A Written Ministerial Statement reflecting the changes to the planning system alongside the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was presented in Parliament on 6th December.

The intention is to set out more detail on the approach in NPPF consultation by Christmas and concluded by April 2023.

Key points:

Community Control

The changes set out below are to be included in the NPPF

  • Whilst a method will be retained for the calculation of housing need, changes are proposed that the housing number is an advisory starting point, but not mandatory. According to the PPG Housing and Economic Needs (December 2020), the use of the current Standard Method is not mandatory, “if circumstances warrant an alternative approach but authorities can expect this to be scrutinised more closely at examination. There is an expectation that the standard method will be used and that any other method will be used only in exceptional circumstances.” The proposed approach states that it is now up to local authorities with their communities to determine how many homes they should provide, taking into account what should be protected in each area. This is a move away from the approach in the PPG where any other figure than the Standard Method (SM) is the exception rather than the rule. Currently the NPPF expects LPAs to follow the Standard Method to identify the minimum number of homes expected to be planned for, although the SM does not produce a housing requirement. The current guidance also sets out the circumstances in which it may be appropriate to plan for a higher housing need figure.
  • The Secretary of State has stated that: “For those areas that would like to bring forward their own method for assessing housing needs, I will be clear on the exceptional circumstances under which they may do so, for example where a case can be made for unusual demographic and geographic factors”. This will be made clear in an updated NPPF and also in guidance to the Planning Inspectorate. Sarah Hamilton-Foyn, Executive Director commented: “we have already seen local authorities seeking to reduce their housing figure, rarely do we see those authorities that seek to go above and beyond their housing need.”
  • Up to Local Authorities to determine with communities how many homes are built and decide on the proportion of affordable housing.
  • The Inspectorate should no longer override sensible local decision making.
    • For example, in Local Plan examinations Inspectors will have to take into account:
      • Genuine constraints – Local Planning Authorities (LPA) will be able to plan for fewer houses if building is constrained by National Parks, Heritage restrictions and areas of high flood risk
      • Green Belt – local planning authorities are not expected to review the Green Belt to deliver housing. This is in line with commitments made by the Prime
        Minister in the Summer. (Sarah Hamilton-Foyn, executive Director commented that: “the statement is silent on how housing need should be addressed if the whole of the LPA and neighbouring LPAs are covered by GB.”)
      • Character – densities – ‘gentle densities’ as championed by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. The Bill’s provisions for mandatory design codes, which will have the same legal force as the local plan.
    • The Secretary of State will “also review how the ‘soundness’ test for reviewing plans at examination is operated by the Planning Inspectorate. I will ensure that plans no longer have to be ‘justified’, meaning that there will be a lower bar for assessment, and authorities will no longer have to provide disproportionate amounts of evidence to argue their case.”

“The effect of these changes will be to make absolutely clear that Local Housing Need should always be a starting point – but no more than that – and importantly, that areas will not be expected to meet this need where they are subject to genuine constraints.”

Inspectors will be expected to take a more pragmatic approach at examination with reflects the updated policy.

Local Plans

  • Change the system of rolling 5yr HLS
  • “We will end the obligation on local authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of land for housing where their plans are up-to-date.
  • “Therefore for authorities with a local plan, or where authorities are benefitting from transitional arrangements, the presumption in favour of sustainable development and the ‘tilted balance’ will typically not apply in relation to issues affecting land supply.”
  • The consultation will include “dropping the 20% buffer to be added for both plan making and decision making – which otherwise effectively means that local authorities need to identify six years of supply rather than five.”
  • There are proposals to recognise historical over delivery on housing – the proposal is to allow LAs to take this into account when preparing new Local Plans, thus lowering the number of new houses they need to plan for.
  • Transitional arrangements to be put in place: “Where authorities are well-advanced in producing a new plan, but the constraints which I have outlined mean that the amount of land to be released needs to be reassessed, I will give those places a two-year period to revise their plan against the changes we propose and to get it adopted. And while they are doing this, we will also make sure that these places are less at risk from speculative development, by reducing the amount of land which they need to show is available on a rolling basis (from the current five years to four).”
  • Increase community protections afforded by Neighbourhood Plans against developer appeals from 2 to 5 yrs. There is no indication when this will be effective from. “The power of local and neighbourhood plans will be enhanced by the Bill; and this will be underpinned further through this commitment.”
  • “clarify and consult on what areas we propose to be in scope of the new National Development Management Policies, and we will consult on each new Policy before it is brought forward by the Government. National Development Management Policies will also not constrain the ability of local areas to set policies on specific local issues.”
  • There will be a consultation on increasing fees and a new planning performance framework

Build Out

Some measures are already in the Bill to ensure the build out of sites. The intention is to consult on two further measures:

i) on allowing local planning authorities to refuse planning applications from developers who have built slowly in the past; and

ii) on making sure that local authorities who permission land are not punished under the housing delivery test when it is developers who are not building.

There will also be a consultation on a new approach to accelerating the speed at which permissions are built – on a new financial penalty.

Brownfield First

The Government is investing to incentivise and enable brownfield development.

The new Infrastructure Levy will be set locally by local planning authorities. They “will be able to set different Levy rates in different areas, for example lower rates on brownfield over greenfield to increase the potential for brownfield development”

The Government also intend to “provide further protection in national policy for our important agricultural land used for food production, making it harder for developers to build on it.”

The changes will also propose the ending the Duty to Co-operate to “prevent urban authorities imposing their housing on suburban and rural communities”.

Taken together, the proposed changes to the NPPF are fundamental and will encourage more local councils to pause plan preparation and look to deliver lower housing numbers. Whilst Michael Gove has re-affirmed the 300,000 a year housing target, it is hard to see how the changes will do anything other than stifle housing provision and make this target even more unachievable. A return to ‘brownfield first’, as we all know, will not plug the gap in housing delivery that will result.

This article was written by Executive Director, Sarah Hamilton-Foyn – for more information about the contents of this article, please contact us.