The Government has proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Comments are being sought up to 2nd March 2023.

  • Proposed approach to updating the NPPF
  • Proposed approach to preparing National Development Management Policies

A fuller review of the Framework will be required in due course, and its content will depend on the implementation of the government’s proposals for wider changes to the planning system, including the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

The Government intend to respond to the consultation in Spring 2023, publishing the Framework revisions as part of this, so that policy changes can take effect as soon as possible.

The Government remains committed to 300,000 homes per year by the mid 2020s and no changes are proposed to the Standard Method formula through this consultation; this will be reviewed once the Census 2021 based household projections have been considered, which are planned to be published by the Office for National Statistics in 2024.  This provides some certainty going forward, as the has been much speculation as to what changes would be made to the formula.

The consultation document sets out specific changes that the Government propose to immediately make to the Framework (subject to and following consultation).

  • “make clear how housing figures should be derived and applied so that communities can respond to local circumstances;
  • address issues in the operation of the housing delivery and land supply tests;
  • tackle problems of slow build out;
  • encourage local planning authorities to support the role of community-led groups in delivering affordable housing on exception sites;
  • set clearer expectations around planning for older peoples’ housing;
  • promote more beautiful homes, including through gentle density;
  • make sure that food security considerations are factored into planning decisions that affect farm land;
  • and enable new methods for demonstrating local support for onshore wind development.”

There is an emphasis on “speeding up” plan making whilst also encourages more consultation!

Proposed changes to the five year housing land supply rules in areas with up to date Local Plans and where communities have made neighbourhood plans. “…which in this case means where the housing requirement as set out in strategic policies is less than 5 years old[^3], to demonstrate continually a deliverable 5-year housing land supply. We propose the change to take effect when we publish the revised National Planning Policy Framework, expected in Spring 2023. Our intention is to provide local authorities with another strong incentive to agree a local plan, giving communities more of a say on development and allowing more homes to be built. Alongside this, we intend to make further changes to simplify the operation of five-year housing land supply requirements.

“to simplify the planning system, support a plan-led approach and to make housing land supply calculations more comprehensible to the public, we propose removing these 5-year housing land supply buffers from national planning policy in the future.

propose bringing our position on oversupply in line with that on undersupply, when calculating a 5-year housing land supply. This will enable a local planning authority to include historic oversupply in its five-year housing land supply calculations and to demonstrate it is meeting its community’s overall housing requirements. This would be implemented by amending the Framework and planning practice guidance.”

Changes are proposed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while being realistic given local constraints.

The Government propose making the following changes to take effect from Spring 2023:

Local authorities will be expected to continue to use local housing need, assessed through the standard method, to inform the preparation of their plans; although the ability to use an alternative approach where there are exceptional circumstances that can be justified will be retained. We will, though, make clearer in the Framework that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting-point to inform plan-making – a guide that is not mandatory – and also propose to give more explicit indications in planning guidance of the types of local characteristics which may justify the use of an alternative method, such as islands with a high percentage of elderly residents, or university towns with an above-average proportion of students.”

The current approach is not mandatory – but Local Authorities are expected to follow the Standard Method – and if they deviate from it they would have to provide evidence and expect to be questioned in detail at examination.

The Government propose to make 3 changes relating to matters that may need to be considered when assessing whether a plan can meet all of the housing need which has been identified locally:

  • First, we intend to make clear that if housing need can be met only by building at densities which would be significantly out-of-character with the existing area (taking into account the principles in local design guides or codes), this may be an adverse impact which could outweigh the benefits of meeting need in full (as set out in paragraph 11(b)(ii) of the existing Framework).
  • Second, through a change to the Framework’s chapter on protecting Green Belt land, we propose to make clear that local planning authorities are not required to review and alter Green Belt boundaries if this would be the only way of meeting need in full (although authorities would still have the ability to review and alter Green Belt boundaries if they wish, if they can demonstrate that exceptional circumstances exist).
  • Third, we are aware that in some cases authorities may feel that they are having to plan for more than they need to, having delivered more homes than were planned for during the preceding plan period. We therefore intend to make clear that authorities may also take past ‘over-delivery’ into account, such that if permissions that have been granted exceed the provision made in the existing plan, that surplus may be deducted from what needs to be provided in the new plan. This is separate to the proposals described earlier which would allow oversupply to be taken into consideration for the purposes of calculating a five-year housing land supply.”

Basically, a LA can propose a plan with a housing requirement that is below their local housing need figure, so long as proposals are evidenced, the plan makes appropriate and effective use of land, and where all other reasonable options to meet housing need have been considered. This will no doubt result in endless debate at examinations, especially when the Government are proposing to change the test of soundness that a plan does not have to be justified!

The Government proposes “to simplify and amend the tests of ‘soundness’ through which plans are examined, so that they are no longer required to be ‘justified’. Instead, the examination would assess whether the local planning authority’s proposed target meets need so far as possible, takes into account other policies in the Framework, and will be effective and deliverable. Although authorities would still need to produce evidence to inform and explain their plan, and to satisfy requirements for environmental assessment, removing the explicit test that plans are ‘justified’ is intended to allow a proportionate approach to their examination, in light of these other evidential requirements. We intend to update national policy in Spring 2023 to reflect this.”

The 35% uplift to the urban areas is retained – expecting urban areas to meet this uplift rather than the surrounding areas.

Duty to co-operate is proposed to be removed until provision come into effect and replaced with and “alignment policy” as part of a future revised NPPF.   “Further consultation on what should constitute the alignment policy will be undertaken. We are, however, aware that the boundaries of some towns and cities mean that there is sometimes minimal distinction between areas that are part of one of the 20 urban uplift authorities and neighbouring authorities. In some cases, there is good co-operation between such authorities, but we would like to hear views on how such adjoining authorities should consider their role in meeting the needs of the “core” town or city.”

Increased weight to neighbourhood plans to ensure the efforts of local communities to produce them bear fruit, introduce Neighbourhood Priorities Statements as a means for communities to formally input into the preparation of local plans, and allow residents to bring forward the development they want to see on their street through innovative new ‘street votes’. The wider review of the Framework next year will support this.

Changes are proposed

  • Chapter 5 – A planning system for communities
  • Chapter 6 – Asking for beauty
  • Chapter 7 – Protecting the environment and tackling climate change
  • Chapter 8 – Onshore wind and energy efficiency
  • Chapter 9 – Preparing for the new system of plan-making
  • Chapter 10 – National Development Management Policies
  • Chapter 11 – Enabling Levelling Up
  • Chapter 12 – Wider changes to national planning policy in the future
    • The government will undertake a full consultation on a revised National Planning Policy Framework and proposals for National Development Management Policies once the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament.
  • Chapter 13 – Practical changes and next steps

Timeline for transitioning to the reformed plan-making:

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