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Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework: a change in narrative
Update: On 24 July, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published the final version of the revised NPPF; this has replaced the original NPPF 2012 (subject to the revised NPPF's transitional provisions). See our 25 July Lichfields blog for commentary on the main differences between the draft consultation proposals and the final publication.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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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Designs on Grand Designs – how realistic is self-build for boosting housing supply?
For many people, the constraints or design of their homes will at some point have led them to think that they might have done a better job if they had designed and built their homes themselves from scratch. As set out in the Housing White Paper, the government is looking to tap into this mind-set as a way of diversifying housing delivery streams and helping boost supply. But how much of an impact will this method of housing delivery have in the context of a national housing shortage, especially when the Housing White Paper itself states that the ‘broken housing market’ is particularly affecting ordinary working people who are struggling to get by? Access to available land and securing finance to fund the construction of a new home are two of the main barriers fledgling self-builders face. Since April 2016, local authorities in England have been required to maintain a list of people and groups interested in building their own home in their area under the ‘Right to Build’ provisions of the Self and Custom Build Housing Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016). Some local authorities are now seeking to introduce self-build policies into their Local Plans as a way of enabling the delivery of more self-build homes. The Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) states that relevant authorities should consider how they can best support self-build and custom housebuilding in their area, including developing policies in their Local Plan for self-build and custom housebuilding (Paragraph: 025 Reference ID: 57-025-201760728). Harrogate Borough Council recently consulted on a draft self-build policy which proposed that, on sites of 20 dwellings or more, developers will be required to supply at least 5% of dwelling plots for sale to self-builders, subject to ‘appropriate demand’ being identified. The Council is proposing to consult on this draft policy again in January 2018 (it may be in a revised form by then), but whether it has been amended in response to consultation or not, will it really result in a step change in housing delivery? A letter sent out to stakeholders in June 2017 stated that there were 164 individuals listed on the Harrogate Borough Council Self Build Register who had expressed an interest in self-build. Applying the policy to the draft allocations set out within the emerging Harrogate Local Plan, the terms of the policy as currently drafted would result in the delivery of just under 250 dwellings. The draft policy does allow for some flexibility based on ‘appropriate demand’ being identified and self-build plots being sold within 12 months, but this type of policy is only dealing with one side of the coin – diversifying supply. The policy may not actually result in a boost to supply in terms of totals, as the number of homes which will have been delivered on the site is likely to remain the same. There are a number of potential pitfalls with policies which require minimum proportions of development sites to be reserved for self-build plots, despite their positive intentions: How can it be credibly confirmed whether there is viable demand? Do all 164 people in Harrogate actually want to go ahead with a self-build? When could (and should) self-build plots form part of on-site affordable housing provision? Will planning applications take longer to determine while developers and local authorities decide whether there is a need for reserved self-build plots on a particular site? Such policies could potentially lead to a reduction in overall housing delivery, or at least the rate of delivery (albeit this is likely to have a limited effect), and at a time of a national housing shortage this could go against the main thrust of the National Planning Policy Framework and Housing White Paper. The most appropriate method of facilitating and boosting the delivery of self-build homes is of course not only being grappled with in Harrogate, but is being explored by local authorities across Yorkshire and the rest of the country. The National Custom and Self Build Association’s (NaCSBA) portal for Right to Build states that there are 118 people registered on the Leeds database, out of a population of 774,100. Teignbridge has adopted a ‘Custom and Self Build Supplementary Planning Document’ which contains a 5% requirement on sites of 20 dwellings or more. According to research by the Planning Advisory Service, Teignbridge has around 280 people on its register. Promoters of self-build cite a number of studies and opinion polls which can suggest there is a considerable demand for self-build (the NaCSBA argues that 53% of the UK population would like to build or commission their own home at some time in their lives) and if these figures were realised, it could make a significant contribution towards housing delivery. There is a potential danger, however, that some people who express an interest in self-build may not ever - for a whole host of reasons - take this forward and deliver their own home. There is a very big difference between being interested in self-build, and actually having the means, be this for financial reasons, lack of knowledge/skills, or the time and commitment to deliver what could be a very demanding project to implement. It is also possible for people to sign up to more than one register, which can further skew the figures. What is clear, however, is that England and the UK lag behind the rest of Europe in the proportion of new homes which are self-built. A recent report by AMA Research found that self build completions in the UK have declined in recent years, and the UK continues to have one of the lowest rates of self building - around 10% of new private sector house-building, compared to countries such as Austria, Belgium, Italy and Sweden where self build rates are between 67-83%[1]. As previous Lichfields blogs[2] have discussed, the UK Government could take inspiration from the Netherlands, where whole new settlements are created comprised entirely of self-build homes. These are often delivered in partnership by city councils and housing associations on publicly owned land. Indeed, this model being implemented at Graven Hill in Bicester, which will be the largest self and custom build development in the UK, and has come about through Cherwell District Council’s acquisition of a former Ministry of Defence site. The development will deliver around 1,900 self and custom build homes. Aiming to increase the amount of self-build homes in the UK is certainly something which should be encouraged, both to diversify the supply chain and improve design, but policies which target the volume housebuilder sector may need to be approached with caution. The national housing shortage is real and acute, and volume housebuilders have the capability to deliver homes quickly and at a large scale. The amount of self-build plots which can be delivered on private developer-led sites is always going to be relatively small, and it will therefore be important for local authorities to look for other opportunities to bring self-build to more people, as well as those looking to create the next Grand Design.   [1] https://www.amaresearch.co.uk/products/self-build-2016 [2] http://lichfields.uk/blog/2016/october/31/almere-a-dutch-example-for-self-building-in-the-uk/ and http://lichfields.uk/blog/2016/february/17/is-the-romantic-dream-of-self-build-dead-or-alive/ Image credit: Dan-Wood  

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