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Government publishes revised NPPF

Words: Huw Morris

The much-anticipated revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has finally been published with an increased emphasis on high-quality design - but there are concerns the new framework will put planners under 'significant pressure'.

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said the latest framework will make it easier for planning authorities to challenge poor quality and unattractive development. In particular, it stresses that councils “have the confidence and tools” to refuse applications when the development does not prioritise design quality or complement its surroundings.

The new framework also aims to give communities a greater say in the design of developments. Councils are encouraged to make use of “innovative visual tools” to promote better design and quality and allow residents to see schemes before they are built.

Adopted neighbourhood plans should “demonstrate clear local leadership in design quality, with the framework allowing groups seeking such plans to truly reflect the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area”.

Councils will have to apply design policies “in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting”.

“I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules,” said Brokenshire.

Local authorities are urged to “exhaust all other reasonable options for development” before considering altering a green belt boundary. It stresses that “considerable evidence” would be needed to alter any such boundary. The framework confirms the housing need methodology set out last year for calculating housing need across different forms and tenures based on a wide range of factors including affordability.

From November 2018 councils will have a Housing Delivery Test focused on driving up the numbers of homes delivered in their area, rather than how many are planned for. This will penalise councils that under-deliver over three years. The frameworks also aims to provide further protection for biodiversity by aligning the planning system more closely with Defra’s 25-year environment plan. It stresses greater importance on air quality when deciding applications and offers more protection for ancient woodland and trees. The revised document replaces the previous NPPF published in March 2012.

The full NPPF document can be accessed here on the UK Government website.


The RTPI said the tightened expectations embedded in the new NPPF would put local authority planners under "significant pressure" and council leaders and senior managers should recognise this by increasing the resources available to planning teams. 

“It is imperative that chief executives, council leaders and politicians resource planning departments sufficiently, particularly as they will now be held more accountable for delivery under the housing delivery test and are expected to carry out more regular reviews of their plans." said John Acres, RTI president.

“Our members will be vital to making the most of the new measures in the NPPF to encourage joint plan making and help different parts of the country rise up to the immense economic, social and environmental challenges ahead." 

Read more: RTPI says new NPPF will put planners under 'significant pressure'

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England argued that the new housing delivery test would result in almost all local plans becoming out of date within two years. The new NPPF  was a "speculative developers's charter and will lead to the death of the plan-led system," claimed the CPRE's head of planning Mat Thomson.

The Local Government Association also expressed doubts about the impact of the housing delivery test on local planning, but welcomed the retention of social rent in the definition of social housing.

The British Property Federation urged the government to recognise that the planing system must not focus solely on housing. “The planning system for town centres remains too inflexible and outdated,” said director of real estate policy Ian Fletcher.  “The way people use town centres is changing, and in turn town centres must be able to respond more quickly and innovatively to this. Fletcher also argued that the new NPPF failed to give sufficient impetus to economic growth, with industry and logistics overlooked in favour of housing. 

Read more: NPPF reaction: Welcome change or missed opportunity?