The Government published on 5 March 2018 its revised draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), along with an accompanying draft Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) for viability and a Housing Delivery Test 'Draft Measurement Book'. Unlike past changes that 'tinkered' with policies and guidance, the latest revisions substantially change significant parts of the policies and guidance, as promised in the House White Paper in February 2017.Our previous briefing on the White Paper is here. We highlight the key changes below of relevance to land owners, developers, local authorities and others.

Delivery of Housing

  • Presumption in favour of sustainable development in relation to housing - The tilted balance applies if the local planning authority (LPA) cannot show a 5 year housing land supply or, if there is substantial under-delivery measured against the Housing Delivery Test of below 25% from November 2018, below 45% from November 2019 or below 75% by 2020, all measured against the housing requirement for the previous 3 years.
  • LPAs can fix their housing land supply figures annually for a one-year period.
  • New standard method for the calculation of local housing need, with details in the draft PPG changes.
  • At least 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership.
  • Encouragement of greater use of small sites, including that LPAs should ensure that at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less.
  • Consideration should be given to a planning condition that development must begin within a shorter timescale.

Plan Making

  • 'Soundness':
    • A new plan-making framework.
    • Watered down to require that LPAs plan for ‘an’ appropriate strategy, rather than ‘the most appropriate strategy’.
    • LPAs to prepare a statement of common ground with neighbouring authorities.
  • Plan reviews - Every five years.
  • Viability - The thrust of existing policy is to be retained, but the requirement for ‘competitive returns to a willing land owner and willing developer’ is to be removed.

Planning Applications - Viability

  • No need for viability assessments at the application stage where developments accord with all relevant policies.
  • Viability assessments should reflect the Government’s standardised approach in the draft revised PPG.
  • Viability assessments should be publicly available.
  • Viability review mechanisms in the draft revised NPPG.

Economy & Town Centres

  • Policy refinements to help create the conditions, in which businesses can invest, expand and adapt and to strengthen the town centre focus.

Sustainable Transport

  • Identifying additional development opportunities arising from strategic infrastructure investment.

Effective Use of Land

  • Making more intensive use of existing land and buildings.
  • Higher densities in relevant areas, including minimum density standards in centres and around transport hubs, such as building upwards.
  • More effective use of empty space above shops.
  • Reallocating land where there is no reasonable prospect of an application coming forward for the allocated use.
  • Conversion of retail and employment land to housing in areas of high housing demand if this would not undermine other planning objectives.

Green Belt

  • Generally strengthens green belt policy, including plan examinations to take account of whether density of development is optimised and that brownfield land is used as much as possible.
  • Neighbourhood plans may amend green belt boundaries.

'Agent of Change Principle'

  • Ensure new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities (including places of worship, pubs, music venues and sports clubs) - The applicant (or ‘agent of change’) should be required to secure suitable mitigation where a statutory nuisance could arise.

Our View

The draft changes are substantial and will provide new opportunities for development proposals, along with some additional constraint, when they are adopted probably later in the year. The Housing White Paper and previous publications promised a great deal. Many of the changes go further still. The changes also seek to swing the pendulum on viability assessments back towards LPAs by seeking to constrain viability assessments at the application stage where assessment has been carried out in the plan making, along with a standardised assessment approach and textual changes to remove the explicit requirement of a ‘competitive return’ for land owners and developers. However, we envisage a viability assessment at the plan stage is likely to be far more high level. Many developers will not see this as an adequate substitute for the more detailed assessment at the application stage. LPAs, however, will appreciate the curtailing of some of the complexities involved with viability assessments. The 'agent of change' principle is one that has been floated around for a long time and finally makes an appearance on the policy books, after past reluctance and relatively little advanced warning. The change has the potential to change dramatically the way planning approaches environmental impacts, particularly in the entertainment and leisure sector. The LPA should now require the new development, for example residential, to mitigate the impact on it of surrounding existing uses, rather than the current position where there is a risk that impacts may be left to the law of nuisance and existing businesses to mitigate, with significant costs and changes to their operations.

Consultation responses must be submitted by 10 May 2018. The revised draft NPPF and NPPG, along with the consultation is here. Please get in touch for advice on the matter.


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.