Final NPPF lands but struggles to make waves

25 July 2018

This final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will make ripples in the planning world, not the big splash of March’s draft publication.

Published on Parliament’s last day before the summer recess, the final NPPF is a continued commitment to keeping housing delivery at the top of the government’s Brexit-dominated legislation agenda, but it is largely the same as the consultation version of March. 

The property industry has debated its new measures already and become used to considering many of the new ideas, including those relating to site design and selection. This feels very ‘business as usual’ but there is some evolution.

The final NPPF makes it more important to look ahead at housing delivery (and need) to establish which geographical areas need to significantly boost their housing supply. The NPPF covers more than housing, but its principal purpose is to expedite the delivery of housing and there are various tangible elements of the new NPPF that will help make this happen.

The Housing Delivery Test, pending Standard Methodology for Housing Requirements and review periods for Local Plans, could all yet have a major and significant impact in some areas, but transitional arrangements dampen the immediate impact in the arena of plan-making.

Does it address the Housing White Paper’s proposition to “fix our broken housing market”, though? Unfortunately, the answer is no. But it is a step in the right direction and we fully anticipate – but hope not – that in two years’ time we will have another fresh initiative from our political masters looking to resolve our decades-long housing dilemma.

The answer to the planning paradox is still in the past and not that palatable. We have to reduce the amount of consultation in the planning process as so much is simply irrelevant. It is not undemocratic when democracy is denying affordable homes to a generation.

This NPPF could have gone further to ensure that more housing is delivered more quickly. We have to allow councils to build homes and free up the system to allow them to have an impact and make their own big splash in trying to help solve our housing crisis.

This NPPF is not as ground-breaking as when the original NPPF was published. This is evolution, not revolution.

We have summarised some of the key topics below.

KEY TOPICS:

 

Development Viability 

The Government has listened to responses to the earlier consultation on development viability which accompanied the draft NPPF.

Paragraph 57 of NPPF provides the policy advice on viability and in particular that it is for the applicant on a planning application to demonstrate whether circumstances justify a viability assessment. It remains the case that it is for the decision-maker to give weight to the assessment. It is notable that the Government has rowed-back from the previous suggestion that where sites are allocated in an up to date development plan that viability should not be an area for assessment under a planning application.

On 25 July to accompany publication of the new NPPF, the Government updated the online Planning Practice Guidance on development viability.

The guidance, which does not have the strength of policy advice, is for Local Planning Authorities to express affordable housing requirements as a single figure and not a range, although as previous different requirements can be set for different sites or types of development. This matter needs attention paying to it by landowners, land promoters and developers at the development plan stage.

The guidance maintains an approach of residual appraisal and for a benchmark land value to be established based on existing use value plus a premium. It explicitly excludes the ability to use the price paid for the land as a benchmark value. There is commentary now that the premium to landowners should provide a reasonable incentive to bring forward land for development but there is no detail on this.

The returns to developers are assumed to be 15%-20% of gross development value although a lower figure may be more appropriate. It is of concern that some local authorities might view a 20% figure as being a ceiling and again there is no guidance as to what circumstances might justify a lower level. The PPG fails to acknowledge that development is a dynamic environment and that inputs will change according to prevailing market conditions.

The guidance states that development viability appraisals should be prepared on the basis that they will be publicly available. The guidance should allow for situations where commercially sensitive information is exempt from full public disclosure but it does not do this, however protection continues to be given in law by the exemptions from the requirement for public bodies to release commercially sensitive information provided by Freedom of Information Act.

Overall, the policy advice has thankfully rolled back from the previous consultation and retains the development viability route under planning application. The guidance is far from clear however, and implementing it is likely to prove onerous for planning authorities which is likely to lead to more uncertainty and delay in delivery of housing.

For more information on Viability and Housing Assessment, contact our expert, Andy Haynes.

 

Local Plans

Local Planning Authorities now have a deadline of 24 January 2019 , six months from the date of the published NPPF, to submit emerging Local Plans to the Secretary of State for Examination to avoid having to address the targets thrown out by the new methodology in their strategic policies. Even if they meet that deadline, the new requirement to review Local Plans at least every five years will prevent the targets being thrown into the long grass indefinitely.

The new methodology now applies as the starting point for calculating five-year housing land supply, except where adopted Local Plans are less than five years old (a circumstance that is surprisingly rare). The definition of 'deliverable' sites that can legitimately be included in five-year supply is also tightened. Both changes will make it more difficult for many authorities to demonstrate a five-year supply.

The Housing Delivery Test is also confirmed for introduction from November onwards, providing a new way to engage the presumption in favour of sustainable development where housing delivery fails to keep pace with requirements.

For more information on Local Plans, contact our expert, Sam Metson.

 

Agent of Change Principle

Following our update in March the Agent of Change Principle has become enshrined in policy, following the publication this week of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The revised NPPF retains the requirement that planning policies and decisions should ensure new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities, highlighting pubs and music venues as examples (paragraph 182).  It specifically requires that existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established. Where the operation of an existing business or community facility could have a significant adverse effect on new development in its vicinity, the applicant (or ‘agent of change’) should be required to provide suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.

For more information on Agent of Change Principle and the NPPF, please contact our expert, Jonathan Phillips.

 

Communication 

Although one of the shorter sections in the new NPPF, the subtle ‘tweaks’ have far reaching consequences.

On the same day the NPPF was published, and attracting even less attention, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published its National Communications Strategy setting the target that by 2033 the UK will have full-fibre connectivity and the existing copper-based network will be completely replaced.

Described as a “radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications” it seeks to bring full-fibre to all, “increase competition and investment in full-fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G." Link this to the new NPPF and the first ‘tweak’ that ‘advanced, high quality and reliable communications infrastructure’ is now defined as being essential to economic growth and social well-being rather than a mere contributor to sustainable growth you can possibly guess where some of the investment in this grand plan will fall.

The NPPF now brings in the requirement that planning policies and decisions should prioritise full fibre connections to existing (presumably through redevelopment, refurbishment and intensification) and new developments, placing the delivery of the infrastructure onto the developer including connections and link costs to access points.

The requirement to keep radio and electronic communication masts to a minimum is retained, but providers will like the fact that the use of existing infrastructure is now only encouraged and ‘need’ now extends beyond being for ‘the efficient operation of the network’ to include the needs of consumers and providing reasonable capacity to meet current and future expansion too. New equipment and antenna should be sympathetically designed and camouflaged where appropriate.

The ability for local authorities to limit new masts in both policy and decision making has also been redefined, and the details which providers must submit to support applications, including those for prior approval, reiterated.

Also carried forward is the requirement to consider the potential impacts of new buildings or other structures on existing communications services. New buildings have the potential to shield electronic communication signals, creating dead spots, or reducing the quality of service. The impact of new development on those networks will become more important and providers will increasingly be looking to developers to mitigate any disruption to existing communications networks. Developers will be well advised to assess the implications early and engage with providers early on.

For more information on Communication and the NPPF, please contact our expert, Paul Wilmott OBE.

 

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