Friday, 9 March 2018

NPPF review – what could it all mean?

The dust has just about settled on the NPPF review announcement. Maxim's Andrew Metcalf has taken time out to do a quick assessment of some of the key points for Kentcentric and reviewed some of the reviews, about the review, if that makes sense.

Despite Prime Minister Theresa May trying to evoke the spirit of Lord Nelson and saying she expected developers and house builders "to do their duty for Britain and build the homes our country needs", there are many in the industry who think the proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will actually put more pressure on local authorities than the developers.

In the run up to the announcement the rhetoric was all about developers landbanking and being the cause of the slow rates of housebuilding. However, the focus of much of the NPPF review appears to be more on measuring councils against delivery, without necessarily giving them the power to speed up the process when faced with developer delay, such as stronger compulsory purchase orders.

When interviewed in the Sunday Times ahead of the NPPF announcement Sajid Javid "Nimby councils" that refuse to build the homes Britain needs would be stripped of their right to decide where houses are constructed under a "revolution" in planning laws.

He also announced that councils would be given higher targets for homes to be built – under the new  Objectively Assessed Need formula – and if they failed, their planning powers would be removed and transferred to an independent inspector.

Housing delivery test

To try and boost the rate of delivery the Government announced the housing delivery test, aiming to assess actual home completions – based on official figures for net additional dwellings delivered over a three-year period – compared against the councils' objectively assessed housing needs.

Importantly, from 2020, if a council delivers less than 75 per cent of its housing requirement, a presumption in favour of sustainable development kicks in, with planning applications then judged against the NPPF, rather than the local plan.

Presumption in favour

There are also proposed changes to the current NPPF's definition of presumption in favour of sustainable development, which penalises councils lacking a five-year housing land supply. The review is looking to reduce the number of legal challenges on the issue. When it comes to decision-making, permission would be granted if there is no NPPF compliant Local Plan or if development policies are out of date, unless the site is defined as a protected asset.

Where a council cannot show a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, the presumption penalty applies, with the new wording again looking to reduce the prospect of legal action and maintaining the pressure on councils to boost the number of planning permissions they grant.

Commencement timetables

In an effort to speed up the process of getting developers on site after permission has been granted, the review is encouraging councils to impose shorter timescales for commencement. The draft NPPF proposes councils should consider imposing planning conditions requiring development to be under way within two years rather than the usual three. However, there's a caveat that will be music to developers' ears (and their lawyers) that this could only be done if it doesn't hinder viability or deliverability.

Developer contributions

In a separate consultation the government is also proposing a review of developer contributions in terms of S106 and CIL, with the suggestion that future contributions could be set nationally and made "non-negotiable".

This might be a challenge for the government, as land values vary enormously across the country, and would have to be set at a level for the least viable area – which obviously isn't the South East – with a one-size fits-all tariff unlikely to work or go unchallenged

The danger for the government is that with the tariffs set low, they may not secure the necessary level of developer contribution to deliver the infrastructure, whether it's road, schools, or community facilities, so undermining the prospect of sustainable communities.

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