DLUHC publishes updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

DLUHC published an updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) on 19 December 2023 following a consultation in December 2022. The update was announced during the Secretary of State’s speech about the government’s ambitions for housing and infrastructure, and the role of planning in helping achieve them. Further details about what was announced can be found in the Written Ministerial Statement.

Various reforms are introduced to housing delivery, effective immediately.

These are 10 of the key changes:

  1. Local Housing Need – Paragraph 60 of the NPPF, clarifies that the overall aim of local authorities, in the context of delivering homes, should be to “meet as much of an area’s identified housing need as possible”. Under paragraph 61, the revised NPPF states that the standard method for calculating housing need, to establish the number of homes required, is now considered as an “an advisory starting point”. This had not been specified previously. As a result, the status is clearer for local authorities to have greater flexibility to plan for fewer or higher number of homes than the standard method indicates, and where there are specific local circumstances that justify an alternative approach to assessing housing need, that is now explicitly supported.
  1. Green Belt – New paragraph 145 of the revised NPPF provides that local authorities may choose to (but are not required to) review and alter Green Belt boundaries (in the event that they consider that they cannot meet housing need).
  1. Higher Densities – New paragraph 130 of the revised NPPF provides that a significant increase in the average density of residential development in an existing urban area may be inappropriate if it will result in developments which are “wholly out of character with the existing area.” The effect of this change is to enable authorities to describe “out of character” circumstances in the process of preparing design codes and plan-making.
  1. Five year housing land supply – The changes remove the requirement to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply on an annual basis, where an up to date (less than five years old) local plan is in place which contained a deliverable five-year supply of land at its examination. The change provides an incentive to local planning authorities to keep Local Plans up to date so that they do not continually need to demonstrate a five year land supply.
  1. Buffer – Under the previous version of the NPPF, all local planning authorities were required to build a buffer of 5% (by default), 10% or 20% into their calculations on five-year housing land supply. In the updated NPPF, the 5% and 10% buffers have been removed but the 20% buffer has been retained, where delivery falls below 85% of the requirement over the previous three years. In addition, historic oversupply can be accounted for in the five-year housing land supply calculation and further guidance on this will follow. The expectation is that the removal of 5% and 10% will simplify the five-year land supply calculations for local authorities.
  1. Neighbourhood Plans – the changes increase the level of protection from the presumption afforded by neighbourhood plans from two to five years post adoption, provided they identify at least one housing site.
  2. Diversifies types of housing – additional support is given to the delivery of self-build, custom-build and community-led housing and encourages the delivery of older people’s housing, including retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes.
  1. Role of beauty – The latest NPPF revisions mean that “beauty” is emphasised as a consideration in strategic policies.
  1. Agricultural land – greater protection is given to agricultural land through additional reference to the need to address food production, maintaining the emphasis on best and most versatile (BMV) land.
  1. Energy efficiency measures – New paragraph 164 in the NPPF requires local authorities, in determining planning applications, to give “significant weight” to the need to support “energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements” through adaptation of buildings. When assessing applications for energy efficiency improvements, it is important that heritage protection is considered. Paragraph 164 in the revised NPPF provides for this by stating that where the proposals would affect conservation areas, listed buildings or other relevant designated heritage assets, local planning authorities should also apply the relevant policies, set out in detail in Chapter 16 of the NPPF.

Alongside the revised NPPF, the Secretary of State set out his ambitions for planning performance grouped around four themes: Greater transparency, additional financial support, faster processes and direction action.

These themes included: reviewing the use of Extension of Time agreements in managing performance issues; emphasising the increase in planning fees and the establishment of the Planning Super Squad; establishing Accelerated Planning Services and intervening where local authorities fail to get a local plan in place.

DLUHC also published the results of the 2022 Housing Delivery Test at the end of December.