The revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has finally been published with a series of changes to the original draft which was issued in early March. Headline changes within the document are based around good quality design of new homes and housing delivery, with additional support for rural housing.

James Brokenshire, Housing Secretary, has placed greater emphasis within the final version on high quality design which will give councils greater powers to refuse applications of poor quality or unattractive developments. As good design has now been raised as a significant requirement, it will be interesting to see how this will work in practice with higher density schemes. The NPPF is promoting greater community engagement in the look of new schemes in the hope to better integrate new homes within existing settlements, however there will need to be measures taken to avoid design by committee and innovative developments being stifled. The plan is that this will bring an end to faceless schemes and help create buildings which people actually want to live in and enjoy. When it comes to density, where there is an existing or anticipated shortage of land available to meet housing needs, planning policies and decisions can prevent high quantity development which could result in minimum standards needing to be put into place. This will be significant as whilst good quality design is important, the UK’s housing shortage is such that councils need to ensure that needs are met within their given communities.

It is disappointing that the NPPF small sites allowance has been changed from 20 per cent to 10 per cent of identified sites, albeit the size of the site has been increased to one hectare. Previously the 20 per cent allowance allowed for multiple small sites coming forward for housing, which previously would have fallen outside the local plan allocations. As the size of sites has become larger, smaller edge of village developments, which have played an important part of the housing land supply, now risk falling by the wayside and this change will not help smaller housebuilders with delivery. However, this can be offset to a certain extent by the proposition for councils to work with developers to encourage the subdivision of large sites as this could lead to faster building on strategic schemes.  

Similarly, the allowance of sub-division of existing dwellings to increase housing supply in rural areas is also welcomed and it will be interesting to see how many new homes this will realistically deliver. Traditionally planning authorities have resisted such developments because they would be tantamount to the creation of a new house in the open countryside, however this will allow larger rural farm dwellings to be converted into multiple homes, bringing with it diversification options for farmers and landowners. In addition, rural planning rules have been relaxed for homes in the countryside for agricultural workers or ‘those taking majority control of a farm business.’ Whilst this may not sound earth-shattering, it would allow for the provision of homes for farm workers looking to retire, or for family members taking over the business to be able to make a case for a new farm dwelling. This is a sensible and pragmatic change which would be of benefit for many landowners at varying stages of their careers.  

Hopefully the plans for new Housing Delivery Test for all local authorities will help to ensure consistent delivery throughout the UK and as this moves forward, the requirements for Councils will become more important. The implications of this will become more significant over time and will place emphasis on authorities to not simply grant consents but actually seek deliverable schemes. In detail, this means that from November 2018 councils will be assessed against the numbers of homes that are built in their area, which will prevent councils setting unachievable housing figures in Local Plans. It will test and penalise councils under-delivering over a three-year period and will provide opportunities for building where a Local Planning Authority cannot demonstrate a deliverable five year housing supply. Despite all of these measures to increase the number of new homes across the UK, the Green Belt continues to be protected as does the open countryside.

Jon Jennings is a Director in Cheffins Planning Department and can be contacted on 01223 271985.