Changes to the “Natural Environment” section of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)


This article will be of interest to ecological consultants who work closely with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

On 20 July 2021, the government issued the new NPPF which includes a couple of changes to the chapter of the NPPF entitled “Conserving and enhancing the natural environment.”

The NPPF contains the government’s planning policies for England, covering a wide range of issues such as housing, economic development, transport and the natural environment. The NPPF is instrumental in planning – it provides the framework for producing Local Plans for housing and other development, and the background against which planning permission applications are decided. We have reviewed the paragraphs relating to “Conserving and enhancing the natural environment” (Chapter 15) in the 2021 update and have drawn comparisons to the paragraphs within the previous 2019 version.

The relevant sections on the natural environment are now contained within paragraphs 174-188 of the NPPF 2021.In summary, the two paragraphs detailed below have been amended in the new framework. We have highlighted the amendments to the relevant paragraphs in the NPPF 2019 to illustrate the differences, which reflects the updated NPPF.

Paragraphs 172 and 175 of the NPPF 2019 (with the 2021 amendments):

172. Great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to these issues. The conservation and enhancement of wildlife and cultural heritage are also important considerations in these areas, and should be given great weight in National Parks and the Broads54. The scale and extent of development within these designated areas should be limited, while development within their setting should be sensitively located and designed to avoid or minimise adverse impacts on the designated areas.

Planning permission should be refused for major development55 other than in exceptional circumstances, and where it can be demonstrated that the development is in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of:a) the need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy;b) the cost of, and scope for, developing outside the designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other way; andc) any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated.

175. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles:a) if significant harm to biodiversity resulting from a development cannot be avoided (through locating on an alternative site with less harmful impacts), adequately mitigated, or, as a last resort, compensated for, then planning permission should be refused;b) development on land within or outside a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and which is likely to have an adverse effect on it (either individually or in combination with other developments), should not normally be permitted. The only exception is where the benefits of the development in the location proposed clearly outweigh both its likely impact on the features of the site that make it of special scientific interest, and any broader impacts on the national network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest;c) development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons58 and a suitable compensation strategy exists; andd) development whose primary objective is to conserve or enhance biodiversity should be supported; while opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments should be encouraged, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity. while opportunities to improve biodiversity in and around developments should be integrated as part of their design, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity or enhance public access to nature where this is appropriate.

Of particular significance is the amendment to para 175(d) of the NPPF 2019 (now para 180(d) of the NPPF 2021) – it now requires opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around development, rather than simply making it optional. This demonstrates further steps taken by the government towards achieving the 25 Year Environment Plan (2018).Otherwise, we confirm that there have been no further changes to the wording of the "Conserving and enhancing the natural environment" chapter of the NPPF.

If you have any questions regarding this article please contact Penny Simpson or Claudia Booth.


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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