On 5 March 2018 The Prime Minister announced consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as a "re-writing of the rule book" on planning.
Achieving sustainable development through the planning system and the presumption in favour of sustainable development remain key tenets of the consultation draft.
Guidance on the preparation of local plans and decision-making on planning applications has been promoted nearer to the opening of the document reinforcing the plan-led nature of the planning system and requirement for local planning authorities to approach decisions on proposed development in a positive and creative way.
The section on housing has also been elevated within the document underlining it as being the Government’s political priority and has been largely rewritten and entitled ‘Delivering a Sufficient Supply of Homes’, which marks a change from the current version of the NPPF which is entitled ‘Delivering a Wide Choice of High Quality Homes’.
The Government’s objective of significantly boosting the supply of housing is evident in this section, which states that the planning system should be a framework for addressing housing needs and other priorities.
There are three key issues:
- The importance of a sufficient amount and variety of land to come forward where it is needed.
- That the needs of groups with specific housing requirements are addressed.
- That land with permission is developed without unnecessary delay.
The housing requirement for a strategic plan should be a minimum number based on a Local Housing Need Assessment (LHNA) using the yet to be introduced standard methodology. Whilst there might be exceptional circumstances to justify an alternative approach, these are not set out in the document.
The emerging standard methodology was published for consultation in September 2017 and attracted a significant number of responses of which the majority did not support the proposals. Both the consultation proposals and the Government’s response to the previous consultation state that the guidance on the LHNA would be published alongside the revised NPPF but this does not appear to be the case and the details of this are still awaited.
The current version of the NPPF introduced the idea of full objectively assessed needs (FOAN) for housing, which is enshrined in the presumption in favour of sustainable development and was the key to determining the housing requirement for the local plan under paragraph 47. In this consultation version of NPPF, it is still enshrined in the presumption in favour of sustainable development but it is missing completely from the housing section.
This could well be a (fundamental) drafting error, but it by no means allays the concerns that Bidwells raised during the last consultation that the LHNA does not appear to be compatible with FOAN, particularly due to the introduction of a cap.
Paragraph 63 sets out the expectation that affordable housing should be met on site, similar to the final bullet point in paragraph 50 of the current NPPF. However, while the current version makes clear that policies should be flexible to take account of changing market conditions over time, no such provisions are made in the revised version.
In terms of thresholds, Paragraph 64 mirrors the Written Ministerial Statement from 28 November 2014 (HCWS50/HLWS47) that affordable housing should not be required for developments of ten units or less, other than in designated rural areas, and that a reduced amount should be required where vacant buildings are being reused (the vacant building credit).
Paragraph 65 introduces the requirement for at least 10% of housing on major sites to be for affordable home ownership that was proposed in the Housing White Paper. Exclusively build to rent schemes, specialist accommodation, self-build and exclusively affordable housing schemes are exempted from this.
Importantly, Annex 2: Glossary, includes a wider and fuller description of affordable housing which has now been broadened to include Starter Homes and discounted market sales housing and discounted market rent housing in respect of PRS housing schemes
Identifying Land for Housing
Paragraph 69 then introduces a number of key provisions that were suggested in the Housing White Paper. Of particular significance, it requires that at least 20% of the sites identified for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less, reflecting the need for a wide variety of sites to ensure a deliverable supply. This is likely to be a significant issue for many LPAs who placing a considerable reliance on large strategic sites. With most sites of this size not yielding much more than 20 dwellings, it will be interesting to see how LPAs respond; particularly in rural areas where this will inevitably mean promoting more development in smaller settlements than was previously the case.
Nonetheless, Paragraph 73 still promotes larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns in recognition of their significant role in meeting housing needs. It also indicates that LPAs should consider the opportunities presented by existing or planned investment in infrastructure, the area’s economic potential and the scope for net environmental gains. They should also consider whether it is appropriate to establish Green Belt around or adjoining new developments of significant size.
