News: 24 July 2018NPPF2 - Our team's initial reactions

With summer recess almost here, the anticipated announcement has had us on tenterhooks, but the Government has delivered on its promise to publish a final revised NPPF this month. 

Mark Sitch, Senior Partner responds “Disappointingly there has been minimal change following consultation on the draft NPPF in March this year. The industry - from local authorities, interested parties to developers – provided substantial feedback and it was expected to see some of this translated into the final revised NPPF. There are however no big surprises and no real changes.   

“The focus remains on housing. Overall, there is less, not more, for those looking to deliver employment floorspace. This may be a critical oversight as we all move towards a post-Brexit economy.  It is encouraging though to see a new reference to storage and distribution in Paragraph 82, which certainly acknowledges the continued growth in this buoyant sector. 

“Setting that aside, the long awaited final version of the NPPF is now here, which means we can crack on with delivering what the country needs. The planning system is crucial to delivering growth and places that we all want and need and with this NPPF we can continue to do that.   

“The trick for everyone now, is to ensure we interpret its content in the same way and remind ourselves that we’re trying to respond to a housing crisis and, economically, a post Brexit environment.” 

Below our team initially react to topics related to their region/sector/service (updated in live time!):

 

Ben Lewis, Infrastructure and Energy Director:

Fantastic to see the references to the provision of UK infrastructure have not undergone any significant changes since the draft NPPF was published. There is clear recognition that endorsed recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission are material considerations in the decision-making process – let’s hope the Government takes the recommendations of the NIA on board! 

Disappointingly, the reference in para 104(e) which required planning policies to take account of any relevant national policy statements has been deleted. In my view, whilst the NPSs remain material to plan-making and decision-making at the local level (see paragraph 5), the removal of the reference in para 104 weakens the links between national and local planning policy for infrastructure. 

There has been some re-arranging of policy wording which provides additional clarity.  For example, paragraph 20 now requires LPAs to “make sufficient provision for…infrastructure for transport, telecommunications, security, waste management, water supply, wastewater, flood risk and coastal change management, and the provision of minerals and energy (including heat)”.

On regional airports..

With all the focus on Heathrow of late, there is a welcome addition to policy on regional airports.  Paragraph 104(f) recognises the need for regional airport provision and, importantly, requires planning policies to recognise this and the need for these facilities to “…to adapt and change over time…”.  This is positive news for airports, such as Bristol, who have ambitions to expand in the future.

On wind energy…

Even though the need to “include consideration of the local community’s views” has been deleted from para 154 in relation to wind energy developments, the footnote remains which restricts development to areas identified in development plans and demonstrating that “the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing”. There is some positive news though, the footnote now no longer applies to applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines. 

Julian Moat, Planning Associate (Build to Rent):

It’s fantastic to see Build to Rent housing being firmly defined as a specific asset class in the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework. This means that the built to rent sector at last has the policy recognition that it deserves to ensure that it can roll out high-quality rental schemes against a firm and supportive national policy backing, where policy guidance outside of London has traditionally been historically very limited. 

The new NPPF now requires plan-making authorities for the first time to assess and reflect in local planning policies the need for people who wish to rent their homes, alongside other different groups in the community, reaffirming the increased importance of ensuring a broader range of housing products to support overall higher rates of housing delivery across the country.

Personally, it’s also hugely significant to see the Government’s earlier draft proposals relating to the ability of BtR schemes to directly deliver affordable housing (known as affordable private rent dwellings) as integral components being reaffirmed through the published NPPF. Affordable private rent dwellings are now expected to be the normal form of affordable housing provision for BtR schemes, removing the need for a registered provider to deliver the required quantum of affordable housing, ensuring greater flexibility, cohesiveness and an anticipated faster-pace of delivery across the BtR sector.

It will however be interesting to see how this revised national policy is factored into local decision-making processes, particularly where local authority policies will still have a traditional approach to the delivery of ‘affordable housing’.

Wendy Lancaster, Landscape Planning Associate, London (Green Belt):

Despite the consultation period and the inputs from relevant parties, including the Professional Institutes, the Government is not going to rock the political boat and change their approach to Green Belt, a policy fundamentally unchanged for decades, both in terms of its extent and its purpose.

Nearly 70 years ago, someone made a bold move to shape development over the next 50 years or so. The Green Belt has done that, but towns and cities have hit the buffers and our piecemeal erosion of the Green Belt defeats its original purposes. If it is to be retained, it needs someone with vision to be looking forward, defining the extent of Green Belt long beyond the next plan period, to protect our countryside for the next 50 years and to shape the future of our major towns and cities.

And it’s not just its extent, it needs new purpose in this modern age of planning. There were glimmers of hope in the Government’s natural environment white paper. Chapter 3 of the paper is entirely dedicated to bringing nature closer to people’s homes, to ensuring that children have access to the great outdoors and to creating strong green infrastructure. Chapter 1 of the white paper is dedicated to water and air quality and the ways in which the countryside can contribute to that. Surely this is most important closest to our biggest centres of population? Part of the original remit of Green Belt was to ensure that there was open space close to people’s homes whereas, in reality, it’s only function is to stop development, something in which it has had great success in the past but in which it is now failing.

The Government seems unwilling or unable to make the connections between their work on preserving the natural environment and the opportunities to improve the function and quality of the Green Belt. Apart from a small line about setting out ways to offset Green Belt loss through compensatory measures, a small improvement, there doesn’t seem to be the move to make Green Belt something more than a designation which single purpose is preventative rather than positive.

