NPPF consultation: 5 key implications

Five key talking points from this week's consultation on changes to national planning policy, including fears that job opportunities could be lost by releasing unviable or underused employment land for discounted Starter Homes.

DCLG: published consultation earlier this week
DCLG: published consultation earlier this week

1. Valuable job opportunities could be lost by releasing unviable or underused employment land for Starter Homes, some experts fear
Extension of the Starter Homes exceptions policy needs clear boundaries, says Claire Dutch, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells International. "In many cases, the ability to bring forward retail, leisure and other uses, which are all part of the mix in creating sustainable communities, will be lost in the frantic push for more homes," she warns. In a personal view, CgMs/RPS director Mike Straw notes concerns over an ever-decreasing supply of employment land in hotspots such as west London and around Heathrow, "where housing demand is high and employment land for growing distribution and logistic needs is becoming scarcer by the day". Others welcome the release of underused employment sites where this is supported by appropriate evidence. "At present, too many sites are being protected that have no reasonable prospect of being reused or developed for employment use and could be brought forward for much-needed housing," says Stuart Willsher, principal planner at consultants Boyer. Bidwells partner David Bainbridge agrees: "Land allocated for employment or commercial development should not be protected for any prolonged period where there is evidence of an absence of market demand. In the main, such development should be market housing with an appropriate amount of Starter Homes." WYG director Jeremy Gardiner welcomes moves to widen the exceptions definition to retail, leisure and institutional sites as a "further stimulus" to regeneration. "The bar for qualification must not constrain such sites from coming forward," he says.

 2. Changing the definition of affordable housing to include discounted market homes risks a reduction in social rented and shared ownership homes.
The government is proposing to rewrite the definition of affordable housing in planning policy to include low cost home market homes that are not subject to restrictions requiring them to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households. The Royal Town Planning Institute said that there was "a risk that homes for social rent and shared ownership would be squeezed out and replaced by Starter Homes, without any guarantee of a net increase in overall housing supply". Vicky Fowler, partner in the planning and environment practice of law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said: "It’s quite possible that large-scale developments could be built without any socially rented housing". Hogan Lovells partner Claire Dutch agreed, saying: "rented accommodation is an important part of the mix and must not be overlooked".

3. Strengthened policy backing for new settlements could make more garden towns and cities a reality
The government is proposing to strengthen national planning policy to provide more support for more settlements, within locally-led plans. Vicky Fowler, partner in the planning and environment practice of law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, pointed to how the Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council local plans stalled earlier in the year "due to the inspector feeling that there was an over-reliance on new settlements".  She said: "A strengthened policy will prevent future similar criticism from local plan inspectors".
The Campaign to Protect Rural England also saw the change as significant, as well as "concerning". "Councils are already encouraged in the current NPPF to bring forward new settlements," it said in a statement. "The proposed new policies could serve to force local people to accept large speculative schemes in unsuitable places that had been previously rejected in recent local consultations".

4. New delivery test for local plan housing targets could force release of greenfield sites for development
The government is proposing a new housing delivery test on local authorities aimed at ensuring local housing delivery targets are delivered on the ground. The document said that this would compare housing numbers set out in local plans against the net additions in housing supply in an area. The consultation said that where "significant under-delivery is identified over a sustained period", councils could be forced to identify "additional sustainable sites if the existing approach is demonstrably not delivering the housing required". Countryside campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the move would lead to more countryside being released for development "as councils either plan for more development in advance or have to find new sites to develop when existing targets are not met". But Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation, said the move would require local authorities to work with developers "much more closely to assess a realistic overall build rate for the sites they have granted permission for". Whitaker added: "We hope it will lead to local authorities being better able to grant the number and type of permissions that will allow the industry to meet the required level of housing supply."

5. New duties could place further pressure on stretched local authorities
Experts have warned that new duties on local authorities proposed in the consultation, including the housing delivery test, could add further complexity and slow up the local plan-making process, stretching already under-resourced local planning teams. Claire Dutch, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: "The burden of the housing delivery test on already overstretched councils will be heavy. The various changes will need to be absorbed in local plans, in most cases with no transitional period." Speaking in a personal capacity, Mike Straw at consultancy RPS/CGMS said the proposed changes would mean that adopted local plans would "have to be reviewed regarding their affordable housing policy definitions and this will have to be subject to public consultation – this will be both contentious and take time and resources at a time when local authorities have limited resources and local plans have only just been adopted." Vicky Fowler, partner in the planning and environment practice of law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said that the creation of new Starter Homes would mean that "there should be the ability for more home ownership by a younger age group than on previous trends and this will need to be factored in when local authorities are producing their local plans. How that has been done will need to be clearly explained if plans are to be determined sound."

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