Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Summer appetiser: Revised NPPF published with a few changes from those consulted on
On 20 July, the Government updated the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to much fanfare, alongside the publication of the National Model Design Code (NMDC) and launch of an Office for Place. These are more changes to the existing system, so more of a policy filler before the main planning reform event. The key changes in policy are those given most property press coverage - requirements related to design and changes to the national policy considerations to be taken into account when seeking to remove permitted development rights for change of use to residential. The new national policy requirement for local plans to look 30 years ahead where large scale development forms part of the strategy is an important change too. Apart from transitional arrangements relating to this new requirement for 30 year vision, the new and revised policies came into force immediately. Background and Aim The background is that in January, a year on from the publication of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission’s report, ‘Living with Beauty’, the Government issued its response, setting out where it will take forward the Commission’s recommendations. Accompanying the report was a consultation on the proposed amendments to the NPPF and the content of the newly published (then draft) National Model Design Code and accompanying guidance note. Tom Davies covered the key changes in his February blog “Design-led - but a variety of NPPF changes are proposed”. As Tom noted, while the press release and headlines focus on design quality and ‘Beauty’, the revisions to the NPPF cover a broader range of issues, with the Government also consulting on amendments to policies on sustainability, flood risk, and biodiversity; Article 4 Directions; protection of the historic environment; and minor changes which remove now out-of-date references within the Framework. Almost all of the changes proposed have been taken forward.  And where there are changes to the text consulted on, it is not a wholesale change in approach. The key changes are explained below. Improving design quality and placemaking The Government has given centre stage to its proposals to raise the standards of design and quality of new development. The Communities Secretary’s 20 July Written Ministerial Statement gives a summary of what the changes to the NPPF are intended to achieve in terms of design: “make beauty and place-making a strategic theme in the NPPF set out the expectation that Local Authorities produce their own design codes and guides setting out design principles which new development in their areas should reflect ask for new streets to be tree-lined improve biodiversity and access to nature through design put an emphasis on approving good design as well as refusing poor quality schemes” National Model Design Code In May 2021, 14 local planning authorities from each English region (remember them?) were selected to take part in a six month programme to test the NMDC, with a £50,000 budget each. Notwithstanding, the policy requirement to devise codes is already national policy. According to the Government, the 14 local authorities are “generating valuable insight to help in the wider application of design coding nationally” and a further 10 pilot authorities are now sought. The “Delivering a sufficient supply of homes” chapter now expressly refers to “places to be created” rather than to “development” and requires strategic policy-making authorities to: “ensure that appropriate tools such as masterplans and design guides or codes are used to secure a variety of well-designed and beautiful homes” It is these future design guides and codes that were the focal point of the Communities Secretary’s announcements on 20 July, particularly the policy that guides and codes should be based on local aspirations as established through effective community consultation. Speaking at Policy Exchange event, Robert Jenrick said: “We are making beauty central to the planning system in a way it simply never has been, through changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and a new National Model Design Code, with communities taking the lead”. The National Model Design Code has been published in two parts: NMDC Part 1 – The Coding Process and NMDC Part 2 – Guidance Notes. According to the NMDC itself, its purpose is: “to provide detailed guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies to promote successful design. It expands on the ten characteristics of good design set out in the National Design Guide, which reflects the government’s priorities and provides a common overarching framework for design”. The NMDC provides a comprehensive list of principles that councils should consider when formulating their own codes, with more detailed definitions and proposed parameters included within Part 2. The principles within the National Design Guide are to be taken into account too.   