The “The Next Stage in Our Long Term Plan for Housing Update” Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) summarises, in the Government’s words, the key changes to the NPPF and the reasoning behind them:
“In summary, the new NPPF will:
- facilitate flexibility for local authorities in relation to local housing need;
- clarify a local lock on any changes to Green Belt boundaries;
- safeguard local plans from densities that would be wholly out of character;
- free local authorities with up-to-date local plans from annual updates to their five-year housing land supply;
- limit the practice of housing need being exported to neighbouring authorities without mutual agreement;
- bolster protections from speculative development for neighbourhoods that develop their own plans;
- support self-build, custom-build and community-led housing; and
- cement the role of beauty and placemaking in the planning system.
There is now no excuse for local authorities not rapidly adopting ambitious plans. The more plans adopted quickly, the more homes delivered quickly - and we have created the right incentives for rapid plan adoption”.
This blog provides an overview of the new policies in the December 2023 NPPF, with some reference to the WMS announcements; other Lichfields Planning Matters blogs
provide more detailed analysis of these new policies.
Which changes are relevant to development for land uses other than housing?
The WMS and NPPF amendments are clearly housing development focused, but several changes are of relevance to all land uses.
The NPPF has been amended in its first paragraph to say (additions in bold) “It provides a framework within which locally-prepared plans can provide for sufficient housing and other development in a sustainable manner. Preparing and maintaining up-to-date plans should be seen as a priority in meeting this objective”.
The plan-led system and local plan interventions that were announced on 20 December will be of interest to the wider development sector, albeit the extent to which the interventions are at stick is debatable. Isabella Tidswell’s blog
considers the implications of the announcements on plan-making, including the eight LPAs that have received letters from the SoS.
The policy on altering Green Belt boundaries has been amended to insert the bold and delete or move the struck-through text:
Once established, there is no requirement for Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans to be reviewed or changed when plans are being prepared or updated. Authorities may choose to review and alter Green Belt boundaries where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, in which case proposals for changes should be made only through the plan-making process.
This is an important change which removes the implied requirement, that, to date, LPAs and planning inspectors have tended to apply, namely that, in considering their ability to meet development needs, they should consider, as reasonable alternatives, a review of their Green Belt boundaries and assess whether any land should be released in order to meet development needs.
In other words, whereas LPAs were implicitly expected to review Green Belt boundaries in order to identify suitable sites, via exceptional circumstances, to deliver the development that was needed, they are now no longer required to do so.
Recent Lichfields experience suggests that some LPAs who have been advancing a Local Plan with proposed Green Belt releases will now seek to delete those prospective allocations from their emerging local plan, if time allows, even if it has significant consequences on their ability to meet needs. Others may continue with Green Belt releases as a local choice, which the updated NPPF allows. However, with regard to meeting housing needs, in the context that around 156,000 of Local Housing Need (as measured by the Standard Method) is in local authorities where more than half the administrative area is either Green Belt or already built up, combined with the removal of the 35% urban uplift from the requirement to address unmet need with neighbouring authorities (para 62), it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the 300,000 ambition has been placed conclusively out of reach.
During their October 2023 party conference, Labour announced a review of the Green Belt, with Keir Starmer saying “where there are clearly ridiculous uses of it [Green Belt], disused car parks, dreary wasteland. Not a green belt. A grey belt. Sometimes within a city’s boundary. Then this cannot be justified as a reason to hold our future back”. In an apparent rebuttal to this “misunderstanding of existing policy”, the Government has said it would be “clarifying in guidance where brownfield development in the Green Belt can occur provided the openness of Green Belt is not harmed”.
"When can development take place on brownfield land in the Green Belt?
The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the policy on proposals affecting the Green Belt. Where previously developed land is located within the Green Belt, the National Planning Policy Framework sets out the circumstances in which development may not be inappropriate. This includes limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed land, subject to conditions relating to the potential impact of development on the openness of the Green Belt.
The Framework indicates that certain other forms of development are also ‘not inappropriate’ in the Green Belt provided they preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it. This includes the re-use of buildings provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction".
Beauty and visual clarity
Beauty and a requirement for beautiful design components are mentioned in several more places in the revised NPPF than in the September 2023 version. Perhaps the most significant of these is the amendment to (now) para 140 regarding conditions that seek to ensure the quality of developments is not diminished over the course of construction. This policy has been expanded to say that LPAs should refer to “clear and accurate plans and drawings which provide visual clarity about the design of the development” when seeking to control that element of a scheme and “are clear about the approved use of materials”.
