Hot on the heels of a consultation on permitted development, which closed late last month, the Government has launched another consultation exercise. This time, it is the turn of the Government’s drive to increase the profile of design in planning decisions (although it touches on other matters). At the same time, it appears that the stand-off between the Government and the London Mayor over the emerging London Plan is coming to something like a conclusion.

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The NPPF was last tweaked in February 2019, after a more comprehensive overhaul the previous year. The Government is now consulting on some fairly focussed tracked changes to the 2019 document, pending a more detailed review in the context of the Government’s proposals for wider reform (as trailed in last year’s White Paper). The headlines are:

  • Most of the changes, as expected, revolve around design. This includes confirmation that development that is “not well designed” should be refused planning permission (the current equivalent wording refers to planning permission being refused for “poor design”)
  • Changes are introduced which, it is assumed, are intended to discourage local authorities imposing Article 4 directions, which restrict or prevent permitted development (PD) in defined locations
  • As trailed in the national press over the last months, the Framework indicates that local authorities should have regard to the importance of retaining statues and plaques when proposals are put forward for their removal

National Model Design Code

The draft National Model Design Code follows on from, and sits alongside, the National Design Code published by the Government last autumn. It is intended to be a basis for the production of design codes and guides by local authorities, and also developers promoting large-scale proposals, and could be used to inform the preparation of local and neighbourhood plans and planning applications. The document splits the “coding process” into three parts, each informed by consultation:

  • Analysis – scoping and baseline research
  • Vision – analysis of the area, feeding to a masterplan
  • Coding – guidance and policies to apply to development

Although the Model Design Code is at pains to state that the codes and guides should be used flexibly, it is clear that – if the Design Code regime proceeds as the Government intends – a significant amount of additional resource, as well as a new skill set in most cases, will be required at local authorities. Further, it is likely to add an extra layer of information required to support major planning applications.

The London Plan

After almost a year of back and forth between the Mayor of London and the Government, the new London Plan (replacing the 2016 current version) has been approved by the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, for final publication.

However, in approving it, Jenrick has made clear that despite this green light, there remain (in his view) considerable shortcomings with the Plan in terms of meeting London’s housing need. As such, this is likely to be far from the end of the story, but at least it provides some clarity in terms of the planning policy position in the capital.

Comments

The current consultations are a further development in what appears to be the Government’s twin-track approach to planning, involving:

  • Reducing the scope of the planning system’s intervention in development by expanding the scope of PD (and specifically, in this consultation, by discouraging local authorities from restricting it), and at the same time
  • In circumstances where planning permission is required (at least until zoning aspects of the Government’s reforms are implemented), adding a new layer to planning policy and strategic decision making on a subject that, whilst important, is inherently subjective and time consuming.

As ever, time will tell how these two seemingly contradictory strategies will reconcile themselves. However, if you want to have your say on planning reform in the interim, or wish to discuss the opportunities to increase value of your portfolio through the reforms please contact Jason Lowes, Town Planning or a member of our nationwide team.

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