NPPF Design Updates New paragraph 129 in the NPPF confirms that design codes can be prepared for entire areas or neighbourhoods, or for individual sites. It also makes clear that landowners and developers may take part in the preparation of design codes prepared by local planning authorities or neighbourhood planning groups and may also prepare codes for sites which they propose to develop. To carry weight in decision making no matter who prepares them,design codes must be developed in conversation with local communities, in order to reflect local aspirations. Where local codes are absent, the NMDC can be a material consideration. As one might expect, Chapter 12 “Achieving well-designed places”, has been amended or augmented in several paragraphs. As proposed at consultation stage, it states that all local authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with the National Design Guide or National Model Design Code – the consistency with these documents being the key element of change to revised paragraph 128 (previously paragraph 122). Previously the NPPF said “plans or supplementary planning documents should use visual tools such as design guides and codes”. But the reference to supplementary planning documents has not disappeared, due to consultation responses which noted that the link between design guides and local planning policy was not clear enough. The NPPF confirms design codes and guides need to be produced either as part of a plan or as supplementary planning documents to carry weight in decision-making. The emphasis on visual tools was removed after the January consultation draft stage, notwithstanding references to use of visual engagement tools in the NMDC. As before, the detail and degree of prescription within codes or guides should be tailored to the circumstances, with the NPPF now noting geographic coverage and scale of change should also be considered when devising guides and codes. As to the degree of detail that codes should include, the NPPF continues to state that codes should “allow a suitable degree of variety”. The previous and consultation versions tagged on “where this would be justified” after “variety”, but this has been deleted and is not in the final version. This is a welcome change, particularly where guides would otherwise seek homogeneity, potentially stifling innovation and density changes. The NPPF now gives significant weight to development that reflects guidance and policies and outstanding or innovative designs that “fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings”. The latest amendments also call for development proposals that are not well-designed to be refused. This is slightly stronger wording than before, with the Framework previously stating that permission should be refused for development of “poor design” that does not reflect local design standards or codes.   Beautiful = a well-designed place While ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ has been inserted into the revised Framework and accompanying guidance, what this means locally will be informed by baseline studies and based on the ten characteristics of well designed and beautiful places as set out in the National Design Guide. These are based on the objectives for design set out in Chapter 12 of the NPPF and expanded upon within the NMDC. These bring together a range of established urban design principles such as built form (density, height and layout), movement, identity and public space which are to guide the development of local design criteria. The Government has responded to criticisms and questions about the term beautiful: “[…] this has been included in the Framework in response to the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. This should be read as a high-level statement of ambition rather than a policy test. The government would encourage local planning authorities, communities and developers to work together to decide what beautiful homes, buildings and places should look like in their area. This should be reflected in local plans, neighbourhood plans, design guides and codes, taking into account government guidance on design”. Street trees The Government proposes to take forward the Building Better, Build Beautiful Commission’s recommendations for planning policies and decisions to ensure tree-lined streets; “unless, in specific cases, there are clear, justifiable and compelling reasons why this would be inappropriate” (footnote to new paragraph 131). Furthermore, opportunities should be taken to retain trees and/or incorporate trees elsewhere in developments. There should also be measures to ensure that trees are maintained post completion; it seems that this would likely be through conditions.       Other NPPF Updates Strategic plan-making for larger scale development to look 30 years ahead  The policy which requires strategic policies to look at least 15 years ahead has been extended to require: “Where larger scale developments such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns form part of the strategy for the area, policies should be set within a vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to take into account the likely timescale for delivery.” This policy is subject to a transitional arrangement and applies only to plans that had not reached Regulation 19 (pre-submission) stage at on 20 July (or equivalent stage for Spatial Development Strategies). The Government decided against defining ‘larger-scale development’, concluding that this will depend on context, scale and setting, decided locally and tested at examination. Examples are provided within the policy. The Government is considering providing guidance on the evidence base required to support a 30 year vision.   Achieving sustainable development: Global Goals, biodiversity, flood risk and protected landscapes Amendments have been made to paragraph 11 (a), regarding the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’; plan-makers will be required to “align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”. This provides a new (overdue?) reference to climate change within the presumption and perhaps aims to address to concerns raised by Tory backbenchers regarding the delivery of infrastructure provision for new housing and focusing development on brownfield sites. The NPPF now also makes reference to the United Nation’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development under paragraph 7; part of the Government’s strategy to ensure that the objectives (which the Government signed up to in 2015) are embedded in the planned activities of each Government department. The Government’s response to the consultation hints at what might follow in terms of climate change mitigation and adaption: “The