6 March 2018
"The draft NPPF has now caught up with the development industry and recognised the Built to Rent Sector"
Planners working in London are lucky; we have two sets of significant policy change to understand and digest. First the London Plan released in December 2017 (consultation on this document concluded 2nd March) and second, the eagerly awaited revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework.
Perhaps most interesting is the similarities and differences between the two policy documents. Whilst the Mayor of London will point to his significant political mandate, the separation between the two documents is stark in a number of key areas. Whilst both documents are still subject to change, Bidwells considers the key differences.
For the Mayor, time is tight; we expect the London Plan Examination in Public (EiP) to take place in the Autumn of 2018. Annex 1 of the draft NPPF provides a six-month window before it must be applied for the purpose of examining plans. We’re not expecting MHCLG to hang around. So, for the new London Plan to be sound, it looks like the GLA will need to get its skates on.
The purpose of the London Plan
The London Plan forms part of the Development Plan and, is the strategic plan for London. Early within the draft NPPF, it is made clear that strategic documents should be just that – strategic. Where and when more detailed issues need to be addressed, local policies may be set out in local and neighbourhood plans. This is a frequent theme within the draft NPPF. Anyone who has read all 524 pages of the draft London Plan may have noticed just how detailed and prescriptive it is. Whilst it would be brave of an Inspector to question this very principle of the document, it leaves us pondering if the London Plan is straying further than Government intends.
Both documents are clear that there is a demonstrable need to boost the supply of homes, and small sites should make a much greater contribution to overall supply.
It is also a shared priority to create a step change in the delivery of affordable homes. However, the definition of what is considered to be affordable is confused within the documents. If the MHCLG and the GLA cannot agree, then we’re in for an interesting time.
Whilst the draft NPPF and the London Plan agree that onsite affordable housing should only be sought on sites of ten units or more, the draft London Plan encourages the London boroughs to set policies at the local level which require cash payments in-lieu from sites of ten units or less. The London Plan also explicitly contradicts national policy in allowing London Boroughs the ability to prevent the use of Vacant Building Credit to enable the redevelopment of brownfield sites. (It is important to note that this conflict has existed for some time through national Planning Practice Guidance). Further where the VBC is applied, the Mayor encourages greater scrutiny through viability testing and Section 106 ‘claw-back’ mechanisms.
We have previously commented on the ‘coded relaxation’ of Green Belt policy within the draft NPPF in very restricted circumstances (Green Belt Policy: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back)
However, the draft London Plan is simply not in accordance with either the draft or existing versions of the NPPF. Indeed, draft Policy G2(B) of the draft London Plan states: “The extension of the Green Belt will be supported, where appropriate. It’s de-designation will not.” Paragraphs 135 and 136 of the draft NPPF do not make de-designation easy, but it does not preclude local authorities from deciding that a controlled and managed release of Green Belt would be a solution to providing further land for housing. This raises the question too as to whether the draft London Plan is straying beyond its strategic purpose and into the realm of local planning.
In the interests of protecting the conservative counties which surround London and which all face their own severe Green Belt pressure, a stand-off between the approach of the Mayor and the MHCLG seems likely in the months ahead.
Kick-starting the economy
Both documents consider the importance of town centres when it comes to economic activity and social cohesion. The draft NPPF requires development plans to take a positive approach to their growth, whilst the London Plan calls for adaptation and diversification. Both documents also continue the sequential approach to town centre development. However, the London Plan also encourages the exploration of intensifying the use of local centres for both commercial and residential development.
When considering employment; such as office, industry and commercial development the draft NPPF devotes two simple paragraphs. Key is that planning should enable businesses to invest, expand and adapt.
The draft London Plan, however, provides much more ‘meat to the bone’. In total eight policies outline how to consider London’s valued industrial, distribution and workspace uses. Indeed, the London Plan’s theme for intensification and colocation of uses sits within the vision of the draft NPPF paragraph 82.
Density & Height
Both documents take the intensification of development seriously. Development and policy is required to make the most efficient use of land by intensification of development. However, whilst the London Plan promotes a design led approach to this, including additional management requirements if certain thresholds are exceeded, the draft NPPF calls for the use of minimum density standards at the very least in areas of high transport accessibility.
Naturally, this will lead to taller buildings. Whilst the London Plan requires local policies to actively consider what a tall building may be and where they may be appropriate, the NPPF is focused on high quality architecture, that responds to local character and history. Both documents continue to recognise “that great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs… so long as they are sensitive to the overall form and layout of their surroundings.”
Build to rent and student accommodation
As has been the case in recent Mayoral policies, the draft NPPF has now caught up with the development industry and recognised the Build to Rent sector.
The glossary to the draft NPPF now also clarifies that Affordable Private Rent is within the definition of affordable housing and would contribute towards affordable housing requirements. However, there are slight differences as London Living Rent (a third of average local wages) is required by the draft London Plan, whilst the Government’s rent policy (at least 20% below local market rent) is the requirement of the draft NPPF.
It should also be noted that Student Housing will be required, under the draft London Plan policies, to also provide for affordable accommodation. It is not clear within the draft NPPF as to whether this is the intention of MHCLG or not. We expect further clarification on this particular point as the plan progresses.
It would be remiss, when talking about London, not to mention aviation. There is new wording stating that planning policies should “recognise the importance of maintaining a national network of general aviation facilities – taking into account their economic value” (105). We wonder how the draft London Plan will respond to that requirement? Something else to look out for in the months ahead.
We live in interesting times. In the months ahead, we are likely to see a ballet between the Mayor and the GLA with the MHCLG as the two documents evolve through the consultation process to adoption. We will be watching this with great interest.
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