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National Planning Policy Framework – July 2021 Update

The article below follows on from our series of seminars for Junior Land Buyers. Click here to read the previous article.

The Government published an updated version of the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”) last month which contains a number of important changes which will impact decision making in the planning process in England.

The NPPF sets out the government’s planning policies and how they should be applied in England. It guides plan-making and is a material consideration for local planning authorities when determining planning applications. Whilst the document remains largely the same as the previous version published in February 2019, the update contains a number of important and newsworthy changes.

'Well-designed, beautiful and safe places'

Among the key changes to the NPPF are updated policies aiming to improve the design of new developments. These include changes to the overarching social objective of the planning system (paragraph 8b) to include the promotion of “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”. In comparison, the previous version had simply required “a well-designed and safe built environment”.

Further changes now require that all local planning authorities "should prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences" (new paragraph 128). In addition, a new test has been added which requires that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes” (new paragraph 133). The test goes on to require that "significant weight" should be given to "development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes".

The new paragraph 128 places an obligation on local planning authorities to "provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage" by “preparing design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences".

'More trees'

There is now an emphasis on using trees in new developments.

The updated NPPF introduces a new paragraph 131 stating that “planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments (such as parks and community orchards), that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible". It goes on to say that applicants and local planning authorities "should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places”.

'Sustainable development'

The updated NPPF has adjusted the presumption in favour of sustainable development for plan-makers.

Previous wording stated: “plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change”. Whereas now the NPPF's presumption in favour of sustainable development (paragraph 11a) says that "all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.

New limits on the use of Article 4 directions to restrict Permitted Development rights

The update also requires that local councils should only use Article 4 directions to prevent the conversion of non-residential property to homes under permitted development rights if it is ‘necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts’.

The new paragraph 53 states that such directions, which remove PD rights in specific areas, where they relate to residential conversions, should only be used where it is "essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts”, for example the "loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability". In "all cases”, article 4 directions should be "based on robust evidence, and apply to the smallest geographical area possible”.

Summary

Whilst many will welcome a greater emphasis on design quality, sustainability and the ‘community-focused approach’ of local design codes, the new changes will require applicants to pay close attention to local design policies. Further, there is likely to be an expectation amongst local authorities and local communities that their own design policies will be followed.

For more information please contact Stuart Willis in the Planning Team.

Ashfords run a series of seminars for anyone involved in the world of real estate development who would like to learn more about the legal process behind the deals. The seminars are led and organised by our team of residential development solicitors, providing an opportunity to share knowledge and build lasting connections in an informal and friendly environment. Here are a list of future seminars for Junior Land Buyers, please let us know if you would like to receive notification of these events.

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