I appreciate the concerns that have been raised about planning policy and welcome the proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which provides a comprehensive approach for planners, developers and councils to build more homes, more quickly, in the places where people want to live.
This major overhaul to the Framework, the first in six years, includes a new housing delivery test, greater freedom for building on brownfield land and a standardised method for assessing local housing needs.
Housing Delivery Test – this will be an annual measurement of housing delivery performance to be made by local authorities responsible for plan-making. The HDT will be a percentage measurement of the total net homes delivered over a three year period divided by the total number of homes required over a three year period. It will help authorities to focus on driving up the number of homes actually delivered in their area, rather than numbers planned for.
Maximising the Use of Land - the new Framework is clear that local plans should make as much use as possible of brownfield land, as well as under-utilised land and buildings. Around 310 local authorities have now published a brownfield register, revealing over 26,000 hectares of developable land on over 16,000 sites, with more registers expected to be published soon.
The Government is also encouraging local authorities to build upwards, with the new Framework setting out that authorities should support opportunities to extend above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes, provided that developments are consistent with the overall street scene.
The revised Framework stipulates that authorities should avoid building homes at low densities in areas of high demand and instead pursue higher-density housing in accessible locations. This includes ensuring that plans include the use of minimum density standards for city and town centres, and stating that authorities should seek a significant uplift in housing density in these areas.
By maximising the use of land, the Government will ensure that the homes our country needs can be built while maintaining strong protections for the Green Belt and other protected areas.
Protecting the Environment - revisions to the Framework will align it with the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. The new Framework stipulates that plans should allocate land for development with the least environmental or amenity value and take a strategic approach to maintaining and strengthening networks of habitats.
Additionally, the new Framework sets out that great weight should be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and that the scale and extent of developments in these areas should be severely limited.
The new Framework increases the protection given to ancient woodland, stating that “development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons”. This will ensure that these irreplaceable areas are not lost for future generations.
Furthermore, the revised Framework makes clear that where development would “involve the loss of individual aged or veteran trees that lie outside ancient woodland, it should be refused unless the need for, and benefits of, development in that location would clearly outweigh the loss”.
Local Housing Need Assessment - a new standardised approach to assessing housing need will be introduced with new measures to make the system of developer contributions clearer, simpler and more robust.
This standardised method will be based on national household projections for the local authority area and local affordability ratios based on house prices relative to earnings. This will make sure that local authorities’ housing plans anticipate local growth in the number of households, as well as ensuring that areas with high prices have greater increases in housing supply.
A cap on housing needs, based on the current status of the plan in each authority, will prevent unrealistic expectations and ensure deliverability. The new Framework also states that local plans should set out housing requirement figures for designated neighbourhood areas.
Affordable Housing – the need for discussions about infrastructure and affordable housing will take place at the pre-application stage of planning permission to encourage early engagement on these issues. Where the need for affordable housing is identified, planning policies should specify the type of affordable housing required.
Affordable housing provision should not be sought for developments outside major sites, except in designated rural areas and where major housing development is proposed. Planning policies should expect that at least 10 per cent of the homes be available for affordable home ownership, subject to certain exceptions.
Local Plans – these are a key part of the government’s comprehensive programme of planning reform and targeted investment so that the homes local communities need are built by ensuring that local authorities set out how and where they expect to meet residents’ needs for new homes.
Most councils have seized the opportunity that localism presents, but a small minority have not and a local plan is not in place. In November 2017, the Government confirmed that it would commence the consideration of intervention in 15 local authorities where there has been a failure to produce a local plan and progress is being made.
I am confident that the reforms to planning outlined in the draft NPPF will build on the progress which the Government has already made, which includes a £25 million Planning Delivery Fund to help speed up planning decisions, and delivering more than 1.1 million homes since 2010.