National planning policy framework NPPF
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out government planning policy for England. It was published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)) on 27 March 2012 and can be downloaded from the MHCLG website.
The NPPF followed a commitment made in the 2010 Coalition Agreement to ‘publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities’. The then-Minister for Planning and Decentralisation, Greg Clark MP, suggested it introduced a simpler and more accessible approach to planning policy.
The framework replaces a wide range of previous planning policy statements and planning policy guidance (see Planning policy replaced by the NPPF). It is commonly cited as having reduced planning policy from over 1,000 pages to around 50, but in fact, unless specifically revoked by the framework, existing policies remain effective.In 2012, the coalition government commissioned the Taylor Report, a further review of the remaining planning policy guidance. A complete set of the legislation, policy and guidance that underpins planning in England can be found on the government’s National Planning Practice Guidance website.
The NPPF dismantles the regional planning apparatus and introduces neighbourhood planning in order to create ‘ … a framework within which local people and their accountable councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans, which reflect the needs and priorities of their communities.’The framework states in no uncertain terms that ‘the purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development……Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay.’
It defines three mutually dependent dimensions to sustainable development:
The framework sets out 12 core principles that should underpin plan making and decision taking which are presented in summary below.
Plan making and decision making:
- Should be genuinely plan-led.
- Should be a creative exercise, not just one of scrutiny.
- Should be proactive in driving and supporting sustainable development.
- Should seek and secure high quality.
- Should take account of the diverse character of different areas.
- Should support the transition to a climate-resilient, low-carbon economy.
- Should contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment and reducing pollution.
- Should encourage the use of brownfield land.
- Should encourage mixed-use development.
- Should conserve heritage.
- Should maximise the use of public transport, walking and cycling.
- Should support health, social and cultural wellbeing.
The framework then sets out detailed guidance under 13 subheadings that contribute to delivering sustainable development:
- Building a strong, competitive economy.
- Ensuring the vitality of town centres.
- Supporting a prosperous rural economy.
- Promoting sustainable transport.
- Supporting high-quality communications infrastructure.
- Delivering a wide choice of high-quality homes.
- Requiring good design.
- Promoting healthy communities.
- Protecting Green Belt land.
- Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change.
- Conserving and enhancing the natural environment.
- Conserving and enhancing the historic environment.
- Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals.
Local plans should be prepared by each local authority for its area. They should contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and set out over a 15-year time horizon ‘…the opportunities for development and clear policies on what will or will not be permitted and where…’
The framework proposes proactive engagement and collaboration with neighbourhoods, local organisations and businesses as well as co-operation with neighbouring authorities, public, voluntary and private sector organisations. It also proposes improving the efficiency of the application process through pre-application engagement by the applicant with the local authority, other consenting bodies and the local community. This should include discussing what information should be submitted as part of the application.
The framework sets out strategic priorities that should be included in local plans and makes clear that local plans will be examined by an independent inspector. Proposed developments that are in accordance with an up to date local plan should be approved without delay, whilst those that conflict with an up to date local plan should be refused (unless material considerations indicate otherwise).
This puts an emphasis on the local plan being up to date. The framework states that If a plan is absent, silent or out of date, permission should be granted, unless there are significant and demonstrable reasons not to grant permission.Local authorities were given a 12-month transition period to ensure that existing plans conform with the framework. However, when the transition period came to an end in March 2013, just half of the local authorities had adopted local plans in place and the Planning Inspectorate revealed that only 7% of those local plans complied with the requirements of the NPPF (ref. Planning Resource).
Parishes and neighbourhood forums are given the power to develop a neighbourhood plan for their neighbourhood. Neighbourhood plans must conform with the strategic policies in the local plan but take precedence over non-strategic policies in the local plan where they are in conflict.
Parishes and neighbourhood forums are given the power to grant planning permission for developments through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders. Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders require a local referendum. Where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan planning permission will not normally be granted.
A number of significant concerns have been raised about the framework and its implementation:
- There may be unintended consequences resulting from such a significant change being made so quickly.
- There is ambiguity about the precise meaning of phrases such as ‘sustainability’.
- The framework says little about spatial planning or place making.
- It is questionable whether there are adequate resources available to implement the changes that the framework brings about.
- There is a lack of guidance for local communities.
- It is not clear how the framework tackles the lack of housing.
- It is not clear whether local plans will be able to retain control over development.
The Taylor Report has come very close on the heels of the National Planning Policy Framework and there are concerns that the planning system could be thrown into disarray. Some campaigners have described the findings of the review as giving the go ahead for a bonfire of planning rules, creating a charter for development and putting the countryside at risk.
