A new Framework to deliver the homes the country needs?

13th March, 2018

Last week the Government published for consultation its revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (‘the draft Framework’); proposals for reforming developer contributions; a draft methodology for measuring housing delivery; and consequential revisions to the draft Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) - phew! 

These proposed planning reforms followed publication last year of the Housing White Paper in February; ‘Right Homes Right Places’ in September; and the Autumn Budget in October and brought about a commitment to building 300,000 net additional new homes a year. 
Will the draft proposals provide “a comprehensive approach for planners, developers and councils to build more homes, more quickly, in the places people want to live” as Theresa May intends?    These are our initial thoughts:

Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development – The 12 “core planning principles” have been deleted, but the three dimensions of sustainable development (‘economic’, ‘social’, and ‘environmental’) remain.  These objectives should be “delivered through the preparation and implementation of plans”.

For decision-taking, there remains an emphasis on approving development that accords with an up-to-date Development Plan without delay.  The phrase “specific policies in this Framework indicate development should be restricted” (which previously engaged footnote 9), is replaced with “the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed”. This change is welcomed and Footnote 7 now provides a comprehensive list of areas and assets which are of ‘particular importance’. 

We had hoped for greater clarity as to whether the presumption in favour of sustainable development could apply in protected areas, and the changes do suggest this will be the case i.e. where there is no clear reason to refuse development in a protected area the presumption should apply.  We will however need to look to the final version and the associated PPG to confirm this in due course.

Overall, the draft Framework is now said to take account of caselaw on the interpretation of planning policy since 2012, and we consider that this provides greater clarity about how applications which are not in accordance with an up-to-date Development Plan should be determined.

Neighbourhood Plans – The draft Framework transposes into Government Policy the December 2016 Written Ministerial Statement and empowers local people to have more of a say in plan making and planning applications decisions. 

Where a Local Planning Authority (LPA) has no five-year housing supply, or where the Housing Delivery Test indicates that the delivery of housing has been “substantially below” the requirement over the previous three years, the presumption in favour of sustainable development should apply and applications should be approved where the benefits outweigh the impacts.  Where there is a Neighbourhood Plan (NP) in force, some protection is given and the NP policies will continue to have significant weight provided the NP allocates housing sites to meet its identified housing requirement and has “recently been brought into force”.  If so, the adverse impact of development that conflicts with a NP is likely to “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh the benefits of development where the LPA has at least a three-year supply of deliverable sites and its housing delivery was at least 45% of that required over the previous three years. 

However, the housing figure for a NP would be set by the LPA.  ”Exceptional circumstances” will be required with “compelling evidence” in order for a NP to propose an alternative figure.  This would also need to be tested at Examination before a NP could be in “general conformity” with the policies of a Local Plan. 

A standardised methodology to calculating housing need – Only 28% of respondents to the Right Homes Right places consultation supported the proposed standardised methodology.  Nonetheless, the Government considers it is the most appropriate way of determining need, unless there are “exceptional circumstances” to be tested through Local Plan examination.

The standardised methodology housing “need” figure is not subject to any limitations (i.e. environmental designations) in the calculation stage.  However, LPA’s may exceptionally (and when supported by a robust and realistic evidence base) be able to justify a lower requirement number – but the draft PPG confirms that the need figure generated by the standard method is the “minimum starting point in establishing a need figure for the purposes of plan production” for example an uplift may be appropriate to support economic growth, “housing deals” (e.g. to deliver 100,000 new homes in Oxfordshire) and strategic infrastructure improvements. 

Government seeks to publish a new Framework before summer 2018.  For Local Plans by then undergoing Examination, or which are submitted for Examination within six months of the publication date, the Examination and Local Plan will follow the former (current) Framework and the LPA’s own calculation of housing need, which in many cases would be a lower number than that derived from the standardised methodology.  For any Local Plan submitted after six months of the new Framework, the standardised methodology will apply. 

