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Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework: a change in narrative
The Government has published its long-awaited draft revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This consolidates a series of proposals that have been made in the last two and half years, and which have been included in various consultation documents. Prime Minister Theresa May’s wide ranging and lengthy speech on the launch of the draft revised NPPF, and the document itself, underline the importance the Government places on seeking to resolve the housing crisis, which had already been emphasised at the 2017 Tory Party conference. As the Prime Minister said: ‘The picture we see today is the result of many failures by many people over many years. Fixing it won’t happen overnight. But the size of the challenge is matched only by the strength of my ambition to tackle it.’ The launch of the draft revised NPPF has been accompanied by the release of a plethora of supporting documents, government responses, and further consultations; of particular note the following have been released: National Planning Policy Framework: consultation proposals and draft text; Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions: consultation; Draft planning practice guidance for viability; Housing Delivery Test: draft measurement rule book; Government responses to the Housing White Paper and the Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places consultations; and Section 106 planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy in England, 2016 to 2017: report of study. The former two consultations are both set to close on 10 May 2018. As one might expect, and as Ministry of Housing and Local Government officials hinted today, many of the changes proposed in the draft NPPF were expected, and we have already covered what the draft revised NPPF was likely to include on the basis of previous consultations pledges (see our previous blog). We will examine the details, and consider the  potential impacts of the draft’s proposals, in the next weeks and months in the context of other proposed changes, and with an eye to its operation in practice.  For now, we have put together ten points to take away from this raft of publications.   1. Revised framework, new format, new paragraphs The revision has not simply affected the content of the NPPF but also its structure; the document is now set in 17 topic-based chapters which provide a clear overview of the planning framework and the relevance of different policies.  And it is even 5 per cent shorter in terms of its word count (allegedly!). The order of the chapters also better reflects the new priorities of the Government, now very much focused on delivering solutions to the housing crisis through the plan-led system (albeit that Green Belt is chapter 13). All the 2012 NPPF paragraphs numbers (‘para’) have been changed, and this means that we all have to learn new references, on top of the related amended content; a few starting points are set below:   Para 11: presumption in favour of sustainable development; Para 78: encouraging local planning authorities to shorten the time limit for implementation of planning permissions to less than three years; Para 87: sequential test for main town centre uses; Para 123: minimum density for city and town centres (and other parts of the plan area) where there is a shortage of land Para 135-136: exceptional circumstances in the Green Belt; and Para 144: exceptions to inappropriate development in the Green Belt. 2. Housing, housing, housing (but not starter homes) Unsurprisingly, and as expected, the NPPF review is mostly focused on housing, particularly on ways for improving delivery to reach the 300,000 homes per year target, and how to increase affordable housing provision; chapter 5 (para 60-81) deals with the goal of ‘delivering a sufficient supply of homes’. The standardised methodology for calculating local housing need makes its long-anticipated appearance, drawing on the work of the Local Plans Expert Group in March 2016, with details to be set out in the revised PPG (yet to be published). Policies regarding design, densification, affordable home ownership expectations, housing delivery test (with details on the draft methodology published today too), making the most of town centres sites, and small sites are spread across the document. Of note, is a new proposed policy to allow the development of exception sites to provide entry-level housing for first-time buyers (and renters) (para 72); this proposal shows, once more, that starter homes are no longer seen as the solution to the home ownership issue. 3. Stronger plans Plans have been strengthened and provided with an even greater role, further underlining the Government’s intention for the English planning system to be a plan-led one, with a focus on strategic policies. The plan-making chapter (3, paras 15-38) reflects previous announcements and/or changes made through primary legislation, such as for local plan policies to be reviewed ‘at least once every five years’ (para 23), and proposed tweaks to the tests of soundness (para 36). And the duty to co-operate would be bolstered by a requirement for the preparation of statements of common ground, documenting the cross boundary issues to be addressed, and progress in dealing with them. Further details would follow in planning practice guidance. 