people discussing a building plan

The long-awaited revised National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’) was published on 24 July 2018, with the majority of the document being effective immediately.  Chris Tofts looks at some of the main issues for providers of social housing.

General points

The ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ remains and applies where policies are out of date (which includes where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites, with the appropriate buffer) or the housing delivery test not met (see below) – unless contrary to other policies in the framework.

The written ministerial statement (WMS) on neighbourhood planning has been moved to the NPPF, in addition, neighbourhood plans must contain policies and allocations to meet its identified housing requirement – there is likely to be some debate about that, whether that is the case.

Local plans are to, as a minimum, seek to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs (‘OAN’) – those needs are to be calculated using a new standard method in national planning guidance – unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach.

The consultation version of the new standard method showed some significant changes to the OAN in many areas and this is likely to be a significant factor in determining whether a local plan is ‘out of date’.

Where the local planning authority wishes to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable sites through an annual position statement or recently adopted plan, they will need to apply a 10% buffer to the OAN.   There is a process for demonstrating a five year supply – it requires engagement with developers and sign off by the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State.

Apparently in response to some pressure, the new NPPF suggests authorities should “consider imposing a planning condition providing that development must begin within a timescale shorter than the relevant default period, where this would expedite the development without threatening its deliverability or viability”. This is unlikely to be helpful on many developments, particularly where commencement of development will result in CIL payments.

A new housing delivery test has been introduced – transitional arrangements apply – but a failure to meet the housing delivery test will have major ramifications in terms of the presumption in favour of sustainable development applying.

Of particular importance to providers of affordable homes

The new NPPF states that it is up to the applicant to demonstrate whether particular circumstances justify the need for a viability assessment at the application stage. The weight to be given to a viability assessment is a matter for the decision maker.  All viability assessments should reflect the recommended approach in national planning guidance, including standardised inputs, and should be made publicly available.

Major development should expect at least 10% of the homes to be available for affordable home ownership – this appears to be an attempt (at least in part) to stem the use of contributions in lieu. There are exceptions, including where this would significantly prejudice the ability to meet the identified affordable housing needs of specific groups. Also, exempt from the 10% is: a) Build to Rent homes; b) specialist accommodation (students, elderly); c) self build; d) sites exclusively for affordable housing.

The NPPF introduces a new type of housing – Build to Rent – which is defined as purpose built housing that is typically 100% rented out. Schemes will usually offer longer tenancy agreements of three years or more, and will typically be professionally managed stock in single ownership and management control.

Social Rent was proposed to be deleted in the consultation version of the NPPF – it has now been reinstated and is included within the definition of affordable housing.

The NPPF provides explicit support for small sites developers – it requires authorities to identify, through the development plan and brownfield registers, land to accommodate at least 10% of the housing requirement on sites no larger than one hectare.

A new definition is included ‘Entry Level Exception Sites’ and the NPPF states that these sites should be supported. These sites should be suitable for first time buyers (or those looking to rent their first home) and offer one or more types of affordable housing. These sites should be adjacent to existing settlements, proportionate in size to them, not compromise the protection given to areas or assets of particular importance, and comply with any local design policies and standards. The original draft required that these be outside existing settlements and that a high proportion were to be entry level homes and could be offered for discounted sale. The amendments in the published revised NPPF are therefore a significant withdrawal and look more like a traditional rural exception site.

Separate from the NPPF, the government has committed to a review of the appeal process.  This will be welcomed by all with written representations currently taking on average over six months.

Chris Tofts is a partner in our planning law team.  If you would like to get in touch with Chris on this topic or any other planning issue please email or call 01872 265100.