government is considering how the planning system can further support our commitment to reaching net zero, including through the planning reform programme. Our response to the Planning for the Future White Paper, setting out next steps on these reforms, will be published in due course. It is our intention to do a fuller review of the Framework to ensure it contributes to climate change mitigation/adaptation as fully as possible”. There have been some tweaks to the policies on biodiversity, with paragraph 180 (previously 175) saying that opportunities to improve biodiversity should be integrated into a design (rather than encouraged) particularly where it can secure measurable net gains (as before) or “enhance public access to nature where this is appropriate” (which is new). On flood risk, draft paragraph 160 (currently paragraph 156) has been amended to clarify the sequential test should take into account all potential sources of flood risk. Further to this, the Flood Risk Vulnerability Classification is now included within the NPPF under Annex 3, moving from guidance to policy. The 20 July Written Ministerial Statement explains:“We have also made a number of environment-related changes, including on flood risk and climate change. These changes are an initial response to the emergent findings of our joint review with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) of policy for building in areas of flood risk. For instance, highlighting the opportunities from improvements in green infrastructure and natural flood management techniques. We are also amending guidance on flood risk to emphasise that checks done by local authorities should steer new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding from any source”. In light of the Glover Review of protected landscapes, paragraph 176 (formerly 172) seeks to ensure that the scale and extent of development within the ‘settings’ of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (not only within, as previously) should be sensitively located and designed so as to avoid adverse impacts on the designated landscapes.   Article 4 directions and permitted development for residential use The Government sought to tighten national policy on the introduction of Article 4 Directions (i.e. areas where certain permitted development rights do not apply) where they would prevent the change of use to residential via permitted development rights [1]. Nearly three quarters of respondents to the consultation did not agree with these proposed changes to national policy. The Government amended the policy differently to the wording originally proposed; confirming on 1 July that the first part of paragraph 53 now says: “The use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should: where they relate to change from non-residential use to residential use, be limited to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts (this could include the loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability, but would be very unlikely to extend to the whole of a town centre)”. As proposed, the policy now says that all Article 4 Directions should be limited to “the smallest geographical area possible and, as before, to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area. This pre-empts proposals for authority-wide removal of the new permitted development right for converting the new Use Class E (commercial, business and services) to C3 residential, which was proposed in December.  Unperturbed, on 21 July 2021 the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea began consultation on a consultation on a borough-wide Article 4 Direction seeking to prevent change of use from Class E to residential. The Government intends to explore widening the extent nature of permitted development further, and the proposed amendments regarding Article 4 Direction are a nod to this future intention too.   Heritage and protections for statues Chapter 16 of the Framework, Conserving and enhancing the historicenvironment, has a new paragraph relating to the preservation of historic statues and related, following concerns from the Government that these were being removed “without proper debate, consultation with the public and due process”. New paragraph 198 states: “In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque, memorial or monument (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal”. The policy has been tweaked from the draft version, which referred to retention, but not specifically in situ. This policy seems intended to accompany changes to the law which were announced by the SoS in a press release on 17 January 2021. These proposed that where a council intended to grant planning permission for works involving the removal of any statues or statutory listed objects, the Communities Secretary would be notified and would take the final decision. More broadly, the preservation and enhancement of the historic built environment underpins much of the Government’s ‘building beautiful’ agenda; with the National Model Design Code supporting the use of character appraisals and heritage assessments to form the baseline for the development of design codes.   A few policy changes on the planning reform journey These changes to national policy are as anticipated for some time, largely reflecting the Government’s somewhat conflicting twin focuses on both design beauty and permitted development rights, in delivering more well-designed homes. As the Government emphasised in the consultation and the consultation outcome, this is only the beginning. “These changes do not represent a wholesale revision of the National Planning Policy Framework, nor do they reflect proposals for wider planning reform as set out in the Planning for the Future consultation document. A fuller review of the Framework is likely to be required in due course to reflect those wider reforms, subject to decisions on how they are to be taken forward”.   