Revised NPPF released
That is the question we find ourselves asking after the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government release of the latest version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) on Tuesday afternoon.
This emphasis on beauty is a response to the findings of the Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which seeks to improve the design of all new development. But who is to judge what ‘beauty’ means and surely this is entirely subjective? Well, it will be beholden to the person interpreting the latest NPPF and local design codes or guides – which is also, by the way, a new requirement for councils – but also, as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP suggests “this is about putting communities – not developers – in the driving seat to ensure good quality design is the norm."
So what does this really mean in policy terms and how will this affect future development? Well, to put it bluntly, this has the potential to slow down the planning process, quite the opposite of the White Paper’s main objective, which was to speed up all planning decisions. In policy terms, NPPF paragraph 133 introduces a new test that development should be well-designed, which means that a council has the power to refuse any application that fails to reflect local design policies, guides and codes, and attribute “significant weight” to applications which “promote high levels of sustainability or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area".
Talking of sustainability, the latest NPPF paragraph 11a slightly adjusts the presumption in favour of sustainable development to emphasise the importance of mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects. So how might development proposals mitigate climate change? The NPPF suggests: urban regeneration and zero carbon development… oh and by planting new trees. NPPF paragraph 131 requires all new developments to incorporate trees wherever possible (e.g. parks and community orchards) and any new streets need to be tree-lined, and their long-term maintenance will also be secured as part of any scheme.
Out with the old and in with the new, well… that is certainly not the case for listed and unlisted historic statues, plaques, memorials or monuments. The NPPF introduces a new paragraph 198 which encourages Councils to explain these heritage asset’s historical and social context, rather than facilitate their hasty removal.
Removing Permitted Development rights through the use of an Article 4 Direction is cautioned by the new paragraph 53, which advises that this should only be used where it is “essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts”. This basically stops councils using Article 4 Directions unnecessarily and forces them to focus their use on small geographical areas, protecting not only the beloved high street, but also local amenity.
Another completely new paragraph (96) inserted into the NPPF relates to the faster delivery of public service infrastructure. So if developers are thinking about including a school, hospital, or criminal justice accommodation as part of a development, council should work more proactively and positively to deliver these facilities.
To summarise, it is my opinion that the latest NPPF is a little too late to the game, why are we talking about mitigating climate change, high-quality design and planting trees only now? These should have been key considerations over 20 years ago. With that said, its better late than never.