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Proposed Reform to National Planning Policy

February 2023

On 22nd December 2022, the Government published its long awaited proposals for revising the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for public consultation. Interested parties are invited to provide feedback on the proposed reforms by 2nd March 2023. The Government will then consider the responses received before formally publishing an updated NPPF (most likely in Spring 2023).

The NPPF is the document that sets out the Government's planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied by local planning authorities (LPAs) in plan making and decision-taking.

The proposed reforms represent the largest shake up of the planning system since the introduction of the original NPPF in 2012.That document set a bold vision for boosting housing delivery and introduced the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’; a core principle that has underpinned the planning system for nearly 11-years. 

So what are the proposed changes and what effect will they have on the future of planning and development in England?

Key areas of change
  • Meeting housing needs
  • Local Plan making
  • Greater weight to Neighbourhood Plans
  • Watered down requirement to maintain 5YHLS
  • Application of the titled balance
  • Beautiful design
  • Combatting climate change

Meeting housing needs
The current NPPF includes a requirement for all LPAs to meet the objectively assessed housing needs of their respective areas. This should be calculated using the standard method unless exceptional circumstances prevent this from being achieved. Such needs should be met within the LPA area where possible, albeit there is also the option of meeting some need within adjoining LPA areas with their co-operation.

The proposed reforms still encourage LPAs to meet local needs, which should be calculated using the standard method. However, the wording now refers to local needs representing a ‘starting point’ and includes a number of situations whereby LPAs may opt to deliver below that level if they wish. These situations include where meeting housing needs would:-
  • require building at densities significantly out of character with the existing area; or
  • require a review of Green Belt boundaries; or
  • require the delivery of homes in adjoining authority areas.
Overall the proposed reforms could mean there is less pressure upon LPAs to meet their objectively assessed housing needs. 

Local plan making
In addition to changes to setting housing requirements (see 1 above) there are also significant changes to the way in which new Local Plans (LP) will be examined by Inspectors prior to adoption. In particular, there will no longer be a requirement for LPAs to justify their strategy for meeting objectively assessed needs.

This proposed change, when combined with the altered approach to setting housing requirements, could provide LPAs with much greater flexibility to set reduced growth targets without meaningful scrutiny.

Greater weight to neighbourhood plans
The current NPPF confirms that Neighbourhood Plan (NP) housing policies will be attributed full weight where they are less than two years old; where they include policies and allocations to meet the housing requirement; and where the LPA has at least a three year housing land supply.

The proposed reforms afford NP policies even greater protection. Policies will be given full weight as long as the NP is less than five years old and contains policies and allocations to meet its housing requirement.

This proposed change could reduce the scope for speculative development in areas covered by NPs.

Watering down of the requirement to maintain a five year housing land supply
The current NPPF includes a requirement for LPAs to maintain a rolling five year housing land supply (5YHLS), with an additional 5% buffer to ensure choice and competition in the market for land. That buffer increases to 20% in situations where there has been significant under delivery of housing over the previous three years. The reason for applying these buffers is to increase the likelihood of meeting housing needs.

Under the proposed changes there will no longer be a requirement for LPAs to demonstrate a 5YHLS as long as their LP is less than five years old. The requirements to apply 5% or 20% buffers is also removed entirely.

Where a LP is more than five years old the requirement to demonstrate a 5YHLS (without buffers) will apply, unless the LPA has reviewed its strategic housing policies and found they do not require updating. 

Given that new LPs and LP reviews will not require justification (see 2 above) it should be a relatively straight forward process for LPAs to maintain an up to date LP. As such this proposed change could effectively end the requirement for LPAs to maintain and demonstrate a 5YHLS. 

Limiting the situations where the tilted balance will apply
The current NPPF includes a provision commonly referred to as ‘the tilted balance’. In a nutshell, where relevant policies are out-of-date LPAs are required to grant planning permission for new development unless it runs contrary to specific policies in the NPPF or where any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. Situations where policies may be considered to be out-of-date include where an LPA is unable to demonstrate a 5YHLS or where the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) shows delivery below 75% of the LPA’s requirement over the last three years.

As described at 4 above, the proposed changes effectively remove the requirement for LPAs to maintain a 5YHLS. This therefore removes one of the scenarios whereby the tilted balance could come into play

In addition to this, a HDT result of below 75% will no longer trigger the tilted balance if the LPA can demonstrate permissions have been granted for homes in excess of 115% of its requirement over the last three years. 

Overall, the proposed reforms significantly reduce the situations whereby the tilted balance comes into play. This is likely to further reduce the scope for speculative development that is not in accordance with LP or NP policies.

The proposals seek to further emphasise the importance of ‘beautiful design’ and encourage LPAs to bring forward design codes for their area. There is also an expectation that densities on brownfield and other under-utilised urban sites should be optimised to make best use of them.

Further to existing support for upward extensions as a mechanism for delivering new homes, the proposals include a specific provision to encourage mansard roof extensions where their appearance harmonises with the original building.

Combating climate change
The proposals offer greater support for energy efficiency improvements through the adaptation of existing buildings. It also includes support for the repowering and maintenance of existing sources of renewable and low carbon energy.

The proposals also offer a degree of support for on-shore wind turbines, albeit only where they have community support or are granted through a Local Development Order, Neighbourhood Development Order or Community Right to Build Order. Although this is a more positive approach to on-shore wind than the current NPPF, the approach to such development remains restrictive.

Overall conclusions
It would appear that the core objective of the proposed reforms is to provide LPAs with the opportunity to reduce their aspirations for growth and to relax the scrutiny that is applied to new LPs, both during their preparation and throughout their lifetime. If these reforms are retained and incorporated into the updated NPPF then there is likely to be an increase in the number of LPs coming forward that do not aim to meet the objectively assessed needs of the local population and which set less ambitious aspirations for growth. 

The reduced emphasis on housing delivery, the more limited application of the ‘tilted balance’ and the strengthening of NPs could also see a significant reduction in the number of speculative housing applications coming forward on unallocated sites.

Get in touch
For bespoke advice in relation to the proposed NPPF reforms and their potential implications for your development interests, please contact Greenslade Taylor Hunt’s dedicated Development Land & Planning team, telephone 01823 334466 or

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