Last edited 17 Jan 2022

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A guide to the updated National Planning Policy Framework

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What were the key changes made to the National Planning Policy Framework in 2018 and what do they mean in practice?


[edit] Introduction

Anyone who works in the built environment sector knows that planning is often a contentious and complicated issue which requires careful handling from the very beginning of the process. The challenge at the heart of any proposed new housing development is balancing the need to build new homes with the concerns and requirements of the communities in which they are to be constructed.

The Government’s planning policy is outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was first published in 2012 and then reviewed and updated in July 2018, in order to address issues that had arisen since the original 2012 publication.

The Government has an ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s. In both the original document and the revised version, the Government aims to address the key issues in identifying the kind of homes that are needed, how many are required and, perhaps most importantly, where they should be built.

[edit] Why does the UK need a new NPPF?

As well as improving on the clarity of the original document, the revised NPPF considered the progress that had been made to date and also addressed the key issues in terms of planning and housing provision.

While many elements of the document, including its drive to deliver the necessary new housing, remain familiar, there were some important key changes which are summarised here.

[edit] 1. Raising standards of building work

The new edition of the NPPF places a clear emphasis on maintaining, and ideally raising standards of build quality in new houses across England, which can only be good news for Architectural Technology professionals who are always concerned with identifying the best materials and processes for any project they are involved in. The NPPF identifies good design as being ‘fundamental to what planning and development should achieve… and helps to make development acceptable to communities.’

One way to make this happen in practice is to foster a more collaborative approach by all parties involved, including getting the technical aspects of any construction project right from the very beginning.

The NPPF also highlights the importance of builders and developers engaging with local planning authorities (LPAs) in a meaningful way as early as possible in the process. This should result in a greater emphasis on architectural technology professionals who work for LPAs concentrating on numerous issues. These include identifying location benefits, undertaking site surveys, carrying out feasibility studies, assessing environmental and legal issues and preparing planning permission documentation as they liaise with developers, designers, surveyors and other parties involved.

[edit] 2. A focus on design

Members as designers should familiarise themselves with the specific requirements for good design. The NPPF identifies good design as being ‘fundamental to what planning and development should achieve…and helps to make development acceptable to communities.’ This is an important point as it addresses the risk of good design being compromised in order to meet the ambitious targets of building a large number of homes in a short time frame. Under the new NPPF, everyone involved in the planning process will need to be aware of the requirement for good and varied design that will satisfy the needs of new homeowners and the wider community around them.

[edit] 3. Making the local planning authority more accountable for delivery

Due to the pressure on councils to meet the increasing demand for new housing, the role of LPAs in delivering the government’s targets is given a high profile in the updated NPPF. The Housing Delivery Test, first introduced in November 2018, makes councils accountable for ensuring a sufficient number of homes are being built. Due to this, LPAs are now required to show clear evidence of house build completions over the previous three years, alongside the continued requirement to maintain a supply of future housing sites for the next five years. This will require a more strategic approach from everyone working from a planning point of view, including those in the built environment sector.

[edit] 4. Better opportunities for small developers

LPAs are now required to accommodate at least 10% of their housing on sites of less than one hectare, helping to provide opportunities for small and medium-sized housebuilders. This is good news from an architectural point of view as – at a time when there is intense pressure on local authorities to significantly boost the delivery of new homes – it should help ensure that large scale developments are not constructed at the expense of architecture-led design and the use of innovative new materials and technology by a wide variety of small-scale housebuilders. This change should also help to increase housing delivery in the short-term, as smaller developments usually take less time to achieve planning and start delivering on-site.

[edit] 5. Providing affordable homes

Supplying an adequate number of affordable homes has been a key component of the government’s planning policy for some time. The updated NPPF encapsulates issues previously addressed within written ministerial statements, such as the building of discounted market sale homes (starter homes) for first time buyers and generally making home ownership more accessible to those on lower incomes. In addition, the NPPF now stipulates that a minimum of 10% of new homes on all major development sites should be affordable. The definition of a major development has been revised and is now classed as being 10+ dwellings or a site over 0.5 hectares (previously 1,000 sqm gross floorspace).

[edit] 6. Regenerating brownfield land

Local planning authorities are now required to maintain a register of brownfield sites that are suitable for residential development. To speed up and simplify the process of applying for and granting planning permission, any brownfield site entered into ‘Part 2’ of the register will be granted permission in principle with further consent required only for technical issues. This will allow developers to focus on providing suitable solutions to these issues earlier in the process.

The need to make use of brownfield land for development at an appropriate density is also given renewed emphasis with LPAs being encouraged to avoid low density developments when there is an existing or anticipated shortage in the housing supply.

In summary, it is necessary to give careful consideration to the changes made to the NPPF, not just in terms of how they will impact on everyone involved in the property and constructing chain, but for what they tell us about the government’s long-term plan for delivering housing in the UK. The fact that we need to build new homes is not disputed, but how we achieve that target is always open to debate and it is vital that this is always done with best practice at the top of the agenda.

[edit] About this article

This article was written by Stephen Mair, Chartered Town Planner, Andrew Granger & Co. It was previously published in CIAT’s AT magazine Issue 129 (Spring 2019) titled 'The updated National Planning Policy Framework: a guide' and can be accessed HERE.

Other articles by the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) on Designing Buildings Wiki can be found HERE.

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