Energy efficiency in the adaptation of existing buildings
A new paragraph says LPAs “should give significant weight to the need to support energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to existing buildings, both domestic and non-domestic (including through installation of heat pumps and solar panels where these do not already benefit from permitted development rights). Where the proposals would affect conservation areas, listed buildings or other relevant designated heritage assets, local planning authorities should also apply the policies set out in chapter 16 of this Framework”.
Consideration of availability of land for food production
A footnote to the policy that says plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value, where consistent with other policies in this Framework has been expanded to say that the availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered, alongside the other policies in the Framework, when deciding what sites are most appropriate for development. This follows backbencher lobbying on the impact of losing farmland to other uses, including for solar energy.
The housing-related policies
The housing-related planning policies are more numerous and are summarised below. Other Lichfields blogs
analyse the detail.
Housing land supply
Removal of the requirement for LPAs with an up-to-date development plan, which identified a five-year housing land supply, to update their five-year land supply annually.
Removal of the 5% and 10% buffers, which could be applied to an authority’s housing land supply – subject to a transitional arrangement to ensure that decision making on live applications is not affected.
LPAs with a plan at Regulation 18 stage or further and with a policy map and proposed allocations towards meeting housing need must demonstrate a four year housing land supply, rather than five year, until 18 December 2025, to reward them for their “advanced stage” of plan-making. Conversely, those without a local plan will be required to update their land supply annually.
The WMS says “When it comes to calculating a five-year housing land supply, the Government is clear that we want to bring the position on past oversupply in line with that of past undersupply. We have amended the NPPF to formalise existing planning practice guidance on this topic and will in due course update this guidance to bring the over-supply position in line with under-supply”. That update will clarify how over-supply is to be factored in but has been done in a way that will have a negative effect on housing supply.
Housing delivery test
Neighbourhood planning and the presumption
Where the presumption of sustainable development applies and development would conflict with a neighbourhood plan that allocates at least one housing site, the adverse impact for granting planning permission is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits if the plan was made in the last five years – previously it was in the last two years. The Government intends this to “protect those neighbourhood plans from speculative development”.
The standard method calculation has not been amended and remains the same as it did before these announcements.
Ahead of the removal of the duty to cooperate, the SoS stated that the standard method for calculating housing need uplift for cities and urban centres must be accommodated within those places unless there would be a conflict with the NPPF or there are voluntary cross boundary redistribution agreements. This could lead to housing need falling between the cracks, with no requirement for it to be met.
The NPPF now makes expressly clear that the standard method is an advisory starting point, with robust evidence needed if an alternative approach is used. Exceptional circumstance for using an alternative method to assess housing need, including demographics will be required. A footnote, provides a very specific example of “islands with no land bridge that have a significant proportion of elderly residents” – effectively describing the Isle of Wight
constituency of one of the “Planning Concern Group” of Tory backbenchers, Bob Seely MP.
Simon Coop’s blog Housing need cannot be ignored like an unwanted Christmas present
explores the implications for the standard method and housing requirements in more detail.
Character and density
When applying pre-existing NPPF policies regarding planning for optimisation of land and considering minimum density standard policies for housing development, one must now consider that “significant uplifts in the average density of residential development may be inappropriate if the resulting built form would be wholly out of character with the existing area”
– a change that was specifically requested by Theresa Villiers MP as a result of a development in her constituency of Chipping Barnet
. However, an authority-wide design code that does or will form part of the development plan must provide evidence of when such circumstances might arise. A differently worded version of this policy was proposed in the consultation, as a potential adverse impact of planning to meet needs for all uses, within the plan-making presumption in favour of sustainable development. As published it applies specifically to policies for housing and where the development would be wholly out of character, rather than significantly out of character, which was the wording consulted upon.
Meeting older people’s housing need
Community-led and self-build development
Taking over-delivery into account in housing requirements
It was proposed that LPAs would be able to take past ‘over-delivery’ of housing into account when establishing housing requirements. The Government has decided not to proceed with this approach, due to the risk of double counting homes when using the standard method and because questions were raised in the consultation over needing to also consider ‘under-delivery’.
The Housing Minister told Parliament “we have chosen not to take forward the over-supply point at this time, but we are open to looking at it and reviewing it in the future”.
As with the other December 2023 planning announcements, the focus is intentionally on planning for housing. Many of the seemingly small tweaks will have huge implications and others may lead to significant debate.
Lichfields will undertake more analysis on the revised NPPF in the coming weeks. Subscribe to our blog for updates.