Masthead Local Govt - Planning

New housing delivery test at heart of revised National Planning Policy Framework

A new housing delivery test – “focused on driving up the numbers of homes actually delivered…., rather than numbers planned for – has been included in a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) unveiled by the Government today (5 March).

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, described a threat to strip councils of their rights to decide where homes are built – should they fail to meet certain tests – as “unhelpful and misguided”, however.

The revised NPPF and associated documents can be found here.

The Government claimed that significant progress had been made in relation to housing, but that more needed to be done to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

It said councils and developers would now be required to work with community groups to ensure those affected by new developments would have a say on how they look and feel.

Local authorities will meanwhile be encouraged to work together and continue to close the gap between planning permissions granted and homes built.

“A new standardised approach to assessing housing need will be introduced with new measures to make the system of developer contributions clearer, simpler and more robust, so developers understand what’s expected of them and will be in no doubt that councils will hold them to their commitments,” the Government said.

An end to end review of planning inquiries is also planned “in a move to ensure that swift and fair planning decisions are made at appeal”.

The Government added:

  • Developers as well as councils would be held to account for delivering commitments, including affordable housing and the infrastructure needed to support communities.
  • More freedom would be given to local authorities to make the most of existing brownfield land to build homes that maximise density. “Redundant land will be encouraged such as under-utilised retail or industrial space for homes, with more flexibilities given to extend upwards on existing blocks of flats and houses as well as shops and offices. This will mean we can build the homes the country needs while maintaining strong protection for the Green Belt.”
  • It would seek to ensure developments result in a net gain to the environment where possible and increase the protection given to ancient woodland “so they are not lost for future generations”.
  • More affordable homes would be delivered that “meet the housing needs of everyone wherever they are in their life, including sites dedicated for first time buyers, build to rent homes with family friendly tenancies, guaranteed affordable homes for key workers and adapted homes for older people”.
  • New quality standards would be introduced so well designed new homes were built in places people were proud to live in and live next door to.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid said: “An entire generation is being locked out of a broken housing market as prices and rents race ahead of supply. Reforming the planning system is the crucial next step to building the homes the country needs.

“This government is determined to fix the broken housing market and restore the dream of home ownership for a new generation. There is no silver bullet to this problem but we’re re-writing the rules on planning so we can take action on all fronts.”

Javid's speech at the National Planning Policy Framework conference can be read here.

Two consultations will run until 10 May to seek views on reforming developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure and text of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Responding to the announcement, LGA chairman Lord Porter said: “In the last year, councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed. Councils approved more than 321,000 new homes in 2016/17, while there were around 183,000 new homes added in the same year. More than 423,000 homes with planning permission are still waiting to be built. 

“The truth is that councils are currently approving nine in 10 planning applications, which shows that the planning system is working well and is not a barrier to building. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of planning refusals are upheld on appeal, vindicating councils’ original decisions.

“It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils. The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided.”

Lord Porter added: “The last time the country delivered 300,000 homes which this country needs each year, in the 1970s, councils were responsible for more than 40 per cent of them and it’s essential that we get back to that. In order for that to happen, councils have to be able to borrow to build homes again.

“It is essential that councils and their communities are empowered to ensure local development creates prosperous places, that new homes are good quality and affordable, and that they are supported by crucial services and infrastructure such as roads and schools.”

The LGA chairman said: “No-one can live in a planning permission. Developers need to get on with building affordable homes with the needed infrastructure and councils need greater powers to act where housebuilding has stalled.

“The Government must also end national policies that undermine the local voice of councils and communities. This includes scrapping permitted development rights that allow developers to convert offices into homes without planning permission, which accounted for one in 10 new homes last year.

“Ultimately, the private sector will never build enough of the homes the country needs on its own. The Government must back the widespread calls, including from the Treasury Select Committee, for council borrowing and investment freedoms to spark a renaissance in house building by local government.” 

Tom Barton, associate in planning at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, said: "The draft NPPF released by the Government today continues with a number of themes set out in last year's housing white paper. As expected Westminster is turning up the pressure on local authorities to deliver units within their area and there are new rules as to how the number of new units needed should be determined.

“Action plans will be required by those authorities failing to meet their housing requirements with those falling significantly below seeing decision making being passed to Planning Inspectors with a strong presumption in favour of sustainable development being in place.”

Barton said there was “mixed news” for housebuilders. “The large ones will benefit from a track record of delivering units in scale when this becomes a material consideration in determining applications. Those involved in the planning system will question the proposal to allow shorter periods for implementation of consents given how the system continues to groan under substantial underinvestment and the issues around, amongst other things, discharging pre-commencement conditions."

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