National Planning Policy: What’s Changing?

6th Mar 2018

Planning reform often resembles the Emperor’s new clothes. Will the review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) be any different? The review’s launch has been billed as a ‘housing revolution’ but what does the consultation draft really say, and what’s our agenda for it?

It appears to strengthen local authorities’ ability to refuse planning applications that conflict with an up-to-date development plan. A new legal requirement for plans to be reviewed every five year may help to answer the vexed question of how ‘up-to-date’ is defined.

The review gives new weight to completed neighbourhood plans, but with some worrying caveats. Firstly, a neighbourhood plan which is in its late stages, but not yet in force, might carry less weight than it does now. Secondly, if a local authority is struggling to maintain a supply of housing sites or deliver its planned rate of housebuilding, there is scope to override a neighbourhood plan. So a community that had successfully grasped the nettle of finding enough housing sites for its neighbourhood plan could face off-plan applications just because other parts of the district are not delivering.

There is an interesting new provision for strategic plans to be prepared individually or jointly by local authorities, or by an elected Mayor or combined authority. This might open the door to local authorities producing joint plans (perhaps akin to former structure plans), even if the devolution arrangements are stalling (as in Yorkshire). It might be a bigger reform than it seems at first glance. We have consistently called for more joint working across local authority boundaries, so this may be good news if it is done well.

We will be judging the revised NPPF against our core concerns.

  • Will it improve protection of the countryside, designated landscapes and Green Belt?
  • Will it enable local authorities to get serious about affordable housing, and prevent developers wriggling out of their obligations?
  • Does it really put brownfield sites before greenfield?
  • And does it give communities meaningful powers over how their area develops?

We’ll be studying this and reaching our conclusions in the next month or so.

To view the consultation document, click here