Government delivers for Christmas – but will it deliver more homes?

Well, the government has at least kept one promise this year…the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) consultation has been published before Christmas! Firstly, the consultation period runs until 2nd March 2023, so there is adequate time to consider the 58 questions once you are back in the swing of things at the start of the new year.
That said, there is a sense of urgency from this government to implement these changes (we can all take a guess why) with an intention to adopt the proposed indicative policy wording ‘immediately, subject to the results of this consultation’, in Spring 2023 so that policy changes can take effect as soon as possible.
Many of the proposed changes will not come as a surprise if you have been keeping up with the news of late. Here is the general direction of travel, for now (expect further updates following the Levelling up Bill & wider changes to the planning system):
1.  Seeking to emphasise that housing need should only be met, through plan making, if it can be achieved in a sustainable way, including:

   a.  changing the soundness test to remove meeting need ‘as a minimum’ to ‘so far as possible’

b.  removing the requirement to meet need in the Green Belt

c.  placing emphasis on ‘beautiful’ buildings and local character, with pressure to take forward local design codes

d.  making the standard methodology Local Housing Need (LHN) figures advisory, and enabling some consideration of previous over-delivery. Note needs for retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes all need to be established

2.  Removing the ‘justified’ soundness test, which had included testing of reasonable alternatives. This will not apply to plans that have reached at least pre-submission consultation stage (or reach that stage within 3 months of the policy being adopted).

3.  Plans must still demonstrate a 5-year Housing Land Supply (HLS), but the plan will only be ‘out of date’ by virtue of HLS shortfall if the housing requirement is more than 5-years old and even then, if the requirement has been reviewed and needs updating – see footnote 9 (although this is not entirely clear when cross-referencing new para 75 & footnote 44). Transitional arrangements (re only requiring demonstration of 4-years HLS) apply to plans that have been submitted or subject to Reg 18 or 19 consultation provided those plans included a policy map and allocations to meet need.

4.  Reducing pressure to meet need through speculative applications, where there is an up to date plan and by removing the buffer from the HLS, also amending the consequences of the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) if sufficient permissions have been granted (HDT will now measure homes delivered and permissions granted). Note also that the Local Housing Need (LHN) ‘uplift’ authorities must meet the uplift within the Local Planning Authority (LPA) area – with an emphasis on the use of previously developed land – unless in so doing there is conflict with the NPPF & legal obligations – Duty to Co-operate does remain for now (Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) changes could have alignment policy instead).

5.  Providing greater protection to neighbourhood plans – aligning the period that they stay up to date for with local plans i.e. 5 years, and during this five year period removing the HLS and HDT test.

Currently there are no draft National Development Management Policies. These are expected to be consulted upon from Spring 2023 and will be in a separate document to the NPPF. They intend to broadly cover existing policies aimed at decision-making already provided within the NPPF, selective new additions to reflect new national priorities (for example net zero policies) and selective new additions to close ‘gaps’ where existing national policy is silent on planning considerations that regularly affect decision-making across the country.

Of note, there are new measures proposed to encourage developers to build out as soon as possible, including publishing data to highlight developer build out rates, requiring an explanation of how they propose to increase the diversity of housing tenures to maximise absorption rates; and include delivery rates as a material consideration in decision-making. There will be “a separate consultation on proposals to introduce a financial penalty against developers who are building out too slowly”. Once again, it is the private developers who are being made the scapegoats for the housing crisis.

Make no mistake, these are proposed changes of great significance which if adopted, will have lasting impact on the way the planning system currently functions. We expect that LPAs with draft local plans out for consultation or at examination will likely pause or withdraw them so they can reconsider their housing needs, particularly in cases which propose green belt release, which will cause more delays to plans being adopted and the delivery of new housing. On the face of it, it appears that the likely affect is that housing delivery will stagnate and decline as a result of these changes.

If you would like to discuss the proposed planning reforms in more detail and in the context of any of your land interests, we would be happy to assist so please do get in touch.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas.

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