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11/09/2018

Legal landscape: Is the revised NPPF visibly different on design?

Drawing up a plan

The revised NPPF has a stronger emphasis on design than its predecessor. Meeta Kaur and Spencer Tewis-Allen consider the shift and what it may mean for applicants and planning authorities.

“Refocusing on the quality and design of proposals which are in line with what local communities want, the framework ensures councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for development that does not prioritise design quality and does not complement its surroundings.”

So reads the government press release on the issue of design in launching the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF2). But what are some of the legal and practical implications?

NPPF2 took effect for decision-making purposes from its publication day, 24 July. It is non-statutory guidance, but is an important material consideration in local planning authorities’ decision-making.

Some observations:

  • Original design principles are retained. See, for example, paragraph 127, which also includes reference to health and well-being and a footnote on accessibility and national space standards.
  • There is more focus on clearly articulated development plan design policies that “…should be developed with local communities so they reflect local aspirations…” and stronger wording on the use of design codes and design review panels.
  • More weight is given to “early, proactive and effective” engagement throughout the process of scheme design evolution.
  • There is encouragement to LPAs to ensure that approved designs are not diluted during the construction process.

For decision-making, the design and access statement (DAS) is in practice the primary document that decision-takers will consider when it comes to design aspects of a proposed development. It is a legal requirement under the Development Management Procedure Order (DMPO) 2015 to submit a DAS with most planning applications.

There is no statutory requirement for applicants to carry out pre-application consultation for most applications, but the DMPO makes explicit that a DAS must include consultation steps taken by the applicant.

"There is a greater emphasis in NPPF2 on design generally, but it moves further towards design in a broader sense – of developing attractive places that function well for communities"

 

 

There is no legislative requirement for a statement of community involvement (SCI) to be submitted with an application, but it is a common requirement under LPA local lists, without which the local planning authority may refuse to validate an application.

NPPF2 principles say SCIs should show that consultation has been carried out early enough for responses to be taken into account; proactive in leading on and seeking out views – do not wait for objections; and effective.

Applicants should therefore expect local planning authorities to interrogate DASs and SCIs more closely than before, and care should also be taken in drafting environmental statements where these set out details of scheme evolution, alternatives and evidence of consultation.

There is a greater emphasis in NPPF2 on design generally, but it moves further towards design in a broader sense – of developing attractive places that function well for communities – and further away from a narrower focus on visual aesthetic.

Nonetheless, local planning authorities may now be more likely to insist on use of design codes and obligations to retain particular architects in planning agreements to guard against dilution of architectural quality after grant of permission.

There is also more explicit focus on the process of scheme design, particularly in terms of local engagement. NPPF2 contains some hooks to indicate that applications that demonstrate proper local engagement should fare better than those that do not.

But under NPPF2 principles, showing a meaningful approach to engagement could now be a genuine opportunity to assist in realising a positive planning decision and it would be reasonable to expect local planning authorities to have proper regard to it.

Clearly the weight to be given to these matters in determining applications is for the decision-maker. But with competing challenges such as meeting housing requirements and the new housing delivery test, it remains to be seen if the increased emphasis on design in NPPF2 will change local planning authorities’ approach to design.

Meeta Kaur is a partner and Spencer Tewis Allen an associate of Town Legal LLP

Photo | Shutterstock

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