The long-anticipated update to the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) was announced by the Government yesterday.

The update follows a consultation launched in December 2022 which the recently replaced Housing Minister, Rachel Maclean, reported there had been 26,000 responses to.

The Government originally planned to publish the update in Spring 2023 and the delays to its publication have added to the already significant uncertainty created by the changes being brought in through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act, which received Royal Assent on 26th October.

The key changes introduced by the Government through the updated Framework are set out below.  The Secretary of State, Michael Gove, introduced the changes in a speech yesterday where he identified five factors which are crucial to winning back support for new development:

  • Beauty
  • Infrastructure
  • Democracy
  • Environment
  • Neighbourhood

Gove explained that these five factors, “BIDEN”, had informed the changes to the Framework as well as a range of other measures including new league tables, measures to address under performance, a consultation on limiting the use of extensions of times and a review of the statutory consultee system.  Councils could lose their planning powers.

Key Changes

  • Paragraph 1 states that preparing and maintaining up-to-date plans should be seen as a priority in meeting the objective of providing “sufficient” housing and other development in a sustainable manner.
  • A new overall aim is set out at paragraph 60 “to meet as much of an area’s identified housing need as possible”.
  • The outcome of the standard method is confirmed as an advisory starting-point for establishing a housing requirement for the area. This is not a change in guidance, the current Practice Guidance states that the use of the Standard Method is not mandatory and enables Councils to consider an alternative approach if they consider circumstances exist.
  • Reference has been added at paragraph 62 to the 35% uplift in the standard method, which applies to certain cities and urban centres. The revisions confirm the uplift should be accommodated within those cities except where there are voluntary redistribution agreements, or it would conflict with the Framework.  A new footnote states that strategic policies should optimise site densities and prioritise brownfield and other under-utilised urban sites.
  • The list of specific groups for which the housing need has to be established has been expanded to incorporate those who require retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.
  • Paragraph 70 now sets out that local planning authorities should seek opportunities to support small sites to come forward for community-led development for housing and self-build and custom-build housing.
  • All references to entry-level exception sites have been replaced with community-led developments, defined as those instigated and taken forward by a not-for-profit organisation for the purpose of meeting the housing needs of its members and the wider local community, rather than being a primarily commercial enterprise. Local planning authorities should support the development of exception sites for community-led development replaces the requirement for LPAs to support the development of sites for entry-level exception sites (paragraph 73).
  • Paragraph 67 includes a new statement that “The requirement may be higher than the identified housing need if, for example, it includes provision for neighbouring areas, or reflects growth ambitions linked to economic development or infrastructure investment”.
  • Local planning authorities are no longer required to identify a five year supply of deliverable sites if their adopted plan is less than five years old and a five year supply was demonstrated at the time its examination concluded (paragraph 76).
  • Authorities that have submitted an emerging local plan for examination or published a policies map and proposed housing allocations for consultation, will only need to demonstrate a four-year supply of deliverable housing land. Paragraph 226 confirms this will apply for a period of two years from 19th December 2023.
  • The 5% and 10% buffers previously applied to the five year supply have been removed, but where there has been significant under delivery of housing over the previous three years, paragraph 77 confirms that a 20% buffer will continue to be applied once the plan is more than five years old (where the Housing Delivery Test indicates delivery was below 85% of the requirement).
  • The criteria set out in paragraph 14 for when a conflict with a Neighbourhood Plan is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits have been relaxed:
    • The period it applies to has been increased from 2 to 5 years from when a Neighbourhood Plan is made.
    • The need for a minimum of 3 years supply and a certain level of housing delivery has been removed.
    • There continues to be a need for the plan to contain policies and allocations to meet the identified housing requirement.
  • As referred to above there is now an emphasis on well-designed and beautiful.
  • Significant uplifts in the average density of residential development may be inappropriate where it would be wholly out of character with the existing area. These circumstances should be set out in an authority-wide design code. There is also an emphasis on the use of local design codes prepared in line with the National Model Design Code.
  • The revisions include, in paragraph 124, provision for mansard roofs on suitable properties where their external appearance harmonises with the original building.
  • Paragraph 140 states that local planning authorities should ensure planning conditions refer to clear and accurate plans and drawings.
  • The approach to the Green Belt has been strengthened. Once established there is now no requirement in paragraph 145 for the Green Belt boundaries to be reviewed or changed when plans are being prepared or updated. But authorities may choose to review and alter Green Belt boundaries where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, with changes made through the plan-making process.
  • On energy a new paragraph 164 states that when determining planning applications, local planning authorities should give significant weight to the need to support energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to existing buildings, both domestic and non-domestic.
  • Paragraph 160, which requires local plans to set out the ways in which renewable and low carbon energy supply will be increased, will not apply to local plans that have reached or will reach Regulation 19 stage within three months of 5th September 2023.
  • There is a new footnote to paragraph 181, Footnote 62 which introduces ‘the availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered’, alongside other policies in this Framework, when deciding which sites are most appropriate for development.
  • Annex 1 provides guidance on implementation stating that where emerging local plans reach pre-submission consultation after 19th March 2024, the policies in the current NPPF will apply, with all other plans continuing to be examined in the context of previous iterations of the Framework.

The most significant of these changes for decision-taking are those related to the five-year supply.  The changes provide an up to date Local Plan or Neighbourhood Plan significantly greater protection from speculative development.

There are a number of changes which were proposed in the consultation version which have not been carried through into the final published update, including the following:

  • the justified soundness test has not been removed or amended;
  • the positively prepared soundness test continues to reference the need for a Local Plan to be informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so; and
  • the presumption in favour of sustainable development has not been amended, the plan making provisions do not include reference to past over-delivery or the severe impact of building at densities significantly out of character being (reference to out of character densities is now included in paragraph 130).

A fuller review of the Framework is anticipated in the new year to make the changes set out in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, including the introduction of National Development Management Policies (NDMP).

Even before the new NPPF was announced yesterday, the Prime Minister has pledged to consult on amending it to “prioritise electric vehicle charging points”.

In the meantime, the changes will take immediate effect for decision making and bring a significant shift in national policy for all those working within the planning system.

Today’s changes are disappointing for those working to address the housing crisis and will consequently make it harder to deliver the Government’s target of 300,000 dwellings per annum.

Just last week a report from the Policy Exchange called for a national review of Green Belt boundaries and a zonal planning system that would grant automatic consent to development if it conformed to the Local Plan.  This report was supported by several senior ministers.  It is clear that the provision of housing and planning in general is going to be a very topical issue for 2024 as we run up to the general election.

Link to the Written Ministerial Statement

This article was written by Sarah Hamilton-Foyn and Clare Clarke, for more information about this note please contact us.