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| 3 minutes read


Amongst a plethora of announcements yesterday, we finally saw publication of the government’s latest update to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  This was eagerly-anticipated (and much speculated about) by many in the development sector.  Following previous consultation drafts it is important to note what points were taken forward and equally those that were dropped.

As expected, it includes additional wording concerning the principle of Green Belt release – now making explicit that there is ‘no requirement’ for LPAs to review or change Green Belt boundaries when preparing Local Plans. However, an LPA may choose to review and/or alter its Green Belt in ‘exceptional circumstances’. In reality little has changed.

Other key updates worth noting in particular are:

1. As expected, new wording was introduced around the weight afforded to the ‘standard method’ when calculating a Local Planning Authority’s (LPA) housing need. The outcome of the standard method is now ‘an advisory starting point’ in establishing housing requirements. Whilst seemingly an important update this does not materially change matters as the standard methodology was never mandatory and LPAs have always been able to depart from it in exceptional circumstances.  No doubt, however, some Councils will look to use this to their advantage in reducing housing delivery.

2. On the face of it, LPAs are arguably now further incentivised to keep their Local Plans up to date. The NPPF makes clear that planning authorities will not be required to annually identify/update a 5-year supply of housing land in certain circumstances, including where an adopted Local Plan is less than 5 years old (providing that a 5-year housing land supply was identified at adoption stage).  Whilst the output of said Plans may not be what the development industry is looking for, it should at least improve the notable absence of up-to-date Local Plans across the UK in many local authorities.

3. The updated NPPF makes clear that LPAs should consider the needs of older people including ‘those who require retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes’. Whilst not a drastic change, this does provide clarity to LPAs concerning the important role that a variety of senior living tenures can play in addressing housing need – and should help bolster the negotiating position concerning such schemes. 

4. The Housing Delivery Test (“HDT”) remains the means of measuring the delivery of new homes (and various penalties will apply to LPAs who fail to deliver their housing need). However, the HDT 20% buffer requirements will now no longer apply to LPAs with an adopted Local Plan which is less than 5 years old  (providing that there was a 5-year housing supply identified at the time of adoption).  This will likely result in various LPAs re-calculating their housing needs (with a view to reducing their overall housing figures) which could frustrate the delivery of new homes within the short-to-medium term.

5. New wording has been added to restrict ‘significant uplifts’ in residential densities where these would be ‘wholly out of character’ with the surrounding area. In reality, this point will be subjective (and it may be difficult to reach a consensus in interpreting this matter with LPA planning officers and local communities). This further underscores the need for robust local character analysis to be undertaken at early design stages to justify the density of housing proposals. 

6. An increased emphasis is now placed on the role of community organisations (such as land trusts and housing cooperatives) in ‘instigating development’. The term ‘community led development’ is now specifically defined within the NPPF and such projects may be notably exempt from other policy requirements including affordable housing. This demonstrates the increasingly important role which local community groups (when properly organised) can play in the development sector. 

In addition, the updated NPPF sets out that its policies will only be applicable (for plan-making purposes) to development plan documents which reach Regulation 19 stage after the 19th March 2024. Therefore, it’s strongly inferred that any emerging local plans already at Regulation 19 Stage stage (or indeed which have already been submitted for their Examination in Public) will be assessed under the previous Framework.  

Finally, it’s worth noting that despite the considerable rhetoric surrounding the updated NPPF, the following matters are not part of the new documentation, despite being covered in the Secretary of State’s speech;

  • The expectation that officer recommendations will play a stronger role in planning committee decision-making
  • Any enhanced Biodiversity Net Gain requirements; and
  • The role of statutory consultees in making the planning application process more efficient. 

These matters will likely be addressed via other planning mechanisms in due course (including potential updates to planning-relevant legislation). This is underscored by Michael Gove’s Ministerial Statement (also published yesterday alongside other publications including Gove’s letter to the Mayor Sadiq Khan challenging the levels of housing delivery within London). As such, there may be further updates and planning reforms to come, alongside the new development management policies and consultation details already awaited following the adoption of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act earlier this year. 

Overall, it is clear that some positive steps have been taken to hold LPAs more accountable for housing delivery.  However, the extent to which other NPPF changes  - particularly in relation to the standard methodology, 5-year housing land supply and the Housing Delivery Test - will ensure the maintained 300,000 home delivery target remains highly questionable given the greater powers local authorities have to define their own housing needs.