Another hurdle for housing development in Scotland, what will NPF4 bring next? 

08 Aug 23

NPF4 Policy 16 ‘Quality Homes’ aims to “ encourage, promote and facilitate the delivery of more high quality, affordable and sustainable homes”.

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NPF4 Policy 16 ‘Quality Homes’ aims to “ encourage, promote and facilitate the delivery of more high quality, affordable and sustainable homes“. At face value, the policy appears to have good intentions in terms of addressing the current housing crisis in Scotland.

However, where previously a shortfall against a Local Development Plan’s housing land requirement offered a route to obtain planning permission for development on unallocated land (usually via the appeal process utilising Scottish Planning Policy’s “presumption” in favour of sustainable development and the “tilted balance” in favour of such development in the decision-making process), housing development proposals are now subject to the stringent application of NPF4 Policy 16(f). This policy offers little support to development on unallocated land and contains no obvious ‘release’ mechanism to bring such sites forward out with the development plan process.

In April, Scottish Ministers recalled a planning appeal for residential development on an unallocated site at Mossend, West Calder – one of several similar appeal cases recalled by Scottish Ministers for determination – on the basis that ” the appeal raises national issues in terms of the application of National Planning Framework 4“.

Underpinning the Mossend case was debate around the application of Policy 16(f) during the current ‘transitional period’ where incompatibility between NPF4 and a Local Development Plan (LDP) which pre-dates NPF4 adoption may exist. In the case of Mossend the compatibility debate centred on an existing shortfall against the LDP’s housing land requirement and the application of the LDP’s ‘release’ policy which allowed additional sites to come forward in specific circumstances to maintain a 5-year effective housing land supply.

In dismissing the appeal last month, Ministers determined that NPF4 Policy 16(f) took precedence over the adopted LDP’s ‘release’ policy. Ministers concluded that the LDP requirement to maintain a 5-year effective housing land supply and the LDPs housing land requirement “have no residual role”. In short, existing housing shortfalls are no longer considered relevant or applicable in the decision-making process and do not need to be addressed.

So, where does this leave us? It is clear Ministers intend NPF4 Policy 16(f) to provide a significant policy barrier for housing development proposals on sites not allocated for development within LDPs – with the justification for the ‘exception release’ of such sites seemingly removed.

With the short-term route to development seemingly closed, the need for effective and deliverable housing sites to be allocated in LDPs becomes even more apparent. As Planning Authorities across Scotland begin to gather the evidence base for new ‘NPF4 compliant’ LDPs, early and positive engagement in the LDP review process is fundamental if housing land allocations are to be achieved and development aspirations realised.

As discussion around the interpretation and application of NPF4 Policy 16(f) rages on within the industry – legal challenges to recent decisions are anticipated – we wait to see just how high the policy hurdles for non-allocated housing development under the new NPF4 regime really are and how exactly this fits with NPF4s aspiration to encourage, promote and facilitate the delivery of more high quality, affordable and sustainable homes.

Iceni can advise on the implications of NPF4 for your land and property and offer a range of services which support the promotion of housing development through the planning process.

Callum Fraser Director,Planning
Lyndsay Macleod Senior Planner,Planning