James Donagh, Development Economics Director, Ebbsfleet (Housing Need):

The change to the wording of the ‘positively prepared’ test of soundness is welcomed, specifically removing the ‘as much as possible of’ caveat on providing a strategy which meets the area’s objectively assessed needs. Its replacement with ‘seeks to’ meet is perhaps still a little weak, but the revised wording is a step in the right direction.

Chapter 5 of the revised NPPF, ‘Delivering a sufficient supply of homes’, is largely unchanged from the draft.  A disappointment because the opportunity has been lost to remove permission, in exceptional circumstances, to deviate from the standard method as the basis for determining the minimum number of homes needed. With such a get out clause in place, the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s will be undermined. We know that many authorities already argue that the household projections are too high and some will now almost certainly claim to be exceptional circumstances and argue that their need is less than the standard method suggests.

We await publication of new planning guidance on whether or how economic growth can be played into the housing need assessment. Without the ability to ratchet up local housing targets in response to economic aspiration, a damaging imbalance between housing delivery in the north and south of England will almost certainly be the outcome. This must be avoided.

The guidance that has been published leaves us to ponder what changes might be made to the standard method in September, should the new household projections provide too low a base to fulfil the ‘right homes for right places’ proposals, a reference to a need for 225,000 to 275,000 homes a year. It is good to know that Government has its eye on boosting supply, but the imminent proposed standard methodology may not be fit for purpose and undermines confidence in it and its relation to plan-making.

Steven Grimster, Planning Director, Manchester (Affordability):

While perhaps lacking in big changes and surprises, what the revised NPPF has done is unlock a new beginning for affordable homes. This is good news for some areas in the North West, like Manchester, where very few affordable homes have been delivered in recent years. 

Government has followed through on its commitment to broadening the definition of affordable housing, pushing for a greater focus on affordable homes for sale, such as starter homes and ‘discount market’ sale.  This should attract new entrants into the market place, helping to diversify the offer and increase rates of delivery thereby addressing some of the findings of the Letwin Review.  Adding to this, there is now a national requirement for at least 10 per cent of affordable provision on each site to be for affordable sale, reinforcing the Government’s commitment to home ownership.

Although this is likely to be good news for housing delivery, how will this be translated into Local Plan policies?  Few local authorities have yet to embrace a ‘discount for sale’ affordable product and this now needs to change.   We expect that many local authorities will need to update their evidence base to ensure that they fully capture local housing needs based on the wider definition of what now constitutes an ‘affordable’ home. This could cause further delays to getting Local Plans in place, such as the long-awaited Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

Peter Newton, Architectural Director, Reading (Design):

It is encouraging for us to see Design given significant attention in the revised NPPF.

The localism agenda is still present and the NPPF see’s good design as being linked to encouraging and supporting early stage engagement with local communities, ensuring that design is appropriate to the local setting, and that local plans and SPD’s set out the aspiration for design, and that they should demonstrate these through visual guides and codes.

The NPPF recognises that design quality can get eroded through the delivery phase of a project and requires that local authorities should ensure that this does not happen through changes made to a permitted scheme. The specifics of how this may be enforced are not detailed however, and it will be good to understand how this will change effectively in practice.

In order to ensure good design, the NPPF references tools such as workshops with local communities, design advice and reviews as well as frameworks such as Building for Life 12, which all can deliver improved design quality, however It remains to be seen how and if any funding will be made available to support local authorities in accessing this level of design support.

There is also a link made between sustainable design and quality, with the NPPF stating that ‘great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings.’

Andrew Murphy, Development Economics Director, London (Viability):

All elements impacting upon wider viability in plan making, decision taking and our approach to development proposals, lie within the specifics of the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) - the detail behind the NPPF which was published contemporaneously, on the 24th July.

Viability assessment is primarily undertaken at the plan making stage and as such impacts projects from the earliest stage. I am therefore happy to see the weight of this responsibility  now clearly set out within the guidance, through the encouragement for plan makers, in collaboration with the local community, developers and other stakeholders, to create realistic deliverable policies. This requires iterative policy drafting, informed by engagement with developers, landowners, infrastructure and affordable housing providers, and therefore helpfully also highlights the responsibility of site promoters to engage in the process. 

In addition, site specific scheme viability appraisals may still be submitted, but the Applicant must now offer clear justification of the need for a refresh, at application or decision making stage, that refers to the viability assessment that informed the plan, but also present evidence of what has changed since that process. As such, the house-building industry needs to carefully consider how they can become more engaged at the plan making stage.

Another area for concern we all need to be aware of is the preference within the guidance for the benchmark land value to be assessed by reference to existing use value (EUV), plus a premium for the landowner. But how is this premium determined? To date, some practitioners have adopted arbitrarily derived premium sums, and it is encouraging that the new guidance requires ‘the premium to be based upon evidence', but this is a key area we need to monitor and influence through the decision making process.

Finally, I wholeheartedly welcome the requirement for all viability assessments to be prepared with professional integrity, by suitably qualified practitioners. This will help markedly in improving clarity and accountability, and in doing so assist us all dispelling some of the negative attitudes towards the ‘dark art’ presently blighting projects at all scales.

Jo Burton, Heritage Associate, Cambridge (Heritage):

Chapter 16 largely consolidates the previous historic environment policy position and the headline news is no real change to the decision-making landscape. This is as expected in the light of the consultation document which did not propose any major policy shifts.  As a result it is largely business as usual therefore we should expect to see consistency in decision-making affecting the historic environment. There are some minor amendments to note, including greater emphasis added to the historic environment record therefore we hope to see these continuing to be resourced into the future with greater inclusion of heritage features across the spectrum. 

As featured in Place north West, Property Week, BD Online, Architects Journal

You can read our full Practice response here.

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