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What change on Green Belt development has the revised NPPF delivered?
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There was considerable attention on what the Government would do on Green Belt development when it came to the final revisions of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Now we know, what is the outcome?
On the challenge of demonstrating that ‘exceptional circumstances’ exist to alter Green Belt boundaries all we have seen is the introduction of further hoops to jump though. The criteria to be met by strategic planning authorities to demonstrate exceptional circumstances are largely the same as set out in the Draft NPPF and include a requirement to optimise development densities particularly in town and city centres and other locations well served by public transport. An approach local authorities are already well-versed in deploying. While this is a positive step in terms of making the process of Green Belt release much more transparent, it hardly represents a significant change going forward.
Of course, the true test of this NPPF will be in the individual interpretations and applications at a local level. For example, are we really likely to see the Green Belt tighten to the extent that development more akin to high-rise Croydon would be squeezed into leafy St Albans? In an attempt to avoid this the Framework’s requirement to seek significant uplifts in residential density in highly sustainable locations is caveated on whether there are strong reasons to show why this would be inappropriate.
In achieving appropriate densities, the revised NPPF also states consideration needs to be given to the need for different types of housing and that provision of high-quality design is an essential element. We expect developers and promoters of Green Belt sites will question whether the housing market in some areas could support the delivery of significantly higher density schemes, albeit in sustainable locations, and that Planning and Heritage Officers may question whether densification of Green Belt towns will provide a character of development suitable to its location.
I think the response of Iceni’s chief executive, Ian Anderson captured this disappointment in commenting that the revised NPPF had made Green Belt release harder on the grounds of political posturing rather than better planning. And that ultimately ‘the Government has also distanced itself from a desperately needed comprehensive national Green Belt review for the same reasons.’
I think this general sense of disappointment is where we are at as an industry, with the Government spurning this opportunity to really tackle Green Belt issues as part of the solution to the housing crisis.