Following publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last summer and a series of government consultations in the autumn, the new year is due to see further key policy developments at national level, many of which will be of crucial importance to the work of planners. Policies in the revised NPPF, published in July 2018, already constitute material considerations in planning decisions and will apply to local plans submitted after 24 January.
European Union withdrawal
With the vote on the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal widely predicted for mid-January, the next milestone in the Brexit process is the official withdrawal date of 29 March 2019. As required by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the overall legislative framework enacting the UK’s departure from the EU, the government published a draft bill setting out key environmental principles, the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill 2018, before the turn of the year. This is due to be rolled into a wider Environment Bill this year, which environment secretary Michael Gove says will contain specific measures on air quality, nature conservation, waste management and resource efficiency. The government published statutory instruments in October signalling that there would be no change to existing regulations on strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and environmental impact assessment post-Brexit.
National planning policy
The policies in the revised NPPF, published in July 2018, already constitute material considerations in development management decisions and the new framework will also apply to any local plans submitted after 24 January 2019. Campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has launched a judicial review of the revised framework, on the grounds that it was not accompanied by an strategic environmental assessment (SEA). The case was heard at the High Court on 18 and 19 December and FoE say a decision could be issued this month.
Local government reorganisation
The new unitary councils in Dorset are set to go live in April 2019. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council will cover the south-east Dorset conurbation and Dorset Council will administer the remainder of the county. The government announced in November that a unitary authority will be set up in Buckinghamshire in 2020, taking on the functions currently held by Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Bucks and Wycombe Councils. At the end of November, the government issued a consultation paper on proposed local government reform in Northamptonshire. The consultation, which is open until 25 January, outlined proposals for two unitary authorities in the county.
The Planning (Scotland) Bill, introduced by Scottish ministers in December 2017, completed its stage 2 debate in the Scottish Parliament on 14 November. It will now undergo stage 3 scrutiny before being sent to the Queen for Royal Assent. The Welsh Government published the final version of its refreshed Planning Policy Wales document on
INCREASING HOUSING SUPPLY
Standard need assessment method
The 2016-based household projections, published in September, pointed to a lower level of growth than previous figures had projected. The government announced in a technical consultation in October that local planning authorities should continue to use the 2014-based projections to provide the demographic baseline for calculating their local housing need through the new standard method. Revised planning practice guidance will make clear that lower numbers in the 2016-based projections will not justify a departure from the standard method, it said.
The standard method will apply to local plans submitted on or after 24 January. In the longer term, the government says it will review the formula with a view to ensuring that it helps meet its 300,000 per year new homes target. The technical consultation closed on 7 December. The next steps for the government are to publish updated planning guidance on housing need assessment, together with a new version of the NPPF incorporating the policy clarifications proposed in the consultation.
Housing delivery test
The government was due to publish the results for the first year of the Housing Delivery Test in November. It missed this deadline, but told Planning before Christmas that the result would be published "shortly".
Planning guidance review
The government published key updates to Planning Practice Guidance, focusing on plan-making, in September 2018. Further updates to guidance are promised over the coming months to provide additional detail on various aspects of implementing the revised framework. These include advice on determining housing requirement figures at the neighbourhood level and more detail on a range of issues, including applying the retail sequential test, increased density standards, delivering high-quality design and green belt policy.
Letwin review of build-out
The Letwin review of build-out published its final report in October, recommending greater powers for planning authorities to require diversity of housing on large sites and statutory powers for councils to buy large sites at a maximum of ten times existing use value. The government has said it will respond to the review in February 2019.
New garden towns and villages
Following the coming into force of amended new towns regulations in 2018, the government published its prospectus for the latest round of garden communities in August. The closing date for submissions was 9 November. Planning minister Kit Malthouse said 100 bids had been received.
Council and social housing
The housing revenue account cap that controls local authority borrowing for house building was abolished on 29 October 2018. November’s Autumn Budget report said the measure would allow councils to increase housebuilding to around 10,000 homes per year. Meanwhile, the government is yet to comment on responses to last year’s green paper on social housing.
