Draft National Planning Policy Framework - What will reforms mean for residential developments?
Three years after calls to review the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the Chief Planning Officer confirmed this spring that the NPPF will be revised. The reform will see the implementation of the planning reform package set out within the government’s housing white paper in 2017, as well as planning for the right homes within the right places and announcements made in the latest Autumn Budget. We examine the latest draft of the revised NPPF to analyse what this will mean for the development of new homes.
Provision of housing
As expected, the revised NPPF draft focuses primarily on the provision of new and affordable housing, with strategic plans based upon local housing need assessments and policies identifying the tenure of homes required for different groups within each community. Notably, the framework outlines support for entry-level exception sites by local planning authorities (LPAs), in a bid to provide housing for first-time buyers and renters, and it is highly expected that a standardised method of calculating local housing need will be implemented.
Alongside this policy, the government instruct LPAs to identify large-scale development opportunities, including new settlements and significant village or town extensions, as well as potential for upwards extension, that meet needs in a sustainable way and consider the establishment, or enhancement, of Green Belt areas.
Planning to support long-term sustainability and viability
Acknowledging the difficulties plan-makers face in terms of long-term forecasting, the government have proposed that plans for town centre sites should look at least 10 years ahead but consider the diversification that town centres are subject to, particularly in this current era of decline, so as to avoid any unnecessary loss of facilities. Where applications for leisure and retail developments are to be considered, planning authorities must consider the impact such developments may have on existing, committed and planned centre developments, as well as on trade within the community, town centre viability and local consumer choice.
In terms of environmental sustainability, plans and decisions should, wherever possible, help to improve local environmental conditions, such as air quality. This amendment comes as a result of legal challenges in recent years on the Government’s failing to act faster on sustaining air quality.
What do these changes mean for planners and developers?
In short, the revisions will place a greater responsibility on developers to ensure commitments are delivered, with the consideration of supporting local communities and meeting needs by working closely with them and other stakeholders. The requirement for effective use of land will bring its challenges, as it will involve the need to balance an increased density of homes with maintaining acceptable standards of living, such as the consideration of daylight, nearby public transport and green spaces, and consulting with the community to ensure aesthetically pleasing design. Fortunately, local planning authorities will be required to adopt a more lenient view where daylight is concerned, as achieving optimal levels will prove trying amongst the instruction for high-density development.
Despite its challenges, this grants more freedom in terms of making the most of existing brownfield sites, as well as developing sites that are dedicated to first-time buyers and build to rent homes, whilst the instruction to unlock smaller sites provides further opportunities for new or smaller developers to enter the market in response to demand. However, there is debate amongst property experts as to whether the reforms provide the means to reach the 300,000 homes a year mark, particularly for SME builders. the framework focuses on achieving development success through thorough plan-led strategy to ensure viability, whilst positively enhancing land to promote recreational opportunities and environmental quality, but it is important to note that the current draft revision does not provide mechanisms for developers to do so, which may lead to sales risks and barriers to entry for smaller organisations.
The introduction of a standardised method of calculating local housing need is welcomed, although there are concerns that this approach to setting targets will not take additional factors, such as job creation, into consideration, particularly in areas where the two are intrinsically linked, such as the North. Whilst the correct problems are being addressed within the NPPF, it remains to be seen as to whether the final revision of the framework will provide the mechanisms needed for a more coordinated method of planning between planning authorities at different levels and developers.
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