Market Insight

NPPF – a new dawn or a missed opportunity?

A new version of England's national planning policy document (NPPF) was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 20 July. This follows a consultation on proposed revisions to the NPPF, published earlier in the year.
July 22, 2021
Aside from a new paragraph on public service infrastructure, most changes outlined in the NPPF confirm what was proposed in the January consultation, although with significant detail added in places.

These include, amongst others, new limits on permitted development (PD) rights, a new design code to focus on quality of design, increased focus on sustainable and revised policies on plan-making.

Our planning team, which works with over 60 local authorities across the UK, explores the key changes, so you can understand what effect this might have on you as a local planning authority, or your scheme, as a developer / landowner.

New limits on the use of Article 4 directions to restrict PD rights

As announced on 1 July, Article 4 directions which are used by local authorities to remove PD rights for commercial to residential development in specific areas, will now only be able to be used where it is “essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts”.

This includes the “loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability”.

New Article 4 directions will need to be based on robust evidence, and apply to the smallest geographical area possible, putting fresh limits on councils to influence development in their town centres.

Some town centres which were completely protected from the old PD rights, will no longer be able to implement new Article 4s once their current ones expire (1 year from 31 August 2021).

Keep an eye out for our next blog on this, with more information about how this will affect local authorities.

Presumption in favour of sustainable developments

The presumption in favour of sustainable development has been tweaked to have a larger emphasis on impacts on the environment, growth, infrastructure and climate change.

According to the NPPF, these should seek to:

  • Meet the development needs of their area
  • 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.

Design code to improve design quality

In response to the findings of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, updated policies have been announced to improve the design of new developments.

Where the resources will come from to support the new design code, however, is as yet unclear.
Developments now need to ensure that they will deliver “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”.

Councils are required to prepare design guides which are consistent with what has been laid out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences.

The NPPF also highlights the requirement to accommodate trees in development.

Developers can choose to put together design codes in support of a planning application, but this will come at an additional cost to them. Those that take this into account will stand a better chance of planning approval, with significant weight being given to these.

The same will be true of “outstanding or innovative designs” which promote sustainability or help to raise the standard of design in an area.

Whilst the design changes provide planning officers with more clarity to assess the design quality of new developments, they also provide more scope for subjectivity in decision making, as it can be a reasonably contentious issue.

We could see more emphasis on pre-application discussions to draw out any design comments ahead of an application submission. This could also have an impact on strategic and major developments, with the potential for developers to submit their own design codes for this type of scheme.

Faster delivery of further education colleges, hospitals and prisons

In line with the Conservatives’ Build Back Better campaign, and on the back of increased housing delivery, delivery of more public sector infrastructure is welcomed.

This was not outlined in January but addresses the need to deliver such infrastructure quicker – including further education colleges, hospitals and criminal justice accommodation, which will be given more priority and better access at the pre-application stage.

The onus is now on local authorities to work proactively and positively with statutory bodies, promoters and delivery partners, to circumvent lengthy delays in the planning process by overcoming planning issues before applications are submitted, to avoid delay in the delivery of key social infrastructure.

A new dawn or a missed opportunity?

Notably absent from the NPPF were reforms to address the climate crisis – a missed opportunity, according to the UK Green Building Council, to enshrine the nation’s net zero target in policy.

There was also no mention of First Homes or the overhaul of developer contributions (including changes on affordable housing rates which were consulted on) from the White Paper last year. Nor was zoning mentioned, as this would require legislative changes to implement.

We will keep an eye on these post-planning bill, this Autumn.

What do we think?

There is not a great deal which surprises us from what has been announced, given that it was consulted on earlier in the year.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick stated that the revised NPPF and design codes will ensure that communities were more meaningfully engaged in how new development happened.

However, with only around 1% of the public currently seeking involvement in their local plan-making process, care will need to be taken to avoid planning by committee (the public) which can slow the delivery of much needed development.

The MHCLG has said that the NPPF “will place greater emphasis on beauty, place-making, the environment, sustainable development and underlines the importance of local design codes”.

What is not yet clear, however, is how under-resourced local planning authorities will be equipped, both financially and in terms of design skills set, to deliver on this.

Design at a grassroots level within the planning education process needs to be addressed. For those already in the profession, it will be interesting to see what training will be forthcoming to support better design skills in the industry.

The revised NPPF is now a material consideration in all planning applications and appeals. If you have recently submitted a planning application that would benefit an update on the back of these changes to increase weight in favour, get in touch and our planning team can help.

For more information on what the changes mean for you – whether you are a landowner, developer, property company or local authority, get in touch to speak to a member of our planning team.