Revised NPPF – Key Takeaways

Anthony Cooper

Account Executive

The new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 19th December 2023. Below is an overview of how the new announcement may shape the approach of local authorities to planning and how this may impact the development industry.

As the name suggests, the NPPF contains the national planning policy for England and Wales and includes policy for housing and the green belt. It defines how local plans should be developed and how planning applications should be determined.

The NPPF carries significant weight in planning decisions and is therefore one of the most important planning documents both for local authorities and applicants to consider when developing proposals.

Following a consultation in 2023, many of the changes – particularly regarding the Standard Method for calculating housing numbers across individual authorities – had been trailed by the Government. The publication of the final policy confirms many of the changes expected.

 

Key Changes to NPPF

The key changes to the NPPF include:

  • Downgrading the use of the Standard Method for local authorities to objectively assess their housing need from a ‘requirement’ to ‘advisory’
  • Scrapping requirements for local authorities to allocate greenbelt land, through a Green Belt review, to meet housing targets
  • Providing resources to make the planning system work better, with the introduction of a new ‘super squad’ of leading planners to unblock major housing developments
  • Ensuring every local authority is held to account for delivery against its plan, the speed with which planning applications are processed and the rationality of their decision-making
  • Launching a review into the statutory consultee system to look at whether the group of consultees is right and whether the absence of a reply within an appropriate timeline should be a green light rather than a red one
  • Forcing local authorities to set aside land to be developed by small builders in an attempt to increase competition in the sector and reduce the dominance of large developers
  • Launching a review of London’s current housing plans to boost delivery

 

What does this mean for Local Planning Authorities and developers?

By downgrading the standard method to advisory only, local authorities will have greater responsibility to allocate the homes they feel they need.

There is a strong change this may result in councillors facing pressure to reduce their overall housing numbers, potentially even re-assessing or withdrawing Local Plans which are not yet adopted.

The deadline for the submission of plans under the current system is 30th June 2025. Any plans submitted after this deadline will need to be prepared in line with the new NPPF.

Moreover, as several aspects of the planning system and the role of National Development Management policies are still under development, authorities that are unable to develop their plans before the deadline may be at risk of having to delay the preparation of their updated plans. This will potentially pose the risk of a sharp fall in housebuilding, and with it reduced local investment.

Of course, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing, and Communities will be much more robust with local authorities which are not progressing Local Plans appropriately. However, there is a risk this is bluster given the Department’s limited resources to oversee significant numbers of Plans.

The development sector certainly feels the updated NPPF is a charter to reduce housing development. In responding to the new NPPF, Neil Jefferson, Managing Director at HBF said the new policy would have ‘devastating long-term consequences for the economy and society’. Paul Smith, Managing Director of land promoter the Strategic Land Group said: ‘Making it easier for councils to plan for fewer new homes in order to protect the green belt or local ‘character’ will reduce housing supply, to the benefit of existing homeowners and the detriment of those who aspire to ownership.’ Meanwhile, Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the RTPI, demonstrated a somewhat more optimistic approach to the new policy: ‘The proactive planning tools the Secretary of State mentioned today will become much more important for the delivery of much needed homes.’ Nevertheless, having withdrawn the need to consider Green Belt land and limited the importance of housing targets the NPPF will undoubtedly result in more Local Plan delays and a short term slowing of the strategic planning process.

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