It is clear that there has been a major shift from the draft consultation versions. The final document:
- retains the presumption of sustainable development, but the default 'yes' to sustainable development has been withdrawn and the definition has been amended to clarify what is meant by 'sustainable'
- places much greater weight on the protection of the greenbelt and heritage issues
- strengthens the ‘town centre first’ policy, with office development re-included, but with an exemption for rural business
- re-introduces the principle of preferring brownfield sites
- brings a renewed emphasis to the delivery of housing through the requirement for local authorities to identify a five year housing supply with a 5% buffer (20% for those with a record of persistent under delivery) and the commitment to explore new large scale developments, so-called 'garden cities'
- emphasises pre-application engagement and frontloading in order to improve the effectiveness of the planning application system.
All in all, these are changes that will have significant implications, but overall mean a better document. To read our briefing on the key elements of the NPPF please click here.
Stephen Hollowood, Senior Director, GVA, comments:
"We welcome the final NPPF, which in our view will provide much needed certainty to the planning system and finds an appropriate balance between supporting growth and protecting our environment. It remains plan led - any proposed new scheme will have to demonstrate that it is sustainable and will be subject to the appropriate environmental checks as well as taking into account the views of communities themselves. We see this as a positive move to facilitate planned, yet sustainable development and a recognition that planning is a collective enterprise and should be an inclusive process for businesses, local authorities and the communities they serve."
On transitional arrangements:
"We are in strong support of the twelve month transitional arrangements in relation to the preparation of local plans set out by Government today. Eight years on from the publication of the 2004 Planning Act, only half of our local authorities have any kind of development plan in place, and it is crucial that this is addressed if we are to tackle the ongoing challenge of housing delivery. This will pose a real challenge to councils without up to date local plans who will have to review their evidence base, whilst struggling with reduced resources and difficult local politics as they try to meet the new demands of the Localism Agenda. If it is not possible to draw up a plan within the transitional period it is likely that they will come under considerable pressure from house builders to deliver new housing to meet local requirements."
Gerry Hughes, Senior Director, GVA, comments:
On viability and deliverability:
"We are in strong support of the inclusion of paragraph 173 - which recognises that we are still operating in a challenging economic climate and that in many cases, unreasonable demands continue to be placed on developers and house builders, creating a serious constraint on the delivery of new schemes. Indeed, it is the need to identify truly deliverable housing sites, together with the challenge of viability and the lack of development finance, that remain as the biggest obstacles to new development in a post-NPPF world."
On housing supply:
"The requirement on local authorities with a proven track record of housing delivery to identify a five year housing supply with a 5% buffer is a strong indication of Government's commitment to increasing the rate of housing delivery going forward. Those with a record of 'persistent under delivery of housing' will have to provide a 20% identify buffer. Government needs to provide more detail on how it intends to monitor and enforce this rule upon authorities - and there will be a debate over how this record of under delivery will be quantified and interpreted."
On garden cities:
"We support in principle the concept of new garden cities in appropriate locations - but in the past these have proved extremely difficult to deliver, in part due to large infrastructure costs and opposition from local communities. If these are to be success going forward, they will need to be spear-headed in some way and issues around funding and delivery clearly addressed."
Chris Goddard, Senior Director, GVA, comments on town centres first:
"As expected after the much-lauded Portas Review, Greg Clark has taken the opportunity to firm up the pro town centre policy stance in the new National Planning Policy Framework.
The NPPF advocates a plan led approach, and encourages local authorities to promote competitive town centre environments. However, following last week's Budget there is still no substantive Government response to the challenges to town centres identified by Portas, or concrete measures to address the viability of new town centre development.
The document highlights the importance of viability in plan making, but does not clarify how the suitability, viability and availability of town centre sites is to be assessed when planning for new development. Nor does it comment on how the current viability challenges facing many town centre schemes are to be taken into account when considering less central alternatives.
The NPPF advocates that local authorities should continue to allocate sites to meet retail, leisure and office needs in full and ensure a sufficient supply of sites. However, it fails to clarify what constitutes a reasonable timescale for forecasting and meeting identified needs.
As a significant departure from the Draft NPPF, the final document advocates local authorities allocating town centre and edge of centre sites to meet identified needs, but pulls back from suggesting that out of centre sites should be allocated-instead suggesting criteria based polices i.e. the sequential approach and impact assessment.
As predicted, the NPPF also reinforces the sequential approach. It reintroduces offices as a 'main town centre use', and as a consequence requires sequential site assessments and impact assessments for all but small scale rural offices.
The 'preference' for town centres set out in the Draft is gone. Instead, local authorities should require applications to be in town centres or, if sites are not available, edge of centre sites. It also reintroduces the requirement for applicants and local authorities to demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale.
The NPPF retains the two key impact tests from the draft, and also reintroduces policy EC17 from PPS4, stating that where an application fails to satisfy the sequential test or is likely to have a significant adverse impact it should be refused.
Given this was probably the most draconian aspect of the old PPS4, its retention appears to suggest that as far as town centres are concerned, the intention appears to suggest no significant change of policy direction. Inevitably, the key issue will be how the sequential approach and impact tests are applied in practice."