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The new National Planning Policy Framework

January 2024

By Mark Richards, Planning Partner
On 19 December 2023 the Government finally published its new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It’s certainly been a long time coming, with a year having passed since the draft version was released for public consultation. You can read our previous blog on the consultation draft here.

Michael Gove (Secretary of State of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) also announced a number of other measures aimed at speeding up and improving the performance of the planning system, which we have summarised here.   

Main areas of change:

  • Requirement to maintain a Five Year (or Four Year) Housing Land Supply (5 YHLS / 4 YHLS).
  • Housing Delivery Test implications
  • Local Plan making and setting housing targets
  • Green Belt

Requirement to maintain a 5YHLS / 4YHLS 
In a significant change, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) that currently have an emerging Local Plan (with draft allocations and a policies map) at the Reg 18 Draft, Reg 19 Draft or Examination stages will only be required to demonstrate a 4 year housing land supply (4 YHLS) for a period of two years following publication of the NPPF (i.e. until 19 December 2025).

For new applications made after 19 December 2023, LPAs will no longer be required to demonstrate a 5 YHLS (or 4 YHLS if appropriate) where an adopted Local Plan is less than 5 years old and where the Plan identified at least a 5 year supply of deliverable sites at the point of adoption. In such situations the tilted balance will no longer be triggered, even if a 4/5 YHLS supply cannot be demonstrated.

For applications made prior to 19 December the requirement for LPAs to maintain a 4/5YHLS remains and the tilted balance will be triggered if the required supply cannot be demonstrated.

In situations where the LPA is required to demonstrate a 4/5YHLS, the requirement to include an additional 5% buffer has been removed (see below for more explanation on buffers).

The NPPF also gives greater protection against speculative development for those areas covered by Neighbourhood Plans adopted within the last 5 years (as opposed to 2 years in the previous NPPF) and containing policies and allocations to meet its housing requirement. In such cases, while the tilted balance may still apply, the NPPF makes it clear that conflict with the Neighbourhood Plan is likely to significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of development.

These changes have seemingly been introduced to incentivise LPAs and Neighbourhood Plan groups to progress and adopt new plans as quickly as possible. 

Housing Delivery Test:
The Housing Delivery Test (HDT) is retained as a tool for measuring the rate of housing delivery across LPA areas. In situations where delivery has fallen below the LPAs housing requirement over the previous three years they will be required to take the following actions:

  • Prepare an action plan where delivery falls below 95%
  • Add a 20% buffer to their 4/5YHLS requirement where delivery falls below 85%
  • Local Plan making and setting housing targets
  • Prepare an action plan and apply the tilted balance to applications for residential development where delivery falls below 75%

Local Plan making and setting housing targets 
The process of setting local housing targets must be informed by a local housing need assessment, conducted using what is commonly referred to as the ‘standard method’. However, as carried forward from the heavily criticised consultation draft, LPAs will not be obliged to adopt the outcome of the standard method as the housing target in a new Local Plan. Instead, it will provide an ‘advisory starting point’, which may be adjusted where exceptional circumstances apply.

The NPPF does not define what will be accepted as an ‘exceptional circumstance’. We can therefore expect significant debate on this issue at future Local Plan examinations. 

Although the ‘urban uplift’ has been applied since 2021, it is now specifically referenced in the new NPPF. The urban uplift is intended to act as a mechanism to increase the number of new homes delivered in the largest cities, which are considered the most sustainable places to live.

The consultation draft had proposed to remove the requirement for LPAs to justify their strategy for meeting objectively assessed needs in Local Plans. This proposal was widely criticised by planning professionals and the development industry due to concerns that LPAs may use the resulting lack of scrutiny to set unambitious growth targets that do not meet local needs. Fortunately the new NPPF does retain the requirement for Local Plan strategies to be fully justified, taking into account proportionate evidence and reasonable alternatives. This has been widely received as a positive outcome by the sector.

Green Belt
The new NPPF states that there is no requirement for Green Belt boundaries to be reviewed or changed when Local Plans are being prepared or updated. It only states that LPAs ‘may’ choose to review and alter Green Belt boundaries where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified. Michael Gove also made it clear in his Ministerial speech that LPAs now “have the comfort of knowing that they need not re-draw the Green Belt to meet housing numbers”. 
We can therefore expect to see many LPAs referencing Green Belt designations as providing an exceptional circumstance to justify setting lower housing targets (see above). This more conservative approach to the Green Belt will almost certainly undermine the Government’s intention for the largest urban areas (most of which are surrounded by Green Belts) to meet their housing needs, particularly in cities where the urban uplift is supposed to be applied (see above).

Overall the new NPPF clearly seeks to encourage LPAs to get on with the preparation of new Local Plans. There are significant incentives for doing so, with those LPAs with a Local Plan under 5 years old being granted immunity from having to demonstrate a 4/5YHLS.

Rather than judging LPAs on their future pipeline of deliverable sites, the new NPPF puts more focus on the HDT as a measure of past delivery. Where delivery rates have been too low LPAs will be required to put in place action plans, buffers and potentially even apply the tilted balance.

The new NPPF also makes it clear that calculated housing needs are merely advisory starting points and gives LPAs the flexibility to deviate from them where exceptional circumstances apply. We can expect significant debate on what qualifies as an exceptional circumstance, albeit the NPPF makes it clear that LPAs will not be required to amend Green Belt boundaries to accommodate housing growth.

Get in touch
For bespoke advice in relation to the new NPPF and its implications for your development interests, please contact Greenslade Taylor Hunt’s dedicated Development Land & Planning team.

Telephone: 01823 334466

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