There is an increased emphasis on local authorities having to maintain an up-to-date local plan with stronger protections introduced for authorities which have an up-to-date plan in place.
Alongside the NPPF’s release, Michael Gove announced that there would be consequences for Councils who do not progress Local Plans and issued a directive to seven authorities who have not submitted a plan for examination since 2004. Whether this will translate into more authorities having an up-to-date plan remains to be seen.
The standard method for assessing housing need is now confirmed as an advisory starting point for establishing housing requirements, which potentially provides greater scope for authorities to deviate from this position and allocate less new land for housing. This is likely to have a range of implications for the different regions of the country.
There are also changes to the 5 year housing land supply position. Authorities will not be required to demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply annually if their adopted plan is less than 5 years old, and the adopted plan identified at least a 5 year supply of specific, deliverable sites. However, a 4 year housing land supply target will apply for authorities with a local plan in progress.
This is a further incentive for authorities to get their plans up to date, as the weakening of the previous 5 year housing land supply requirements are tied to authorities being able to demonstrate their plan is proceeding. Further detail on 5 year housing land supply calculations is set to follow, in due course, through updated Planning Practice Guidance, which has not yet been released.
Neighbourhood Plans gain increased importance and receive greater protection against the tilted balance being applied for a period of 5 years from their adoption and where they allocate sites to meet their housing requirement.
It continues to be the case that the Green Belt boundaries should only be reviewed in “exceptional circumstances“. The changes mooted through the December 2022 NPPF consultation, which stated that “Green Belt boundaries are not required to be altered if this is the only means of meeting the objectively assessed need for housing over the plan period” did not come to fruition, which can be viewed positively.
In determining planning applications, significant weight should now be given to the need to support energy efficient proposals. This is a very much welcome addition.
Numerous references to beauty and beautiful are now incorporated throughout the document with Chapter 12 being re-titled “Achieving well-designed and beautiful places”. This brings with it, ambiguity around how you actual define a beautiful place. It is intended that the primary means of achieving this will be through local design codes, in line with the National Model Design Code.
It will be down to each authority to deliver a design code according to its existing architecture and environment, and the reality is you can have a vast mix in each area, which may, in practice, make design codes hard to prepare and implement.
Alongside the NPPF being published, Michael Gove made a raft of wider announcements. Funding for the Planning Skills Delivery Fund increased from £24m to £29m, which is welcomed. However, there are questions as to whether this goes far enough given the current resourcing issues at authorities throughout the country.
There was also significant emphasis on holding authorities to account for their performance both in terms of progressing Local Plans and their handling of planning applications. This included the announcement of a Government review into the London Plan.
This increased scrutiny is positive in some respects, but authorities must be given the right tools for the job. For example, the imposition of targets for the determination of planning applications could back-fire if this simply results in authorities refusing applications to hit deadlines because they do not have sufficient time or resource to consider all matters appropriately.
Overall, the changes made to the NPPF seek to deliver more certainty by creating an environment where more authorities have an up-to-date local plan in place (According to the House of Commons Levelling Up Select Committee Report (July 2023), around 40% of authorities have an up-to-date local plan).
This aim is sensible and should be supported. Whether this will play out as the Government intends can certainly be questioned given the highly political nature of getting a local plan adopted, the sheer quantum of authorities with out-of-date plans and given some authorities have not adopted a Local Plan for many years. It also remains to be seen if these adopted plans, in light of some of the new provisions in the NPPF, will deliver a platform for meeting housing needs and fostering economic growth.