Government consults on changes to NPPF and new National Model Design Code
A consultation was announced by MHCLG on 30th January 2021 which seeks views on draft revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The document can be viewed here. A draft National Model Design Code was also published for consultation as a sister document and can be viewed here. Both documents are now available for public comment until 27th March 2021 with a questionnaire published here. We identify the key proposed changes and content below.
NPPF Revisions Consultation
The draft has been published to propose changes to the content of the NPPF. This primarily covers design related matters as Central Government implements the recommendations of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission “Living with Beauty” report. This is linked with a much greater focus on the importance of good quality design in the planning process.
The changes also cover environmental related changes related to flood risk and climate change plus detailing with updates to out-of-date text. It is intended to be an interim revision as the consultation is clear that it is not a wholesale revision of the NPPF and does not reflect the wider planning reforms of last year’s Planning for the Future consultation. This will be the subject of a further review in due course once decisions have been made by Central Government on which of the reforms are to be introduced.
The main changes are summarised as follows:
- Design & Beauty: the main focus of the changes is to introduce the Commission’s recommendations into a number of different sections of the NPPF. This starts from the introduction of “beautiful and safe places” as a social objective of achieving sustainable development (see paragraph 8) to the use of masterplans and design codes to secure “well-designed and beautiful” homes (paragraph 73).There is then a more detailed amendment to Chapter 12 ‘Achieving well-designed places’ including the proposed introduction of “beautiful and sustainable” to the creation of buildings and places as being a fundamental part of what planning and development should achieve. This then proposes to introduce guidance on the use of design guides or codes consistent with the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code.
The proposed changes are all well intended but it remains to be seen how the additional resources and skills necessary in Local Authorities to deliver increased design quality; prepare and consult on local Design Codes; and implement them in the negotiation of planning applications can be secured. We can also expect a much greater focus on the design standards of a scheme and if a particular development is achieving “beauty”. This is not a term that can be easily applied to some forms of development even if they are well designed and of high quality. The introduction of paragraph 133 which directs that development that is not well designed should be refused means schemes will need to be very clearly presented to demonstrate how they reflect local design and government guidance. Although, in practice, this wording is similar to paragraph 130 which states that poor design should be refused.
We can certainly expect the production of Guides or Codes as a necessity on strategic sites and allocations. This will create an additional hurdle before a planning application can be made, albeit production and consultation could be undertaken in tandem. The key will also be ensuring Codes are sufficiently flexible to take account of changing requirements as a site and scheme evolves.
Where there is no locally produced Design Guide or Code it is proposed that the National Design Guide and the National Modal Design Code are used to guide planning decisions. The Design Code document is well prepared and offers a clear and comprehensive overview of the varying components and considerations in design. There is not a one size fits all approach to design so it’s likely that the Code can only be used as a structure for assessing schemes as the nature and character of a site, locality and a particular development all rely on a more detailed local assessment.
A challenge that we anticipate is the subjectivity of the word ‘beauty’. The well-known saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” springs to mind, and what one person views as a modern, aesthetic development could be regarded as an unsightly building to another. Who decides what constitutes a beautiful design, and can those who disagree with the level of beauty oppose the design? This will no doubt be the subject of considerable debate and contention in some planning decisions, appeals and case law moving forward.
- Trees: now have their own specific paragraph in guidance with a recommendation that new streets are tree-lined unless there are clear, justifiable and compelling reasons why this could be inappropriate. Opportunities should be taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments and existing trees are retained wherever possible. This will place greater emphasis on the provision of trees in schemes unless justification is provided.
- Sustainability: Section 2 relating to achieving sustainable development has been updated to include the latest objectives that the UK is aiming to meet with the inclusion of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The Plan making part of the presumption in favour of sustainable development is proposed to be updated with more specific objectives. This represents a tension between the Government’s well stated targets for increasing housing delivery and the Local Plans that are intended to deliver homes in individual areas as it may not always be possible to align with such objectives where greenfield land is required.
- Flood Risk & Climate Change: this section has been updated to reflect emerging findings on the joint review with DEFRA on a planning policy for flood risk and the government’s Policy statement on flood and coastal erosion risk management. This proposes a strengthening of the policy including clarification on the criteria needed to pass the exception test. The Flood Risk vulnerability classifications are now proposed to be part of the NPPF in Annex 3.
- Biodiversity: whilst the Environment Bill has been delayed, biodiversity in schemes remains an important part of the guidance. There have been edits to the passage on biodiversity to “improve” biodiversity in and around “other” developments. Rather than being encouraged this is to be “pursued as an integral part of their design”. How an individual scheme can improve biodiversity in and around other developments remains to be seen and will need to be considered carefully if this proposal remains as drafted.
- Housing Delivery Test: commentary on the transitional arrangements has been removed now that the Test has been established.
- Strategic Policy Timescales: the policies for larger-scale development such as new settlements are to look further ahead than the current minimum 15 year period to at least 30 years to take into account the likely timescale for delivery.
- Article 4 Directions: more detailed guidance on the use of Article 4 Directions to remove national permitted development rights is proposed to be introduced to guide LPAs on their use against the background of the roll-out of wider rights. For a change of use to residential it recommends two options for considering Directions: (i) limited to situations where this is essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts; or (ii) limited to situations where this is necessary to protect of interest of national significance. In all cases they are to be applied to the smallest geographical area possible. This represents a potential tightening of the justification for introducing Article 4 Directions particularly covering residential development which if introduced will make it harder for LPAs to secure Secretary of State approval for blanket Directions and those which do not meet the higher hurdle for acceptability.
- Statues: there is also the addition of guidance on how to treat applications for the removal or alteration of historic monuments. LPAs should have regard to the importance of retaining the asset and where appropriate of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.
Author: Mark Harris, Planning Partner
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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