The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 24 July 2018. This post considers what difference it will make – in terms of the impact on developers, whether the government’s aims will be achieved and how soon its effects might be seen.

Impact on developers

On the whole, policies in the revised NPPF are more restrictive. Tighter controls over design standards, green belt boundaries, developer contributions and viability appraisals, stronger protection for the environment and the introduction of the “agent of change” principle to new development all provide little incentive to bring forward development.

A welcome change, however, is that LPAs should now take a more flexible approach to daylight and sunlight issues.

The new standardised methodology for calculating housing need, which takes effect immediately, represents a significant change for residential development. It will provide more certainty on housing requirements in each LPA’s area, generally with an increase in housing targets. Local authorities’ success in delivering against these targets will be assessed by the new Housing Delivery Test. From November 2018 local plans will be deemed out of date if the LPA fails to deliver 25% of its housing target as assessed by the new standardised methodology; this threshold will increase in subsequent years to 45% of the target from November 2019 and 75% of the target from November 2020. If local plans are deemed out of date the presumption in favour of sustainable development will be brought into play, increasing the likelihood that planning permission will be granted.

Impact on housing delivery

The introduction of the standardised methodology and the Housing Delivery Test reflect the government’s ambition to achieve 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s.

The Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, said that the revised NPPF is “an essential part of the government’s strategy to fix the broken housing market.” However, the importance of the NPPF in this ongoing battle to increase housing supply has been exaggerated. In a clear move away from the policy of localism, rigid criteria are now prescribed for calculating housing need and local authority targets, but the revised NPPF does not put forward any radical solutions to the housing crisis. The framework represents an evolution of national planning policies, some updates and reforms, but in the main it contains a large dose of operational continuity. By itself it will not streamline the planning process, nor close the gap between planning permissions and housing delivery.

Going forward

The revised NPPF does not change the underlying law relating to planning decisions and development plans. It has immediate effect for the purpose of decision-making on planning applications, but the 2012 NPPF will continue to apply for the purpose of examining development plans which are submitted to the Secretary of State on or before 24 January 2019.

The new London Plan will also be assessed against the 2012 NPPF, although the Secretary of State has made it clear that he expects the Mayor to review the London Plan to reflect the revised NPPF immediately once the London Plan has been published. If not, the Secretary of State has powers to direct the review. The Secretary of State is also considering whether to exercise his statutory powers to intervene before the London Plan is published in relation to policies that he considers are inconsistent with national policy. A strongly-worded letter sent by the Secretary of State to the Mayor indicates deep tensions between central government and the Mayor’s office over the London Plan, which we will no doubt see explored further at the examination in public later this year.

Finally, the framework no longer refers to the presumption in favour of sustainable development as the “golden thread” running through both plan-making and decision-taking. Experience over the last six years suggests that the real golden thread (at least for many lawyers) was the extensive caselaw generated by the publication of the original NPPF in 2012. One of the reasons for updating the NPPF was to take account of these cases, but we might expect a fresh wave of litigation seeking clarification of new wording in the revised framework. Would-be claimants would nevertheless be wise to heed the warning by Lord Justice Lindblom that: “excessive legalism has no place in the planning system”.

For further information please contact:

Matthew White
Matthew White
Partner and Head of UK planning practice, London
+44 20 7466 2461