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Andrew Granger & Co. talks about the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework

Wed 15 February 2023

As promised in his Ministerial Statement in early December 2022, Michael Gove – the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – has recently launched a consultation into proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The NPPF sets out the Government’s key policies in guiding planning decisions across England, with the published draft version considered by many to result in the biggest shake-up since its inception in 2012. Whilst large swaths remain unchanged, the amendments that have been proposed will likely have vast implications in relation to delivery of new housing and local plan preparation.

Once referred to in the NPPF as the ‘golden thread’ running through both plan-making and decision-taking in the planning context,  the presumption in favour of sustainable development remains at the heart of the published draft – although with new stipulations. Firstly, the amendments allow for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) with ‘clear evidence’ of historic housing over-delivery to provide for less than their objectively assessed need. The changes also allow LPAs to fall short of meeting their housing need in full, if doing so would result in the density of new building being ‘significantly out of character with the existing area’.

Alongside changes to the ‘Standard Method’ for calculating housing need, a greater level of flexibility has been included in relation to the current requirement for identifying a housing land supply. As a way of incentivising the preparation and maintenance of up-to-date Local Plan documents, the Government proposes removing the obligation placed upon LPAs to demonstrate a rolling five-year supply of housing land – with the requirement only applying when the development plan policies become more than five years old. This also sees changes added to include historic under or over supply into the calculations, as well as the removal of a mandatory buffer in certain circumstances.   

Other changes include a renewed emphasis on ‘beautiful design’ throughout the NPPF, with a importance placed on design codes to address densities, a focus on brownfield sites, and more housing in urban areas.

Whilst the draft proposal does not contain the wide sprung changes to the planning system hinted at in previous Government statements, they appear to go some way to appeasing recent rebel MPs in their opposition to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. Whilst the changes are designed to ensure a plan-led system with reduced scope for speculative applications, the relaxation of the mechanisms to enforce and plan positively for housing need is sure to cause tension – especially in the context of addressing the clear national housing crisis.

The consultation remains open for comment until 2nd March 2023, with the publication of a revised NPPF expected in the Spring. Further consultation on the emergence of National Development Management Policies, as well as further updates to the NPPF are expected later in the year.

If you would like any advice, you can get in touch with Andrew Granger & Co's Planning and Development team on 01858 439090.