In October, the Ministry of Housing. Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published its response to its March 2018 consultation paper on developer contributions. It announced that it would be introducing legislative reforms to developer contributions, in addition to changes being delivered through the NPPF.
Shortly before Christmas, the government issued draft regulations to introduce changes including:
• Lifting the pooling restriction for section 106 contribution receipts, which prevent local authorities from using more than five section 106 obligations to fund a single infrastructure project.
• Indexing Community Infrastructure Levy rates to more closely track the value of development.
• Removing restrictions on ‘regulation 123’ lists, specifying types of infrastructure for which section 106 contributions cannot be used.
• Clarifying that LPAs can seek a sum as part of a section 106 planning obligation for monitoring planning obligations.
In its November response to the Commons housing, communities and local government select committee’s report on land value capture, the government said it preferred to reform developer contributions and CIL rather than attempt a more radical shake-up of the system to capture land value gained from the grant of planning permissions. The response said the government will "continue to explore options for further reforms to better capture land value uplift, providing it can be assured that the short-run impact on land markets does not distract from delivering a better housing market".
However, the government confirmed that it will prepare a public online register of current and past compulsory purchase order (CPO) cases to increase transparency over how CPO decisions are taken. It also said it would review and update a series of government guides to the CPO process, which were originally published in 2004, to reflect "significant reforms" to the process implemented since then.
Permitted development rights
In October, the government published a consultation paper outlining proposals to introduce changes to permitted development rights in a range of areas. These include new flexibilities and use classes to support businesses in town centres, extending permitted development rights for changes of use from storage and distribution to residential use, and larger single-storey rear extensions to houses. As things stand, the latter rights would cease to have effect in 2019, but the consultation is proposing to make them permanent. Closing date for responses to the consultation is 14 January.
The paper is also exploring the feasibility of a new right to allow demolition of existing commercial buildings and their redevelopment as residential. The consultation paper says responses to this question will "inform further thinking" and that a further more detailed consultation on a final proposal will follow.
Appeals and inquiries
The deadline for responses for the government’s end-to-end review of the planning appeal inquiries process was 18 September. The review, being chaired by Bridget Rosewell, was due to report to the housing secretary by the end of December, but no document has yet been made public.
The Planning (Appeals) Bill, a private members’ bill put forward by John Howell MP, is set to start its second reading in the Commons on 25 January. The bill proposes to limit the right of appeal in certain circumstances, such as where an application has been determined as being inconsistent with a neighbourhood plan.
Biodiversity net gain
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a consultation in December setting out proposals for developers to demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity, such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees or forming local nature spaces. Consultation on the biodiversity net gain proposals runs until 10 February.
Application and appeal fees
Following the implementation of a 20 per cent increase in planning fees in January 2018, the government has said it is considering the options for taking forward any further planning fee increase.
ENERGY AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The government issued its interim response to the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) alongside the Budget in October. The full response, including a comprehensive national infrastructure strategy, is promised in 2019. A series of legal challenges to the Department for Transport’s airports national policy statement (NPS), published in June 2018, are due to be heard over ten days starting on 11 March.
DEFRA’s draft water resources NPS was published for consultation on 29 November and is out for comment until 31 January. Experts predict that the final version of the geological disposal NPS, issued in draft by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy last January, may be published over the coming months.
Nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs)
NSIP applications set for examination next year include the A303 Stonehenge road tunnel and an air freight facility at Manston Airport in Kent. Experts predict that Esso’s 90km Southampton to London Pipeline Project may be applied for in 2019. Other big projects coming up include expansion of Luton Airport, on which a consultation is expected in 2019. Meanwhile, Gatwick Airport is considering whether to promote a development consent order to use its emergency runway as a standard runway, and may consult on this in 2019.
Shale gas development
The government issued a consultation in October last year on introducing compulsory community pre-application on shale gas proposals, with a deadline for responses of 7 January.
The paper also said that the government will make further announcements on the proposal to move the consideration of major shale gas production proposals to the NSIP regime, as well as its proposal for a permitted development right for non-hydraulic shale gas exploration, "in due course".