National Planning Policy FrameworkNational Model Design CodeGovernment response to the National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: consultation proposals Building Beautiful Places, Written Statement, 20 July 2021[1]Article 4(1) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 says:“If the Secretary of State or the local planning authority is satisfied that it is expedient that development described in any Part, Class or paragraph in Schedule 2, other than Class DA of Part 4 or Class K, KA or M of Part 17, should not be carried out unless permission is granted for it on an application, the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the local planning authority, may make a direction under this paragraph that the permission granted by article 3 does not apply to -(a)  all or any development of the Part, Class or paragraph in question in an area specified in the direction; or(b)  any particular development, falling within that Part, Class or paragraph, which is specified in the direction,and the direction must specify that it is made under this paragraph”  


The importance of good quality housing in addressing health inequalities
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have never spent as much time in my own house as I have in the last year. My dining room has become an office; trips to the gym have been replaced by PE with Joe in the living room; and having people round to visit in those few brief weeks in the summer typically involved perching on wobbly chairs either end of the garden. Unlike many, I’ve not had the additional challenge of trying to create a classroom environment! The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted a number of inequalities in our society but the impact of housing inequality is one of the most apparent. Indeed, last year, Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick acknowledged that the pandemic has highlighted “the importance of having somewhere secure and comfortable to live”. Some households have been locked down in homes with room for separate workspace, reliable Wi-Fi, affordable heating and insulation, and gardens. Their experience of lockdown is clearly very different to that of families living in overcrowded, cold or damp homes, with limited or no outdoor space, and no room or capacity for working from home, meaning no choice but to travel to work and risk exposure to the virus. However, housing inequality is nothing new. It is estimated that in 2019, over 4 million homes in England failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard[1] and, whilst this figure has fallen over the last decade, it still amounts to 17% of homes. The situation is particularly acute in the private rented sector, where 23% of homes do not meet the Standard. As such, poor quality housing is a challenge faced by a huge number of families in England. It also has significant economic impacts; research by the Building Research Establishment estimates that treating patients with illnesses or injuries caused by poor housing costs the NHS £1.4 billion a year[2]. Yet, despite its far-reaching impacts, the issue of poor-quality housing and housing inequality seldom receives the attention it deserves. The link between housing and health It has long between accepted that there is a direct link between housing and health. The Healthy Urban Development Unit[3] identify decent and adequate housing as being critically important to health and wellbeing and the NPPF highlights the importance of ensuring safe and healthy living conditions[4]. Having access to good quality, suitable and secure housing has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing and, therefore, our quality of life. As summarised by Public Health England, “the right home environment is critical to our health and wellbeing; good housing helps people stay healthy, and provides a base from which to sustain a job, contribute to the community, and achieve a decent quality of life”[5]. There are myriad direct and indirect impacts that housing quality can have on health. These include, but are not limited to: Affordable housing – a lack of affordable housing may negatively impact lower income families by reducing the amount they can spend addressing other health and wellbeing needs. Conversely, provision of affordable housing as part of a mix of tenures helps to create mixed and balanced communities. Accessible and adaptable homes – most literature shows a preference of older people to remain in their own homes as they age[6]. Provision of accessible and adaptable homes makes this possible for older people and those with disabilities. It also enables them to receive care in the community. As the country’s population ages, provision of this type of housing is likely to become increasingly important. Thermally and energy efficient homes – cold, damp homes can cause and exacerbate many health conditions but particularly respiratory illnesses. It is estimated that excess winter deaths are almost three times higher in the coldest 25% of houses compared to the warmest 25%[7], and with older people being particularly vulnerable. Homes with poor insulation or inefficient heating can also result in fuel poverty[8], causing stress for lower income families who may be unable to afford both fuel and food. Housing design – internal layout and windows can provide good access to daylight which improves quality of life and reduces energy needed for lighting, and ventilation[9]. Sound insulation reduces disturbances from traffic or neighbours which can disrupt sleep and lead to psycho-physiological effects. Good design can mitigate against potentially dangerous design features, such as stairs, uneven levels, or trip hazards. Provision of outdoor space can create room to exercise, play or grow healthy food and provides private amenity. Overcrowding – The extent of overcrowding is often hidden but severe. In 2019/20, there were 829,000 (4%) households in England living in overcrowded conditions[10]. In Scotland, an average of 51,000 (2%) of households were overcrowded[11] and in Wales, it is thought that 6% of working age family units live in overcrowded housing[12]. Overcrowding has particularly negative impacts on children and is associated with increased risks of meningitis, tuberculosis, anxiety and depression, and delayed cognitive development. Overcrowded housing also impacts children’s ability to learn at school and study at home, with research from the US showing that children living in crowded homes, particularly during high school, have lower educational attainment, contributing to inequality later in life[13]. Homelessness – Housing insecurity can lead to homelessness which is closely related to ill health. 