With six fewer paragraphs than its predecessor, the revised draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was launched Monday morning by Prime Minister Theresa May.
In the first major overhaul of the NPPF in six years, the draft will now be open for consultation until 10 May 2018. As well as a revised framework, guidance has also been produced on the new policies for viability and deliverability, including a new Housing Delivery Test mechanism.
In a sign of the political times, these changes were announced personally by May rather than by the Secretary of State for Housing. The Prime Minister appears acutely aware that failure to solve the housing shortage in parts of the country could lose her party the next general election.
In line with the government's rhetoric and focus over recent months, the changes to the NPPF focus on the failure of both the development industry and local planning authorities to deliver housing.
The draft NPPF includes both a new definition of what 'deliverable' actually means, and a new chapter on 'Delivering a sufficient supply of homes'. This seeks to implement a number of proposals from the previous Housing White Paper (February 2017), and the Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places consultation of September 2017.
Following a speedy review, some revisions that have jumped out of a comparison of old against new are:
- The changing needs of the population
Paragraph 62 acknowledges the changing needs and aspirations of the population and the different types and tenures of homes.This includes specifically – and for the first time – a student accommodation and the Build to Rent model as defined types and tenures, echoing the London Mayor's recognition of the diversification of the housing market in his recent draft London Plan.
- Local councils' failure to deliver
Paragraphs 11 and 75 introduce new guidance for housing applications where a local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year housing supply of deliverable housing sites or fails the new Housing Delivery Test. In either case, decision makers will be required to apply the newly worded paragraph 11 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' which states that:
"Where there are no relevant development plan policies or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, grant permission unless:
- the application of policies in this framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or
- any adverse impact of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole"
The new Housing Delivery Test is a simple calculation of dividing the total net homes delivered over a three-year period by the total number of homes required over that period, with a minimum requirement of 75% to avoid the presumption.
Significantly, student rooms and other communal forms of accommodation have now been identified as part of net housing delivery.
- Definition of affordable housing
This has been revised and in some respects simplified.In headline terms, affordable housing is now defined as 'housing for sale or rent for those whose needs are not met by the market'.
But in other respects, the definition has now become more complex, with more prescriptive requirements under the following heads:
- affordable housing for rent;
- starter homes;
- discounted market sales housing; or
- other affordable routes to home ownership.
- Entry level housing
In addition to Affordable Housing, paragraph 72 of the framework now refers to the separate concept of Entry Level Housing.This category does not precisely match any of the heads in the above definition, and is not itself formally defined, but is intended to be suitable for first time buyers or those looking to rent their first homes.
- Vacant building credit
The principle of vacant building credit has been promoted from guidance to policy and now appears in paragraph 64.This states that to support the re-use of brownfield land, where vacant buildings are being reused or redeveloped, any affordable housing contribution should be reduced by a proportionate amount.
Historically vacant building credit has not been applied by many local planning authorities and London boroughs.Given its promotion to formal policy, it may now be more difficult to ignore.
"Delivering homes for everyone"
If delivery is king for the government, will an overhaul of the NPPF actually provide more housing on the ground? Or are we just creating more work for local authorities and more hurdles for developers?
Some of the measures have the potential to speed things up, so long as they do not delay local plan adoption in practice. If the thrust is really to deliver the right houses in the right places, the presumption in favour of sustainable development may not secure that. As always when policy wording changes, this leads to deliberation and debates which do not speed the process up.