It Will Soon Be Christmas & We Really Don’t Have To Rush To Conclusions On This New NPPF Consultation Draft

Plenty of easy Christmas present jokes to be had but I’ll avoid them – the Government’s consultation document on proposed reforms to national planning policy and indicative mark-up of the NPPF have arrived (22 December 2022).

There is much to take on board. By way of indication, the consultation document lists 58 questions. It’s 32 pages or so long.

But don’t panic!

Consultation doesn’t close until 3 March 2023. There is plenty of time for thinking to percolate and indeed to assist with that we have the special Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse discussion at 4pm on 4 January 2023 featuring various planners and planning lawyers. Join the event via this link – do RSVP in the link and get it in your diaries.

I am relieved that for once what we have been presented with is comprehensive and well explained. This is no longer a “prospectus” as to what the nature of the proposed changes but includes the actual proposed wording of the revised NPPF itself (this revision at least – another revision is already promised). The changes are by and large not a surprise, having been heavily trailed since Michael Gove resumed office. I urge you to scroll through the indicative mark-up of the NPPF – the changes are easy to spot, for instance:

  • watering down of the paragraph 11 (d) tilted balance and of the requirements on local planning authorities to maintain an adequate housing supply and meet housing delivery targets
  • watering down of the local plan “soundness” test
  • references to the standard method as only an “advisory starting point
  • express references to the needs for retirement housing, housing with care and care homes
  • References to “beauty” and a weirdly specific passage extolling the virtues of mansard roofs
  • 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
  • Changes in relation to climate change and renewable energy
  • The availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered, alongside the other policies in this Framework, when deciding what sites are most appropriate for development“.
  • Important transitional arrangements in paragraph 225 and 226

But what is being consulted upon does not stop at the proposed changes to the NPPF but also covers various other longer term aspects of the reform agenda.

If one thing shines through the consultation document it is that re-construction of the system is going to be underway for some years. An indicative timeline:

Consultation closes: 3 March 2023

Government response to consultation and publication of revised NPPF: Spring 2023

Changes to take effect that are being consulted upon in the current document as to:

  • Increasing the emphasis on provision of social rented housing
  • More older people’s housing
  • More small sites for small builders
  • Greater emphasis on the role that community-led development can have in supporting the provision of more locally-led affordable homes

Consultation on proposed changes to the rest of the NPPF and on more detailed policy options and proposals for National Development Management Policies (supported by environmental assessments), once the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is passed through all its Parliamentary stages: from Spring 2023 (NB there is much already in the consultation document which helps in setting out more clearly than previously the intended scope of national development management policies, which will be in a separate document to the NPPF)

Three further measures to be introduced, via changes to the NPPF to encourage developers to build out “as soon as possible”:

“a) We will publish data on developers of sites over a certain size in cases where they fail to build out according to their commitments.

b) Developers will be required to explain how they propose to increase the diversity of housing tenures to maximise a development scheme’s absorption rate (which is the rate at which homes are sold or occupied).

c) The National Planning Policy Framework will highlight that delivery can be a material consideration in planning applications. This could mean that applications with trajectories that propose a slow delivery rate may be refused in certain circumstances.”

There will be “a separate consultation on proposals to introduce a financial penalty against developers who are building out too slowly”.

Changes to the soundness test will apply to local plans which have not reached pre-submission consultation stage within 3 months of the revised NPPF: summer 2023

Further updates to the NPPF: later in 2023

Whilst flexibility as to the use of the standard method will be in place from Spring 2023 as part of the revised NPPF, there will be a review of standard method for calculating local housing need, once 2021 census is published: 2024 (NB “It remains our intention to publish the 2022 Housing Delivery Test results. However, given our proposed changes and consultation on the workings of the Housing Delivery Test, we would like to receive views on whether the test’s consequences should follow from the publication of the 2022 Test or if they should be amended, suspended until the publication of the 2023 Housing Delivery Test, or frozen to reflect the 2021 Housing Delivery Test results while work continues on our proposals to improve it. We will take a decision on the approach to the Housing Delivery Test and the implementation of any the proposed changes in due course, once we have analysed consultation responses”).

Implementation of the LURB plan-making reforms: late 2024

Transitional arrangements will mean that for the purposes of decision-making, “where emerging local plans have been submitted for examination or where they have been subject to a Regulation 18 or 19 consultation which included both a policies map and proposed allocations towards meeting housing need, those authorities will benefit from a reduced housing land supply requirement. This will be a requirement to demonstrate a 4-year supply of land for housing, instead of the usual 5”: two year transitional period, so until Spring 2025

Deadline of 30 June 2025 for plan makers to “submit their local plans, neighbourhood plans, minerals and waste plans, and spatial development strategies for independent examination under the existing legal framework; this will mean that existing legal requirements and duties, for example the Duty to Cooperate, will still apply.

We are also proposing that all independent examinations of local plans, minerals and waste plans and spatial development strategies must be concluded, with plans adopted, by 31 December 2026. These plans will be examined under the current legislation.”

Latest date for any old-style local and minerals and waste plans to be adopted (or in the case of Strategic Development Strategies, published): April 2027

Latest date when LPAs must begin the new style plan-making process (if their previous plan was adopted on 31 December 2026): 31 December 2031

Of course these dates, all of them taken from or derived from the consultation document, could slip (surely not!) and priorities could move in an entirely different direction, but somehow I sense that this is a package of reforms which is more likely to stick. So let’s have a rest for a week or so after a ridiculous year, maybe tune in on 4 January, but in any event do some constructive thinking over the next couple of months ahead of that consultation deadline. It’s a serious set of proposals which deserves a serious response. Since I came off Twitter I think I may be getting a bit soft….

Merry Christmas.

Simon Ricketts, 22 December 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Photo courtesy of Mel Poole via Unsplash

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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