Housing Supply and Delivery
Paragraph 74 confirms that strategic plans should include a trajectory illustrating the expected rate of housing delivery over the plan period, and all plans should consider whether it is appropriate to set out the anticipated rate of development for specific sites. This is significant as such analysis readily identifies gaps in provision that might arise from relying on particularly large sites. It also states that LPAs should identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide a minimum of five years’ worth of housing against their housing requirement, or against their local housing need where the strategic plan is more than five years old. The supply of specific deliverable sites should in addition include a buffer (moved forward from later in the plan period) of:
- 5% to ensure choice and competition in the market for land; or
- 10% where the local planning authority wishes to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable sites through an annual position statement or recently adopted plan, to account for any fluctuations in the market during that year; or
- 20% where there has been significant under delivery of housing over the previous three years, to improve the prospect of achieving the planned supply.
The latter is significant as it was previously unclear whether the housing delivery test would replace the assessment of persistent under delivery currently used. Also, importantly, the definition of ‘deliverable’ which was previously in Footnote 11 and is now contained in the glossary undoes much of the effect of the recent St Modwen Judgement by placing the onus on local planning authorities to provide clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within 5 years for sites with outline planning permission or a local plan allocation.
Paragraph 75 sets out when the presumption in favour of sustainable development will be engaged; effectively replacing the current paragraph 49. However, in addition to the failure to demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply, the presumption will also be engaged if the Housing Delivery Test indicates that delivery of housing has been substantially (75%) below the housing requirement over the previous three years.
However, paragraph 76 states that a 5-year housing land supply can be demonstrated where it has been established in a recently adopted plan (a plan adopted between 1 May and 31 October will be considered ‘recently adopted’ until 31 October of the following year; and a plan adopted between 1 November and 30 April will be considered recently adopted until 31 October that year), or in a subsequent annual position statement which has been produced through engagement with developers and others who have an impact on delivery, and been considered by the SSMCLG; and incorporates all the recommendations of the SSMCLG, where the position on specific sites could not be agreed during the engagement process.
Paragraph 77 states that LPAs will be expected to monitor housebuilding and if this falls below 95% of the housing requirement, an action plan will be required. Detailed guidance that has not yet been published.
Paragraph 78 also seems to pre-empt Oliver Letwin’s review by suggesting that LPAs impose shorter timescales for implementation on permissions, subject to viability. Where it exists, LPAs should also consider why a previous permission on a site for major development was not implemented although nothing is said as to how this should inform the decision-making process.
Paragraphs 79 to 81 relate to rural housing. Significantly, paragraph 80 states that plans should identify opportunities for villages to grow and thrive, especially where this will support local services. This is missing from the current NPPF and has led to a moratorium on housing development in many villages that have lost services due to declining population. The clear indication that plans can positively seek to make existing settlements sustainable rather than treating them as museum pieces is very welcome. Paragraph 80 also suggests that smaller settlements can be grouped with development in one supporting services in another. This relationship between settlements is often key to the survival of those services and the cohesion of the community.
Mike Derbyshire, Bidwells Head of Planning, said:
Bidwells welcomes the commitment to fixing the broken housing market but the NPPF consultation is not likely to deliver a step-change in the amount of housing or the affordability of housing without a huge increase in investment in in authorities involved in the delivery of planning services and without increasing the amount of housing provided by local authorities.
Changes in the consultation draft fall into two categories: either minor tinkering at the edges or key elements where the detail is currently missing.
The approach to delivery of housing is confused with no clear link between local needs and full-objectively assessed housing need and relies on further guidance on the standard methodology for calculating housing need. This will need to be resolved before the final document is published.
Most of the proposals for the supply side of the housing equation seem reasonable but desperately need the detail to understand how they will be implemented in practice.
There are a considerable number of issues that could be deemed drafting errors, where the wording needs tightening, terms need better defining or further guidance is required through updates to the Practice Guidance to assist interpretation in view of the likely challenges to arise in time.
The consultation closes on 10 May 2018.
With surveyors, planners and experts in viability and housing economics based in the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, Bidwells is well placed to advise on the implications of the NPPF consultation and associated documentation, including draft planning practice on viability.
The NPPF consultation documents are available on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s website here.
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