4. Viability: from application to plan Viability is an area where many stakeholders have called for change, and the Government has responded by revising the viability assessment paragraphs of the current NPPF. Gone is the familiar para 173 on ensuring viability and deliverability, and any reference to ‘competitive returns to a willing land owner and willing developer’  - a very contentious point in the housebuilding industry. New para 58 clarifies that when development proposals accord ‘with all the relevant policies in an up-to-date development plan’ there will be no need to submit a viability assessment. Furthermore, there is proposed to be a (previously consulted on) fundamental shift towards focusing viability assessments at the plan-making stage rather than the decision-making stage, but with the local plan setting out where further (publically available) viability assessments might be required at planning application stage (para 34 and ‘Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions’).   5. Green Belt, protection and brownfield land Green Belt policy (para 132-146) has been tightened further, and previous consultations’ proposals (such as on amending boundaries via Neighbourhood Plans, and offsetting the impact of removing Green Belt land) have been inserted.   Before concluding that ‘exceptional circumstances’ justify the amendment of Green Belt boundaries, local authorities ‘should have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting [their] identified need for development’ (para 136); reasonable options include consideration of whether the strategy ‘makes as much use as possible’ of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land, optimises density of development, and demonstrates discussion with neighbouring authorities about unmet need accommodation (through the statement of common ground).  Para 137 would clarify that when the need for Green Belt change has been demonstrated in ‘exceptional circumstances’ (para 136), then plans should firstly consider releasing brownfield land and/or land which is ‘well-served by public transport’, whilst also considering offsetting measures. This tightening has been tempered by the proposal that affordable housing developments on brownfield land, and which would not cause substantial harm to openness and would meet an identified need would not be considered inappropriate development (para 144g); the previous proposal referred to Starter Homes only. Similarly, para 145 provides that material changes of use that would not affect openness and would conflict with Green Belt purposes are not to be considered inappropriate development in the Green Belt.   6. CIL and S106 A whole consultation document on ‘Supporting housing delivery through developer contributions’ has been launched, to deal with reform to section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which we will review in detail in due course. The objectives of the proposed reform are to provide more clarity and certainty around how developer contributions work, improve their relationship with market signals and changes through time, improve transparency, accelerate development, and allow the introduction of Strategic Infrastructure Tariff by combined authorities (on the London’s MCIL model). Proposals to simplify the process for reviewing CIL charging schedules, lifting section 106 pooling restrictions, allowing CIL charging schedules to be set based on existing use of land, and for setting developer contributions nationally, which would not be negotiated, are among the proposed measures.   7. Is the review just about housing? To a certain extent, yes, the review is almost all about housing (or housing-related issues). However, amendments to non-housing-related sections could have quite an impact in practice. As far as plan-making is concerned, in allocating sites to meet the need for town centre uses it is proposed that policies should look at least ten years ahead but not necessarily over the entire plan period, in view of the difficulties of longer term forecasting. The changes proposed to the sequential test for main town centre uses would allow out-of-centre sites to be considered only if town centre or edge-of-centre locations are not available, or not expected to become available ‘within a reasonable period’ (para 87), acknowledging that a suitable town centre site might be in the development pipeline. The requirement for office development (above a certain floorspace threshold) outside of town centres to undertake and submit an impact assessment is proposed to be removed. Other changes can be found in Chapter 14 ‘Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change’ (para 147-167), as the revised text clarifies (at para 155) that plans should have regard to the cumulative impacts of flood risk, rather than just looking at the flood risk impact of individual development sites.   8. London and Central Government are on the same page The draft London Plan and the revised NPPF have a lot in common, significantly more than one might expect. Policies on small site allocations, benchmark land value calculation methodology (EUV+), viability assessments and affordable housing, higher densities in town/city centres and/or transport hubs are just few of the cases where the two documents are proposing very similar approaches.  A more coordinated approach to planning between Central Government and regional/strategic authorities is a welcome news, particularly in times of significant political divisions within the Country.   