Government set to require councils to consider density increases

The government will "strengthen" national planning policy related to housing density, as part of a suite of planning changes designed to get more homes built, according to a source familiar with the proposals.

Last year the government proposed revising the National Planning Policy Framework in order to encourage higher housing densities around transport hubs.

However, Planning understands that the government intends to go further by strengthening guidance on density more broadly.

The NPPF currently gives local authorities a free hand to determine housing density in the context of local development character. However, the source said that the government now intends to "set out a new intention to strengthen national planning policy further on density", which it will consult upon.

While the government still favours high density around transport nodes, the policy will also more broadly "expect local planning authorities to consider higher densities where they are not meeting [housing] need."

While this will strengthen policy around density, the government continues to have no intention of returning to any blanket minimum density target such as that imposed by the Labour government via PPG3. The source said actual density levels should still be decided at local level, taking account of local needs and character, and that "local authorities are best placed to decide on sites capable of accommodating more housing in ways that suit local circumstances."

The government confirmed earlier this week that it intends to extend office to residential permitted development rights (PDR) to allow developers to demolish offices and rebuild like for like residential developments. The source said prior approval applications would be required to do this. The current office-to-residential PDR rules only allow conversions of buildings, not demolition and rebuild. The source said: "We are now looking to enable those office buildings that are not suitable for conversion to benefit from the streamlined planning process.

"Consideration is being given to the detail of the right, which will include a prior approval from the local authority on the detail," the source said.

The government previously consulted on allowing demolition within PDR in 2014, but it was widely assumed this idea had been dropped when the existing PDR rules were made permanent earlier this year without being extended to allow for demolition.

The news comes after communities secretary Sajid Javid announced £5bn of support for the housebuilding industry at this week’s Conservative Party conference, and reiterated the government’s desire to focus development upon brownfield sites. He also announced his intention to put out a housing white paper in the autumn.

While Javid’s speech did not detail how the brownfield focus would be achieved, the statement accompanying the speech confirmed the government’s intention to press ahead with existing plans to give brownfield sites permission in principle, and to put a "presumption in favour" of brownfield sites into the planning system. The source said the announcement demonstrated a "commitment to use permission in principle and brownfield registers to bring more suitable brownfield land back into use."

The government has previously pledged to get planning permissions in place on 90 per cent of suitable brownfield land by 2020.

Andrew Whitaker, planning director for the Home Builders’ Federation, said the proposals were all "really positive stuff."

Regarding the change on density rules, he said: "I think the idea is to encourage local authorities to think of increasing densities where they’re struggling to meet need – they’ll have to show if they’ve considered it. It’s reminding them it’s a tool in their armoury."

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