Planning Freethinking January 2023: NPPF Revisions Consultation


On 22 December 2022 the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published their proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework through a consultation period that will end on 2 March 2023. The Government has advised that they will respond to the consultation in Spring 2023, adopting the NPPF revisions as part of this exercise.The proposed revisions are highly significant, with the key proposals in summary terms as follows:

  • Removal of requirement for LPAs to continually demonstrate a deliverable five-year housing land supply, providing its housing requirement in its strategic policies is less than five-year years old.
  • Changes to the tests of soundness for plan-making. Specifically, removal of the ‘justified’ test and amendments to the ‘positively prepared’ test to insert that LPA’s only need to meet objectively assessed needs ‘so far as possible’ and removing requirement to satisfy unmet need from neighbouring authorities.
  • Guidance on duty to co-operate remains unchanged despite the Secretary of State’s December statement on this ending. This is expected to be the subject of change in the future via an “alignment policy” which is yet to be prepared and will be the subject of future consultation.
  • Confirmation that the standard methodology is an advisory starting point for establishing a housing requirement and that the methodology incorporates an uplift for the top 20 cities/urban centres (this is already in the NPPG). This uplift should be accommodated within cities/urban centres with a footnote prioritising brownfield/under-utilised urban sites.
  • When establishing housing need, reference to older people is proposed to be widened to include retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.
  • Past over-delivery can be deducted from the housing requirement figure in a new plan and there is explicit reference that building at densities significantly out of character with an existing area may be justification for not meeting full assessed needs.
  • Boosting the status of Neighbourhood Plans by strengthening their protection against paragraph 11d arguments (“the tilted balance”) by removing any test against housing supply or delivery and extending the development plan protection period from 2 to 5 years, in the test of whether adverse impacts are likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of development.
  • Greater protection for the Green Belt in plan-making terms through stating that Green Belt boundaries are not required to be reviewed and altered if this would be the only means of meeting the objectively assessed need for housing over the plan period. There is no proposed change to development in the Green Belt and the very special circumstances test and how this is applied to planning applications.
  • Reference to approving extended duration of existing renewable development where its impacts are or can be made acceptable and significant weight to energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings.
  • Regular additional referencing to supporting ‘beauty’ in design and placemaking and stronger emphasis on local design codes. This is consistent with previous Government announcements. There is also a surprising inclusion of detailed guidance on the use of mansard roof extensions for upward extensions.
  • Transition arrangements for both plan making and decision making. The revised tests of soundness only apply to plans that have not reached Regulation 19 stage or reach that stage within three months of the revised NPPF. Any LPAs which have been subject to a Regulation 18 or 19 consultation for plan making will only need to demonstrate four years of housing supply for a period of up to two years. A timeline for the transition to the reformed plan-making system is proposed following anticipated Royal Assent of the Bill.
  • Outside of specific changes to the NPPF, the consultation also proposes whether ‘past irresponsible planning behaviour’ should be a material consideration. There is no definition of what such behaviour entails. It is however identified that the options for considering such behaviour do need to be the subject of further engagement with local planning authorities, the development sector and other stakeholders to ensure fairness. This also requires primary legislation.

The consultation also sets out the justification and scope for National Development Management Policies which will be subject to a separate consultation, along with financial penalties for developers who are building out too slowly.The proposed revisions to the NPPF are in advance of a ‘fuller’ review of the Framework, dependent on the implementation of the Government’s proposals for wider change to the planning system, including the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. We will produce a separate briefing on the Bill in due course. 

Our view

The proposed revisions to the NPPF are likely to have significant adverse implications for housing supply. The Government’s justification is for greater emphasis on the plan making system, but it has watered down the tests of soundness so that plans do not have to be ‘justified’ or meet fully meet objectively assessed need and are less likely to be robust. The proposed removal of the requirement to continually demonstrate a five-year housing supply for the first five years of an adopted plan will protect local plans that are failing and further constrain supply.

The strengthening of Green Belt policy will be a local political green light to plan for below required needs and the requirement for the cities/urban areas uplift to be contained within these areas has already been demonstrated to be undeliverable in several instances. The proposed changes will only exacerbate existing uncertainty and delays in plan-making.

There has been a failure to provide any assessment, alongside the consultation, which grapples with the chilling conflict between these proposed changes and the, much needed, commitment to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.If the Government wants a system where plan-making provides more certainty, it needs to make the plan making process more, not less robust. The focus also needs to be on improving the resourcing of the planning system which is absent from this consultation apart from a short reference to a future fee increase consultation.

We will be making representations to the Government’s consultation as the proposed revisions will only exacerbate the national housing crisis in our view.

Should you wish to discuss the proposed revisions to the NPPF, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Planning and Environment Team.

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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