9. David Cameron’s planning legacy is (almost completely) gone The planning legacy of David Cameron’s Government has been almost completely lost in just over 18 months; this is the case for starter homes (which have been considerably reduced in importance and joined by ‘entry-level housing’ together with discount market rental properties), promoting estate regeneration, and section 106 dispute resolution, to mention just a few of that Government’s measures. It is clear that Theresa May has sought to change the rhetoric about planning and housing in Government, recognising the complexity of the housing crisis, and providing for wider potential solutions which do not focus on home-ownership alone. And the Prime Minister was clearly reaching out in her speech to the planning profession, conveying the message you are an important part of the solution.   10. What’s next? As said at the beginning of the blog, the Government will seek views on the two proposed consultations until 10 May 2018; the current expectation is for the Government to publish the final revised NPPF ‘before the summer’ (i.e. before Summer Recess, 24 July 2018). Furthermore, we know that the Government intends to consult on further planning reforms, particularly around new permitted development right for upwards extensions, as well as around more effective ways of bringing agricultural land forward for housing. We also know that the transition period for what concerns plan-making would be 6-month long following publication. But there are no proposed transitional arrangements for either the amendments to the soundness test, or for the introduction of statements of common ground. We understand that the Government considers that the Housing White Paper, and other consultations, have provided enough time for local authorities to recognise the direction of travel and prepare for these potential future changes to the revised NPPF. Sajid Javid also announced in his speech today that he will ‘shortly announce an end-to end review of the planning inquiries process’ with the aim to ‘halve the time for an inquiry on housing supply to be determined’ – a highly ambitious target in our view unless there is a very significant injection of resource into the Planning Inspectorate. Changes and proposed amendments to the planning practice guidance, and the outcome of the Letwin’s review on planning permission build out rates, are also expected in the coming weeks and months. The overall impression after the very (very) first read of the documents is that the Government is keen in showing clear leadership, recognising the wide scale of the housing crisis and the lack of any quick fix to this situation. However, some of the proposals seem designed to appeal to the public more than being the consequence of evidence-base reflections. These might have unintended impacts if not carefully monitored or if consultation responses from affected stakeholders are not thoughtfully considered. The wait has been long, but the revised NPPF seems to offer a lot to think about in the coming weeks and months; the planning reform process is far from finished and the Government has clearly acknowledged that. Whether this alone will be enough to change the current situation, increase housing affordability, and achieve and sustain the golden target of 300,000 homes a year, it is clearly too soon to be said. Theresa May’s speech was very important for the planning profession - she wanted to convey that we are very much part of the solution to the housing crisis; unlike the negative picture simplistically painted by Cameron and Osborne prior to the current NPPF. This is another step in the right direction but there is much gathering together of what’s been trailed before. James Fennell, Chief Executive   See the ‘National Planning Policy Framework and developer contribution consultations’ suite of documents here See our other blogs in this series: National Planning Policy Framework review: what to expect? NPPF consultation proposals – what could they mean for town centres? NPPF consultations – what could they mean for designers? Draft NPPF: heritage policy is conserved… Draft NPPF: implications for aviation? Draft NPPF: business as usual? Draft NPPF: more emphasis on healthy and safe communities Lichfields will publish further analysis of the consultation on the draft revised NPPF and its implications. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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The new London Plan: policy preview

The new London Plan: policy preview

Giorgio Wetzl 13 Sep 2017
This has been quite a busy summer for London Mayor Sadiq Khan; while many of us were (rightly) enjoying some time off work, the Greater London Authority and the Mayor released a plethora of documents which will play important roles in shaping London’s future. Furthermore, these publications provide a very clear policy preview of the new London Plan due to be published in November. In the last few months, the Mayor has published (in draft) his statutory Transport (TS), Health Inequality (HIS), Environment (ES), and Housing Strategies (HS) [1]. He’s also issued the final version of his Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) [2], his vision for a night-time economy [3], and a tourism vision for London (through London & Partners) [4]. The Mayor has also announced investment and funding allocations to increase the delivery of affordable housing in the capital [5], as well as releasing the preliminary draft charging schedule for the Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy to fund Crossrail 2 (the so-called ‘MCIL2’) [6]. Finally, he released commissioned reports on the impact of overseas buyers on London’s housing market [7], London’s industrial land demand [8], and an office policy review [9]. For those with a little experience and knowledge of London planning matters, this deluge of material comes as no surprise, as the most important strategic document for the city’s development, the new London Plan, is set for publication in draft by the end of the year. As speculation on its content grows, it is possible to preview the draft document’s policies, as many references are made to them, and heavy hints have been spread across all of this summer’s publications.   