Maximising the use of land – In recognition of the important contribution small sites can make to land supply, and to support small and medium sized developers, the consultation proposes that at least 20% of sites identified for housing are 0.5ha or less.

Housing Delivery Test – In November 2018 the Government intends to publish the housing delivery test results.  This is an annual measurement of housing delivery performance (although will not apply to National Park Authorities without full plan-making and decision-making powers).  The test will use either:

  • The latest adopted housing figure where that is less than 5 years old; or
  • The projected local housing need figure (Projected household growth for financial years 2014/15 – 2017/18) and unmet neighbours’ need figure. 

From November 2018 onwards, “substantial under-delivery” for the purposes of decision-making will mean:

  • November 2018 – delivery below 25% of the housing required over the previous three years;
  • November 2019 – delivery below 45% of housing required over the previous three years;
  • November 2020 onwards – delivery below 75% of housing required over the previous three years.

A new approach to viability – In response to what some have characterised as exploiting a loop hole, the draft Framework and PPG sets out proposals to assess viability at the plan-making stage.   The aim being that housing allocations should be viable and Local Plans should enable viable development to be delivered. 

Where proposed development is on allocated sites and accords with the Development Plan “no viability assessment should be required to accompany the application”.  However, the draft PPG recognises that there will be circumstances when, for example there has been a significant change in economic conditions, or where development is proposed on an unallocated site, that viability assessments could be necessary.  Through the Local Plan, the LPA should identify the circumstances where viability assessment may be required at the decision-making stage.  These viability assessments should be made public.  A standardised approach to Viability Assessment is also proposed.

Reforms to Developer Contributions – The current system of calculating CIL and S106 is too complex and uncertain, including the slow and partial uptake of CIL and protracted negotiations on S106.  In an effort to reduce complexity and increase certainty and transparency, the Government aims to:

  • Use evidence of local need for infrastructure to help set the charging schedule;
  • Lift the S106 pooling restriction only in areas:
    • that have adopted CIL;
    • where CIL cannot feasibly charged;
    • or where development is planned on several strategic sites;
  • Change the administrative requirements for certain developments to reduce the burden of completing CIL forms for exempt developments; and
  • Change the way in which CIL indexation is calculated using the House Prices Index for residential developments and the Consumer Price Index for commercial developments.

We welcome the changes to indexation calculation and administration, and in setting CIL rates, but the proposed introduction of the Strategic Infrastructure Tariff in areas with strategic planning powers could further threaten viability on some developments.  It would also add an additional layer of complexity to calculating contributions.

Protecting the Environment – Footnote 9 of the current Framework provides examples of policies which might indicate development should be restricted.  Footnote 7 of the draft Framework proposes a definitive list, which now also includes ancient woodland and veteran trees - loss of ancient woodland or veteran trees should be “wholly exceptional”. 

Density and Design – The draft Framework continues to support the efficient use of land, including substantial weight to use of previously developed ‘brownfield’ land and supporting the use of airspace above existing residential and commercial premises (i.e. building upwards).  With echoes of PPG3, high densities should be pursued in accessible locations.  In plan-making LPAs should consider setting minimum density policies and are encouraged to refuse applications which do not make efficient use of land.  We welcome this change, which should mean we see clear reference to “a minimum of” or “at least” in housing policies allocating specific sites for development.

The consultation ends on 10 May 2018.  No formal date is set for publication of the final revised Framework; however, the Government currently indicates it will be “before the summer”. 

Other reviews are also being considered by the Government during 2018 including:

  • New Permitted Development Rights to “make the most of the spaces we have”, including the potential for upwards extensions where existing buildings are lower than the prevailing roofline;
  • More effective ways of bringing agricultural land forward for housing through wider support for farm diversification and housing in the rural economy; and
  • A review of the planning inquiry process, with the aim of halving the time taken to reach decisions.

If you have any queries about the proposed planning reforms, and how these might affect your development(s) and/or planning interests, then please do contact us.