73% of people experiencing homelessness report a physical health problem and 80% report mental health issues[14]. In what can be a vicious cycle, ill health is often a trigger for becoming homeless. Cause for optimism The link between housing and health is clear and the importance of considering how development can affect health is becoming more widely acknowledged, with steps being taken to try and improve the quality of housing. For example, last year, MHCLG announced that new homes delivered through Permitted Development Rights will now have to meet space standards, in order to prevent the delivery of small homes without justification and ensure proper living space. Likewise, homes delivered through Permitted Development Rights are now also required to provide adequate natural light. As we await publication of the forthcoming Planning White Paper and planning reforms, it will be interesting to see how much explicit emphasis is placed on what housing quality can do for health in the context of the Government’s increased focus on design and quality. At a local level, there is also reason to be optimistic and the North East has numerous examples of inspiring developments that have set out to address housing quality and creating healthier neighbourhoods. The Green in Hartlepool is an example of the power of regeneration. Awarded the RICS best residential property 2019, the Placefirst scheme involved the transformation of 175 semi-derelict terraced houses into 86 modern, high-quality, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom homes for long term rent. The properties have been made bigger and lighter, larger homes have been created where two houses have been knocked into one and extensions have been added to enable more open-plan, spacious living. Insulation, double glazing, and efficient boilers ensure the homes are warm and dry, crucial to promoting the good health of residents. Placefirst state that the homes cost around 50% less to run than typical terraced properties in the local area, helping to reduce the stress on lower income families. Courtyard gardens provide private outdoor space and selective demolition has cleared space for a communal green, promoting community engagement and creating new spaces for children to play. Similarly, as an area of housing market renewal, The Rise in Scotswood in the West End of Newcastle is unrecognisable from the older terraced houses that dominated the area previously. The £265 million Joint Venture between Barratt, Keepmoat, and Newcastle City Council, who together have formed the New Tyne West Development Company, will eventually comprise 1,800 new energy efficient homes on a site that two decades ago comprised dense terraces of partly derelict, dated, and poorly ventilated houses. A mix of housing types and tenures are provided, including private sale, shared ownership, and affordable rent. The homes make use of green technologies to provide heating and hot water from a district heating system and are designed to the latest space and security standards. In addition to providing quality homes and community infrastructure, the development has created opportunities for employment and training aimed specifically at local people. However, it is not just regeneration schemes that need to consider health. A holistic strategy is needed across the housing sector, ensuring that all housing developments, be that new build homes, conversions, regeneration schemes or empty properties being brought back into use, are of a high quality to mitigate against negative health impacts and maximise positive health outcomes. In doing so, housing can make a hugely significant contribution to reducing health inequalities within our communities. Whilst Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of high-quality housing, including well-designed and useable space within and around new homes, the impact our homes have on our health and wellbeing will remain relevant long after the current pandemic ends.     [1] English Housing Survey[2] BRE. The Cost of Poor Housing to the NHS.[3] Healthy Urban Development Unit, Rapid Health Impact Assessment Tool, 4th Edition[4] NPPF, 2019. Paragraph 117[5] Public Health England, Preventing Homelessness to Improve Health and Wellbeing[6] Mulliner, E., Riley, M. and Maliene, V., 2020. Older People’s Preference for Housing and Environment Characteristics. Sustainability, 12, 5723. doi:10.3390/su12145723[7] The Academic Practioner Partnership, 2016. Good Housing, Better Health.[8] NICE, 2015. Excess Winter Deaths and Illness and the Health Risks Associated with Cold Homes.[9]  The Academic Practioner Partnership, 2016. Good Housing, Better Health.[10] English Housing Survey[11] Scottish Housing Condition Survey: 2019 Key Findings[12] Judge, L. and Pacitti, C. 2020. The Resolution Foundation Housing Outlook.[13] Lopoo, L.M. and London, A.S., 2016. Household Crowding During Childhood and Long-Term Education Outcomes. doi: 10.1007/s13524-016-0467-9.[14] Homeless Link, 2014. The unhealthy state of homelessness