New Plan, brand new proposals The Mayor has provided us with some very clear insights on brand new policy that he is considering incorporating in the draft London Plan. First, the Mayor aims to embed his ‘new approach to securing affordable homes through the planning system within the draft London Plan’ (Policy 4.2A HS), meaning that the 2017 Affordable Housing and Viability SPG’s 35% threshold approach will become development plan policy and, therefore, have strengthened status (see Lichfields blog for details). Other parts of the SPG will also be incorporated in the new draft London Plan, including: London Living Rent (‘the Mayor’s draft London Plan will support councils, housing associations, and other developers in the delivery of homes let permanently at London Living Rent levels’ – Para 4.23 HS; see Lichfields insight for details); and support for Build to Rent (‘to encourage the development of the sector, the Mayor will embed the BtR pathway approach in his draft London Plan’ – Para 3.75 HS) Second, the Mayor is also minded to ‘give a clear presumption in favour of appropriate residential development on small sites, including specific borough level targets for this type of development’ (Para 3.21 HS); as part of this, the Mayor will include details referring to ‘working with councils to promote the use of Permission in Principle on small sites’ (Para 3.83 HS). This is an interesting policy proposition, and it could potentially lead to an increased contribution to housing delivery from smaller developers and housebuilders. However, the potential for implementation success lies also with the London Boroughs, as all of the stakeholders need to be convinced that Permission in Principle actually does offer effective advantages when compared to other existing planning routes, particularly outline permission (see Lichfields blog for details on Permission in Principle). The draft Environment Strategy also offers some interesting previews of the content of the new London Plan, including the intention to introduce ‘the Agent of Change principle […] through the new London Plan and puts the noise mitigation requirement onto the person or business responsible for making the change rather than penalising existing businesses’ (Policy 9.2.2a – box 35 ES). Other planning-related proposals will be considered for inclusion in the new Plan, such as ‘a requirement to consider the overall suitability of a site (and its design layout) for the proposed end use in terms of exposure to pollution’ (Proposal 4.1.1c ES). Other notable new environmental policies include: ‘all new large-scale developments in London are ‘Air Quality Positive’ and maintain Air Quality Neutral requirements for all other developments’ (Proposal 4.3.3a ES) and ‘fracking is prevented in London’ (Proposal 6.2.2d ES). On the latter, I am not sure that this is a necessary policy – surely there is no real appetite for shale gas development, given its character and the high cost of land in the capital – but it would be a clear political symbol, if nothing else.   New Plan, slightly amended (but still old) policies The Mayor has provided additional details on how he will change some of the policies/ requirements/ standards in the current Plan (published in March 2016) [10]. Among these, the Housing Strategy states his intention to ‘fully revise and update the list of London’s Opportunity Areas’ in the new draft London Plan to maximise the number of new homes that largest housing-led regeneration initiatives could deliver’ (Para 3.16). Also in the Housing Strategy is a reference to the inclusion of a specific policy which will clarify that ‘affordable homes demolished as part of estate regeneration projects should be replaced on a like for like basis’ [the same will apply to homes sold under the Right to Buy] and adds, ‘this means that homes for social rent must be replaced with homes at similar levels’ (Policy 4.3D). This represents a subtle but important change when compared to the current London Plan’s reference to estate renewal and the need to provide ‘at least an equivalent floorspace of affordable housing’, when redevelopment of affordable housing is proposed. Other policy tweaks are to include: ‘more ambitious requirements for sustainable drainage in relation to new development’ (Proposal 8.2.3a ES); the strengthening of ‘the consideration of the impact of planning on health and health inequalities’ (Objective 3.2 HIS); and the possible development of ‘new parking standards […] to ensure car-lite development’, with the aim of restricting ‘car parking provision within new development, with those locations more accessible to public transport expected to be car free’ (Proposal 76 and related guiding principles TS). These expanded requirements, in addition to the new affordable housing contributions (35% threshold) and the revised MCIL2 that the Mayor is currently implementing, will potentially lead to an increased burden overall for developers and housebuilders.   