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On Tuesday, 20th July 2021, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a myriad of new initiatives. This included the latest edition of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Published on
December 6, 2021

On Tuesday, 20th July 2021, Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a myriad of new initiatives. This included the latest edition of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a new National Model Design Code (NMDC) and the setting up of the Office for Place. As a key material consideration in planning applications, any updates to the NPPF are major, and we will rightly focus on this today. 

Looking back 

In January 2020, the “Building Better, Building Beautiful” Commission released its report ‘Living with Beauty’. It lists 8 key priorities for reform in the planning system. The key proposals are: 

  1. Planning: create a predictable level playing field 
  2. Communities: bring the democracy forward 
  3. Stewardship: incentivise responsibility to the future 
  4. Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind place 
  5. Neighbourhoods: create places not just houses 
  6. Nature:re-green our towns and cities 
  7. Education: promote a wider understanding of placemaking 
  8. Management:value planning,count happiness, procure properly 

A year later, in January 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) released a new NPPF and NMDC in response to the report proposals. This invited 1178 responses, of which private individuals made up ⅓ of respondents. 

After another 6 months, the latest editions of our NPPF and NMDC were announced. 

So...what’s different? 

The new NPPF unsurprisingly covers a broad range of issues. However, the changes made reflected a few key themes, some of which are new. 

  1. Beauty 

Section 12 of the NPPF devotes itself to “Achieving well-designed places”. It forms the bulk of the changes to the new NPPF, and new plans should give much attention to the idea of beauty (Para 126). 

Local authorities are also required to produce their own local design policy guidance and local design codes (Para 128). The NPPF also underlines the need for local communities to be involved in these new design processes for them to carry weight in the decision-making process (Para 127). These local design codes should draw reference from the NMDC while maintaining  the distinct and unique character of local neighbourhoods.   

The NPPF also states that local authorities should set clear expectations of place quality when identifying land for new homes (Para 73). Masterplans should also be created.

At a street-level, the new NPPF also introduces the need for all new streets to be tree-lined (Para 131). This includes the planting of new trees while protecting existing ones. The new NPPF also asks for long-term maintenance plans for these trees to be put in place, which is essential. 

A large majority of criticisms from planners, academics and researchers have argued that, like Sustainable Development (see next paragraph), the definition of Beauty is vague. Perhaps this is something we will explore more in future. 

  1. Sustainability

When the NPPF was first introduced in 2012, it made headlines for explicitly and actively promoting Sustainable Development. The original NPPF states: 

At a very high level, the objective of sustainable development can be summarised as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

However, for many years after that, planning lawyers, local authorities and developers would constantly battle in court, arguing about what ‘Sustainable Development’ practically  meant in reality.

Fortunately, the new NPPF provides a little more clarity, referencing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals developed by the United Nations (Para 7). It also states: 

All plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. 

It also asks that Local Plans and Strategic Policies should adopt a longer view of at least 30 years to anticipate and respond to long-term requirements and opportunities. The legal requirement now is a 15-year period from adoption. This would most likely apply to areas looking for major infrastructure projects and any new urban extensions to towns and villages. 

Seen together, these various new changes can strengthen the socio-environmental objectives of Sustainable Development that we think are a positive way forward.

  1. Article 4 Directions 

We spent the previous 2 blogs talking about Permitted Development Rights (PDR) and how some planning authorities have introduced Article 4 directions to limit the influence of PDRs in the local area.

The new NPPF provides a more stringent guide to when these Article 4 directions can be used (Para 53). Most importantly, it stresses that robust evidence is needed and should apply to the smallest geographical area possible. 

This is probably a pre-emptive move by the MHCLG as the new Class MA PDR for converting Land Use Class E (High Street) to Residential would be unfavourable and unwelcoming to many local authorities

What’s missing?   

This NPPF seems to provide an interim update with many other major reforms to our planning system on the horizon. 

The Planning White Paper last year introduced the idea of zoning as a much-needed update to our planning system and a new infrastructure levy, to replace S106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy. There has been little mention of them since. 

Also, there have been recent debates on the need to reform the green belt. Introduced more than half a century ago, it’s been argued to be outdated and unfit for purpose. Maybe, this is a blog piece in itself for another day!

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