Cynics will no doubt suggest it was not merely coincidental that MHCLG decided to publish the revised NPPF on the final day before the House of Commons broke for its summer recess (24 July), therefore meaning that there was no time to debate the document before September. Having said this, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, who was only appointed in April, has been doing his best to champion the revised document with the Conservative Party grassroots. Writing in “Conservative Home” Brokenshire stated that the revised NPPF will provide “stronger safeguards for the environment, protection of the Green Belt, ancient woodlands and local wildlife sites.” Brokenshire will hope that Conservative councillors who dominate in largely rural and suburban locations will be more accepting of the Government’s plans to build 300,000 new homes each year by the mid 2020s if the revised NPPF contains safeguards on protecting green spaces and on the quality of design, which is another feature of the revised document.
Away from the politics of planning, developers will no doubt wish to know how the revised NPPF is different to the draft document which was published for consultation in March 2018 and the existing NPPF from 2012. The 2018 consultation resulted in nearly 30,000 responses and there are some subtle differences. For instance, the revised NPPF has halved the percentage of new homes that local authorities need to provide on “small and medium sites”, which are defined as an area up to one hectare, from 20 per cent in the draft document to 10 per cent in the final version. This change provides greater scope for large scale, strategic developments at the expense of smaller, piecemeal schemes.
Another significant change is that viability assessments are now to be required to be shared with local authorities at the initial plan-making stage, rather than at the point of determination of an application by a Planning Committee. This requirement to front-load viability assessments means that developers will need to formally address the difficult issue of viability at an earlier stage of the planning process.
In addition, there is a rewording which, on the face of it, makes it more difficult for local authorities to amend existing Green Belt boundaries. According to the revised NPPF, councils looking to change their Green Belt boundaries must only do so where “exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified”. Until the revised NPPF comes into force, there will be some question marks on how high this potential barrier to development on the Green Belt is in reality, however it does appear to enhance existing protection.
The revised NPPF does contain a requirement that councils review and update their Local Plans every five years to reflect changes in planning need in their areas. This follows former Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, recently naming and shaming local authorities without Local Plans and indicates that a more rigorous policing of Local Plans from MHCLG is here to stay.
Another example of the pressure MHCLG is placing on local authorities to deliver new housing which features in the revised NPPF, is the introduction of a Housing Delivery Test which will judge councils by the number of housing units built out and not just the number of units afforded consent. The introduction of this measure may lead to local authorities taking a more proactive approach in dealing with developers to ensure consented schemes are built out on time.
It should be noted there is some grace period until these changes come into force. The original 2012 NPPF remains in effect for planning applications submitted on or before 24 January 2019 and the draft London Plan will be examined against the 2012 NPPF.
Overall, the revised NPPF does not make profound changes, however some of the specific amendments will make subtle changes to the planning regime and it is vital that developers are up to speed. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss further what this means to you – firstname.lastname@example.org