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NPPF levelling up – levelling the playing field or clear felling the Planning system?

Planning By Cathal O’Regan, Graduate Planning Consultant – 15 February 2023

London skyline at night.


Cathal O’Regan

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On 22nd December 2022, the Government published a consultation document on proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The proposed reforms of the NPPF can be viewed on a ‘tracked changes’ document report of a possible new NPPF. The consultation includes the proposals of reforms contained within the ‘tracked changes’ NPPF, and the proposed policy direction that will develop from the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB). The proposed reforms are a mix of potential, immediate and more far-reaching planning changes, with varying degrees of severity.

A selection of pivotal amendments and their far-reaching effects as summarised with their impacts on the ability of planners within practise and for clients will be explained.

  • The proposed reforms in the revised text of the NPPF aims to produce a ‘smoother’ planning system in England, enabling more critical housing to be provided but not at the risk of green belt. The amendment would give Legal Planning Authorities (LPA)s more strength to oppose inappropriate developments on green belt. However, this is expected to conflict with the Government’s commitment to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
  • Housing requirements are now proposed to be ‘advisory’ and considered as material considerations; this would not be applied against the titled balance. The ‘tilted balance’ policy increases permissions as it would favour approvals. However, the new proposed policy softens the housing ability of LPAs. A dilution of planning rather than a strengthening.
  • The proposed amendments will seek to address ‘slow build out’ rates. The increased monitoring of large sites and granted permission will do little beyond providing the existing circular conversations between LPA’s and developers; discussions of density versus allocation may continue to impede deliverability regardless of the new proposals.
  • The proposal to remove the requirement for LPAs with an up-to-date plan to continually demonstrate a deliverable five-year housing land supply may soften the consequences of not meeting needs and slow housing delivery.

The consultation has led some LPAs to pause their plan making, creating further uncertainty in the delivery of planning and developments. The proposed changes run a risk of not creating the necessary increase in housing delivery or give power to planning to make long-term effective decisions, but rather allow housing supply to remain questionable.

The world of planning is currently undergoing a sense of metamorphosis in several countries not just England. Scotland’s planning system is currently engaging with the adoption of the NPF4 with some tension as noted in Rick Finc’s blog, NPF4: not yet a panacea for the planning system in Scotland. Additionally, the Irish planning system is also undergoing proposed changes as the Draft Planning & Development Bill 2022 was recently published. It is due to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny and will be enacted in early 2023. The draft Bill proposes amendments to the overall Irish planning system, including:

  • An Bord Pleanála to be restructured and renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála, its decision-making and governance structures will be separated
  • Local Development Plans to change from a 6-year duration to a 10 year status
  • Local area plans to be replaced by specific area-based plans to meet needs
  • Urban Area Plans
  • Priority Area Plans
  • Joint Area Plans
  • Strategic Development Zones/Urban Development Zones

These amendments will cause drastic changes to the immediate and long-term planning system of Ireland. The planning systems across the UK and Ireland will soon be subjected to the long-term view of effective or ineffective reforms. The opportunities which arise from this transitionary period in planning across the UK & Ireland also create issues of ambiguity and confusion. Without the appropriate planning knowledge and expertise, development may be halted or unduly held-up in red tape.

The Planning and EIA team at Cundall are well placed to help you navigate your project through this new period of planning reform. Despite the significant changes being seen across the UK & Ireland, there are still opportunities for clients to ensure that developments reach their full potential. It is essential to get early advice on scheme concepts and development strategies.