Proposed NPPF Changes
MHCLG published proposed changes to the NPPF on 30 January 2021 which are being consulted on until 27 March 2021.
The main driver behind the current proposed changes is the Government’s response to the recommendations to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission “Living with Beauty” report however there are a number of other changes being introduced at the same time for a variety of reasons. We have reviewed these in order to understand the potential implications of the proposed changes should they remain within the updated NPPF, when published.
Paragraph 11a (Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development) in respect to Plan making has been broadened to take greater consideration of sustainability aspects/climate change (which is also the case in respect to changes to paragraph 7). Interestingly, the wording relating to meeting the development needs of an area appear to have been tightened i.e. previously it was stated ‘…should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area…’ to ‘…should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area…’. The omission of the word ‘opportunities’ points towards more emphasis on LPAs being clearer on how their development needs will be met. In addition, there is now specific reference to making effective use of land in urban areas underlining the importance of redeveloping suitable previously developed land.
Paragraph 22 introduces new text relating to having a vision for longer term development, such as a new settlement, the delivery of which would be beyond the proposed Plan period. It is interesting to note that a 30 year period is stated which realistically acknowledges long lead in periods for such development, an issue that is often discussed at Local Plan examinations.
The proposed changes seek to limit the use of Article 4 Directions to prevent, mainly, residential conversion under permitted development rights (Paragraph 53). It is not immediately clear what circumstances would lead to ‘wholly unacceptable adverse impacts’ or what constitutes ‘an interest of national significance’ however it is evident that Government is seeking to prevent the wide scale use of Article 4 Directions. Paragraph 65 clarifies that 10% of the total number of new homes in ‘major’ schemes should be affordable but how this will interact with the proposed temporary raising of the affordable housing thresholds is unclear although it is assumed that this target will only apply to developments above the new threshold.
The door would appear to be opened for Neighbourhood Plans to allocate large sites through the Neighbourhood Plan process (paragraph 70). Given the potential infrastructure issues associated with larger sites, arguably the Local Plan process is the most appropriate Plan in which to assess the suitability of such sites. This being the case, it remains to be seen whether there is any appetite to allocate large sites through Neighbourhood Plans.
The most significant proposed change is that the NPPF places greater emphasis on good (or beautiful) design (paragraphs 73c, 109c, 124, 127-128). Whilst the use of design codes and guides was previously advocated by the NPPF there is now a stronger focus on their preparation, which include effective community engagement. This will place an additional resource burden on local authorities (and applicants who choose to prepare a design code for a specific site), whilst ensuring effective community engagement is likely to add time to the process.
The end result of this process should hopefully be to quantify an issue that can often be subjective. Presumably, as a result of this paragraph 133 is clearer in that where development fails to reflect local and national design policy, it should be refused. So, in instances where the presumption applies, perceived poor design could now be more capable of constituting an adverse impact that outweighs scheme benefits. Essentially, should the final form of the NPPF be as proposed then there will be a greater need to consider design matters in more detail at the scheme inception.
Paragraph 130 places more emphasis on the provision of new trees within new development and so it will be important that thought be given to the location, species and ongoing maintenance of trees. Often the inclusion of trees can be an afterthought in an attempt to ‘green’ a development – the new guidance places tree planting front and centre of the design process.
Paragraphs 175 and 176 provide a bit more guidance on how proposed developments within National Parks & AONBs should be assessed which underline the sensitivities of locating new development in such areas. Whilst pretty niche, paragraph 197 introduces new guidance for applications that seek to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque or memorial.
When considering the impact of new development on minerals paragraph 209c requires that planning policies safeguard mineral resources by defining Mineral Safeguarding Areas and Mineral Consultation Areas in order to be consistent with the PPG. The glossary defines MCAs as ‘a geographical area based on a Mineral Safeguarding Area where the District or Borough Council should consult the Mineral Planning Authority for any proposals for non-minerals development’. This would suggest that a MCA would cover a wider area than a Mineral Safeguarding Area which may be relevant for proposals close to Mineral Safeguarded Areas.
The definition of ‘Green Infrastructure’ within the glossary has been expanded to include both green and blue spaces thereby highlighting the contribution SuDs can make towards improving the natural environment.
Overall, away from the increasing emphasis of good design the proposed changes are relatively minor but nevertheless they introduce new considerations/policy that will need to be sufficiently considered when bringing forward proposals for new development. We will shortly publish an overview and our thoughts on the potential implications of the National Model Design Code, which is being consulted on alongside the proposed NPPF changes.