New plan, old policies The latest version of the current London Plan is a stunningly long, 441-page document. From what we know so far, it is already seeming inevitable that the new London Plan will incorporate many of the proposals and policies already included in the 2016 edition – not surprising, given its strategic nature. This is the case for many of the ‘new London Plan’ references included in the different draft mayoral strategies; the policies and proposals are not new. For example, although not providing any detail, the Transport Strategy refers to the need for ‘protecting industrial land through the London Plan’ (Proposal 15b). The same draft Strategy also mentions that although the new London Plan is still in preparation, this is likely to show that ‘the city’s growth potential is concentrated in the Central Activities Zone (CAZ), within its town centres and Opportunity Areas; there will also be growth potential from the managed intensification of suburban areas’ (Chapter 5b). None of the above is at all surprising; the same goes for the reference in the ES to the protection of ‘Green Belt, Metropolitan Open Land and publicly accessible green space’ (Proposal 5.1.1), and the introduction of ‘a zero carbon standard for non-residential buildings in the London Plan from 2019’ (Proposal 6.1.4a), as both of these strategic goals are in the current Plan. In the same way, throughout the Housing Strategy there are references to the ‘Mayor’s housing targets for councils’ (Policy 3.1A), which will be based on a revised Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) – the same process as now. Probably a bit more surprising, particularly given the many calls for additional flexibility and potentially revision, is the intention to maintain ‘existing space standards’ and to ‘ensure that any further national reviews of standards take into account London’s circumstances’ (HS, Para 5.14).   First comes planning (the strategy), then comes implementation The above preview is a (not so) brief overview of the policies and proposals the Mayor has decided on, or is considering for inclusion in his new London Plan that will be launched for consultation later this year. The spatial development strategy will be part of the capital’s development plan and set the scene for London’s future development over the next 20-25 years, therefore all of its content needs to be carefully planned and considered throughout. Quite naturally there are high expectations; many stakeholders wish to see certain policy wording or particular proposal which could boost/ improve their sector. Personally, there are three features I would like to see incorporated in the new London Plan. First, a clear focus on the implementation strategy for its policies and proposals, possibly mirroring the Affordable Housing and Viability SPG model; strategic goals are important, but how those objectives will be delivered, and how they will produce effective changes, are both crucial for success; Secondly, improved readability of the document, to make it accessible to as many Londoners as possible and to effectively open up the debate about future development strategies for the city; and Thirdly, consideration to uses/functions other than housing given throughout. Housing, particularly affordable tenures, is clearly the number one priority in London at the moment and, accordingly, should be given the necessary consideration; however, this should not lead to overlooking the importance of other land uses (such as employment – including industry and affordable workspaces - and town centre uses), in guaranteeing London’s future success. An ambitious strategy is a good starting point, but making it work is what really matters in the end.    Footnotes [1] Transport Strategy - https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/mayors-transport-strategy/user_uploads/mts_main.pdf // Health Inequality Strategy - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/draft_health_inequalities_strategy_2017.pdf // Environment Strategy - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/les_full_version.pdf // Housing Strategy - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_draft_housing_strategy.pdf[2] Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance 2017 - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ah_viability_spg_20170816.pdf[3] A vision for London as a 24-hour City - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/24_hour_london_vision.pdf[4] A Tourism vision for London - http://files.londonandpartners.com/l-and-p/assets/london_tourism_vision_aug_2017.pdf[5] ‘Mayor strikes deal for 50,000 new affordable homes’ - https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/record-17bn-deal-for-new-homes // ‘Mayor invests in more than 1,000 “Pocket homes” for first-time buyers’ - https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/sadiq-invests-25m-in-pocket-homes[6] MCIL2 Preliminary Draft Charging Schedule - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/mcil2_pdcs.pdf[7] The role of overseas investors in the London new-build residential Market, LSE London - https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngovmb/documents/s58640/08b2b%20LSE%20Overseas%20Investment%20report.pdf // Overseas Investors in London’s New Build Housing Market, University of York and Centre for Housing Policy - https://www.london.gov.uk/moderngovmb/documents/s58641/08b2c%20University%20of%20York%20data%20report.pdf[8] London Industrial Land Demand Study 2017 - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ilds_final_report_june_2017.pdf[9] London Office Policy Review 2017 - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/london_office_policy_review_2017_final_17_06_07.pdf[10] London Plan, March 2016 - https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/the_london_plan_2016_jan_2017_fix.pdf

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