Deadline to the NPPF consultation runs out on 2 March 2023. Use this opportunity to have your say on the proposed changes.
In December 2022, the government published their long-awaited proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The consultation on these revisions is open until 11:45am on 2 March 2023 and the government are intending to respond to the consultation around Spring 2023.
The proposed reforms predominately relate to housing, with many of them likely to have a significant effect on development. However, other proposed changes relate to plan-making and onshore wind development.
We have set out below some of the key themes, our thoughts on the proposals and predictions for future reforms.
Housing and Development Plans
The changes to the NPPF provide incentives for local planning authorities (LPAs) to adopt a development plan, with some changes arguably lessening the requirements to meet local housing need. The updates will boost the status of neighbourhood plans:
- firstly, by strengthening neighbourhood plans protection against the 'tilted balance' arguments within paragraph 11(d) of the NPPF. Under the current NPPF, the titled balance test can be applied when the LPA cannot demonstrate a five year supply of housing. The changes will mean that for the first five years after adoption of a development plan (which contains housing requirement policies), the LPA does not need to demonstrate a five year housing supply; and
- secondly, by strengthening the protection given to neighbourhood plans (which contain allocations and policies to meet housing requirements). At present, where a LPA has a three year housing supply, typically development contrary to their plan will be refused for the first two years after the plan is made. Under the proposed changes, this three year requirement will be extended to five years.
The proposed amendments to the NPPF also make changes to the tests of soundness for plans by removing the 'justified' test and amending the 'positively prepared' test. The new test of soundness requires LPAs to meet objectively assessed housing needs ‘so far as possible’. Arguably, this can be seen to lessen the requirement to meet local housing need.
All that being said, there is presently a huge delay to plan-making with numerous LPAs pausing, delaying or even withdrawing plans – consequently meaning a delay in tackling difficult issues such as high housing need and Green Belt review. The impending changes to plan-making is largely to blame for the delays – both the awaited proposals to the NPPF and Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. Although the NPPF provides some potential reforms, there is still uncertainty which we expect will result in further delays to the adoption of Local Plans.
Green Belt and 'beauty'
There are no amendments to the NPPF in terms of development in the Green Belt and the very special circumstances test. However, the following draft changes are proposed:
“Green belt boundaries are not required to be reviewed and altered if this would be the only means of meeting the objectively assessed need for housing over the plan period.”
There are also numerous references to supporting ‘beauty’ and the need for developments to be 'beautiful' - very subjective and difficult to interpret in practice. This could mean a greater emphasis on design, local design codes and placemaking?
Net Zero Strategy and On-shore Wind Development
The government's Net Zero Strategy sets out their vision for the way in which energy is produced and used and decarbonising energy. Currently, the NPPF is relatively silent on Net Zero Carbon and surprisingly the proposed amendments are underwhelming, despite the planning system having an important part to play in this and the government placing huge importance on renewable energy.
Why is it only minor amendments are proposed to the requirements for wind energy? For example, the proposed amendments (shown in tracked below) to footnote 63 of the NPPF do not seem to go far enough:
"Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in either the development plan, or a supplementary planning document identifies an area as suitable for wind energy development (where the development plan includes policy on supporting renewable energy); and, following consultation it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been
fully satisfactorily addressed and the proposal has their backing community support"
Will future proposed amendments require LPAs to allocate land for renewable energy alike allocating land for housing?
There is an option for LPAs to identify suitable areas for on-shore wind development. Under the proposed reforms there is reference to suitable areas being identified in Supplementary Planning Documents as well as Development Plans. Will more land be identified for wind development as a result?
It is important to note, this is likely only the first phase of the government's review of the NPPF. We expect a more comprehensive review of the NPPF in the not so distant future - dependent on wider proposals for change to the planning system, including the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.
If you have any questions about what the NPPF changes may mean to you or would like assistance in submitting a last-minute response to the proposed reforms, please do not hesitate to contact the Planning Team at Fieldfisher.
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