In April 2014, the all-party Commons Communities and Local Government Committee launched an inquiry into the operation of the NPPF. The inquiry found weaknesses in the NPPF and proposed a number of changes that could be made to strengthen it. See NPPF inquiry for more information.In March 2015, a survey of residential developers and housing associations by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO found that 52% per cent felt the NPPF had made no difference, 19% per cent said it had inhibited the process and only 29% believed it had been helpful.
On 7 December 2015, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation seeking views on changes to the NPPF to support the delivery of new homes, including low cost homes for first time buyers. See Consultation on proposed changes to national planning policy for more information.In April 2016, the Communities & Local Government (CLG) Committee published ‘Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on national planning policy’ in which they called for a comprehensive review of the NPPF before the end of the Parliament, pointing out that there had been, ‘…no robust, objective or evidence-based monitoring, evaluation or review’ since it was first published in 2012.On 30 January 2018, in a letter to local authorities, the Chief Planning Officer confirmed that the NPPF was being revised to implement the planning reform package set out in the housing White Paper, the Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation and the announcements made in the 2017 Autumn Budget.
On 5 March 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May launched the overhaul of the NPPF, aiming to maximise the use of land, strengthen Green Belt protections and place a greater emphasis on converting planning permissions into built homes.Mrs May said the cost of housing, both for ownership and rent, was reinforcing economic divisions and leading to growing social immobility, with public sector workers unable to take jobs in certain parts of the country.She said; “The result is a vicious circle from which most people can only escape with help from the bank of mum and dad. Talking to voters during last year’s election campaign, it was clear that many people, particularly younger people, are angry about this … They’re right to be angry.”
Pending a consultation, May said the existing NPPF will be overhauled with up to 80 proposals first put forward in 2017 being implemented. The key measures include:
- 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership.
- Builders should be more open about affordable housing commitments at the planning stage.
- Before issuing future planning permission, local authorities will be able to take into account the speed with which a developer builds on a site. Councils will also be able to consider revoking planning permission after two years if the building has not begun.
- Councils will have to adopt a new nationwide standard showing housing need in their areas.
- Infrastructure will need to be considered at the pre-planning stage.
- Ancient woodland and aged trees will get specific protection.
- Homeowners will be able to add two storeys to existing properties.
But May’s accusation of obstruction on the part of some councils led to a strong response from the chair of the Local Government Association Gary Porter, who said:“The truth is that councils are currently approving nine in 10 planning applications, which shows that the planning system is working well and is not a barrier to building. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of planning refusals are upheld on appeal, vindicating councils’ original decisions. It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils.”
Furthermore, Porter said that the government’s proposal to appoint independent inspectors where councils were considered to be blocking housing development was “unhelpful and misguided.” He also called for councils to be able to borrow to build their own houses, a proposal in line with Labour’s housing policy, and one that has been rejected by government.In response to May’s speech, shadow Housing Minister John Healey said; “This housing crisis is made in Downing Street. It’s time the Tories changed course, and backed Labour’s long-term plan to build the genuinely affordable homes.”
Revised National Planning Policy Framework
In July 2018, following the public consultation, the government published a revised NPPF. The new framework focusses on the following key areas:
- Promoting high-quality design for new homes and places.
- Offering stronger protection for the environment.
- Constructing the right number of homes in the right places.
- Focusing on greater responsibility and accountability of councils and developers for housing delivery.
The revised framework will enable councils to refuse planning permission for any development that does not prioritise design quality or adequately complement its surroundings. It will also encourage councils to adopt new visual tools to promote better design and quality.Councils will be able to use the new ‘rulebook’ to calculate the housing need for their community and deliver more housing when it is most needed. From November 2018, a Housing Delivery Test will be available, helping to drive up the number of homes delivered in an area.In terms of the environment, the framework was updated to further protect biodiversity by more closely aligning the planning system with Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan. Not only does this plan protect habitats, it also emphasises air quality protection in relation to development proposals.
Secretary of State for Communities, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said; “Fundamental to building the homes our country needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future. This revised planning framework sets out our vision of a planning system that delivers the homes we need. I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules.”However, the revised NPPF received some criticism, with the NFB chief executive Richard Beresford suggesting that; “The government has missed a golden opportunity to put this country on the road to addressing its housing crisis and solving the broken housing market.”John Acres, RTPI President, said; “…we must recognise the significant pressure the new NPPF requirements will put on local authority planning teams. It is imperative that chief executives, council leaders and politicians resource planning departments sufficiently, particularly as they will now be held more accountable for delivery under the housing delivery test and are expected to carry out more regular reviews of their plans.”
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