG to be released later this week. However, it is disappointing that the tests of soundness are proposed to be amended to state that Local Plans should "meet as much as possible” of the areas housing needs. This appears to remove the requirement for authorities to consider the merits of a higher housing requirement, which in some areas is necessary to achieve sustainable development and which has been instrumental in compelling authorities to increase their housing targets. The implications of this change for housing delivery across the country will only become clear when we see the detail of the standard method. It is encouraging however, to see some recognition for the provision of a mix of housing types, as well as new a focus on small site delivery through Local Plans.”

Stuart Irvine, Senior Director

“I had low hopes and was not disappointed! There is some tinkering with Green Belt policy to expand upon the provisions for using previously developed sites for affordable housing but nothing of the substantial change that would have had a real impact on addressing housing needs, albeit an interesting line to pursue for particular GB sites. The draft also confirms that sites within the Green Belt should only be allocated as a ‘last resort’ in plan making and this will pose LPAs with a challenge in terms of how and when they can arrive at such a conclusion (post Duty to Cooperate and considering PDL / accessible locations). A recipe for confusion (and delay no doubt). Another thread of interest is an apparent shift in the approach to safeguarded sites, which may require authorities to give it more serious consideration.”

David Murray-Cox, Associate Director

"Case law issued during the course of 2016 and 2017 regarding paragraph 14 and footnote 9 had left some doubt as to whether the presumption in favour could be applied where the development related to the matters listed in the footnote but that where the restriction had been overcome. The updated NPPF offered the opportunity to clarify that in such circumstances the restriction no longer applied and the presumption could be applied. However that opportunity has not been fully taken and we will therefore need to look to NPPG for guidance. The clarification that the footnote does not relate to policies in development plans is nevertheless a welcome step.”

Tom Armfield, Associate Director

“As expected, following the Written Ministerial Statement last year Neighbourhood Plans will become fundamentally entwined with national planning policy, including the added ability to amend Green Belt boundaries. However, with new power comes greater responsibility. Local planning authorities will need to establish a specific housing need which Neighbourhood Plans will need to plan for. This is encouraging for housing delivery. It provides a much needed stick to ensure that Neighbourhood Plans seek to positively accommodate growth and are not just used as a tool to resist development. It is disappointing that Neighbourhood Plans will not be subject to more rigorous testing to ensure the delivery of sufficient growth, rather than continuing to rely on meeting the ‘basic conditions’.”

Tim Burden, Director

“With Brexit on the horizon, we should be proactively facilitating economic generating activities, with willing businesses ready to invest. In the limited two paragraphs within Chapter 6 “Building a strong, competitive economy” it does not appear that the government sees the planning system as a tool for enabling a post Brexit economy. It still places the emphasis on the plan-led system to deliver non-housing development, albeit that paragraph 83 d) calls for policy to “enable a rapid response to changes in economic circumstances”. This is however not the ‘stick’ that is needed to make the difference at the decision making stage to ensure that this happens. We need to ensure that we are building real communities, and that involves other forms of development other than just housing. With slow plan-making, we are missing out on these opportunities and there is not the agility or flexibility to support investment that our modern business environment demands.”

Chris Pickup, Associate Director

“The draft revised NPPF attempts to introduce greater clarity in the application of the retail sequential test. The guidance now stipulates that alternative sites need not be immediately available.  How the term ‘reasonable period’ is to be interpreted is likely to be the source of much debate.  Perhaps unhelpfully, the document is less clear on the time horizons for impact testing (previously 5 or 10 years).  The removal of the requirement to undertake impact assessments for offices is helpful.  On balance, the direction of travel for town centre policy remains the same. Greater clarity on the interpretation of the impact and sequential tests is required in future iterations of the NPPF or accompanying guidance to ensure consistent decision making.”

Amy Gilham, Director, Economics and Head of Logistics

“The NPPF revisions tacitly assume that business just takes “care of itself” without the need for the planning system to play a more positive or enabling role. This is a big assumption in the face of Brexit headwinds and the uncertainty that this brings.

"I am concerned that the relaxation of rules for change of use relating to employment land may create mono-use cities and lead to inefficient transportation of goods to dense centres of population. Great care needs to be taken in the application of such approaches to ensure that some businesses, such as logistics operators, are not inadvertently “zoned out” of our major cities. The revisions to paras 82/83 and reference to the Industrial Strategy’s “high value” sectors also need to be interpreted carefully to ensure that in practice this does not stymie investment.”

Stephen Taylor, Head of Design

“The Government is emphasising a commitment to creating great places. No doubt recognising that there is work to do in winning hearts and minds as emphasising Design Quality and a sustainable legacy from new building. Whilst sections 11 and 12 are the explicit new places where we find reference to Design, I would urge all concerned about placemaking to read the documentation as a whole. The entire plan making framework is particularly significant including those relating to retail and town centres and indeed sustainability and the historic environment. The important message is that Design should not be considered as a ‘bolt-on’ aspect of town planning and development delivery.

"Chapter 11 certainly requires greater density of development to be delivered in key locations - primarily by making optimum use of land. The NPPF will encourage higher building forms; more intense site developments. This must be done respecting Place and Context. It’s anticipated that the new Chapter 12 on Design will also promote more announcements in coming months.”

Taylor Cherrett, Senior Planner

"It is pleasing to see that the revised NPPF recognises a multi-tenure approach to housing delivery, acknowledging and defining Build to Rent within the revisions. The complexities of delivering Build to Rent schemes have been recognised through its exemption from paragraph 65, which outlines a requirement for at least 10% affordable provision for major housing developments, and the inclusion of Affordable Housing for Rent within the Glossary (also referred to as Affordable Private Rent). This provides an appropriate vehicle for ensuring Local Authorities can secure affordable housing as part of Build to Rent developments.”

Antony Pollard, Director, Economics

“It is disappointing, but not unexpected, that the proposed revisions to the Framework remove the need for Local Plans to evidence the integration of their housing and employment policies. This not only reflects the Government’s desire to tighten the scope of plan making evidence but also pre-empts the proposed standard method for calculating housing need.

Section 6 still recognises that an inadequate supply of housing can represent a barrier to investment. However, the revised Framework proposes no requirement to test whether planned housing levels are likely to constrain local economic growth. This leaves housing and economic considerations effectively severed, unless a Local Planning Authority opts to attempt to reconcile the two.”

Matt Spilsbury, Director, Development Advisory

“The Government has really “gone to town" on viability matters in its proposed revisions to the Framework, placing much more stringent emphasis on Local Plan viability evidence as oppose to evidence relied upon at the decision making stage. However, this is a very simplistic view of how development economics actually work and I suspect that the supposed “catch-all” Local Plan viability testing will in practice still require subsequent testing as costs and values change over time. There is too much to summarise here; look out for our full analysis in the very near future.”

How can Turley help?

The “Consultation proposals” set out a range of questions, and we look forward to engaging in the consultation on behalf of our clients. We will be reviewing the documentation further and providing additional commentary over the coming weeks, in terms of what this document may mean to our clients, individual sectors and regions.

Please get in touch if you would like further information on what these changes mean for your organisation or wish to discuss representations.

5 March 2018

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