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NPPF: Is it all smoke and mirrors?
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Bullish soundbites from the Secretary of State in Sunday’s papers promised ‘an overhaul of planning laws’ forcing ‘nimby councils’ to deliver a ‘housing revolution’. Two speeches and a raft of documents out for consultation hardly represent the hinted at overhaul.
The only significant change is in the government’s tone. The National Planning Policy Framework of 2012 encouraged local authorities to plot their own path, for example in matters of densities, declining town centres and the duty to cooperate. In 2018 this has been replaced with a clearer set of actions which give the appearance of a government taking firmer control.
Overall, housing delivery takes centre-stage. In applying the housing delivery test presumption will be in favour of sustainable development where an authority has not delivered sufficient homes. Small, agile housebuilders are to be encouraged by restricting the size of at least 20% of local plan housing allocation sites to 0.5ha or less.
At the same time as demanding improved housing delivery the Prime Minister also offered strengthened Green Belt protection by requiring plan-makers to examine all reasonable options before releasing Green Belt land for allocation. The draft document includes a new section on ‘making effective use of land’ which aims to optimize brownfield development: it advocates minimum densities in accessible locations (albeit when there is a shortage of land supply); upwards extensions; and mixed-use schemes which are able to deliver a range of benefits.
Much of the content seeks to formalise measures which have already been consulted upon or have become established through case law.
As expected, the draft document includes a standardised method for the calculation of housing need; a requirement for statements of common ground to aid co-working between local planning authorities in plan-making; and a requirement for at least 10% of major development sites to comprise affordable home ownership. With additional guidance due later this week and the Letwin review to report next week, the devil will be in the detail of these proposals.
Measures to achieve the promised streamlining of the planning system include agreeing fixed housing land supply figures annually; and reducing the potential for refusal on the grounds of prematurity. Given the realities of the development market it remains to be seen if the proposals to set viability expectations in a local plan will be successful in preventing lengthy negotiations at the application stage.
Ultimately after the build-up to this speech and the much trailed revisions of the NPPF, will the government be any closer to hitting its annual target of 300,000 homes to be delivered speedily and at a high quality?