How the changes to the NPPF could boost housing delivery

Q1 2018

The Prime Minister’s launch of the consultation into changes to the National Planning Policy Framework promises a bright future for housing delivery in England. We analyse the impact the proposed changes could have.

Derek Stebbing

Policy Planning Consultant, National Development & Planning

+44 1245 254636

The proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are designed to speed up housing delivery in England. We look at how the proposed changes may help developers and planning authorities deliver more affordable homes and the challenges of boosting development while protecting the Green Belt.

Speeding up housing delivery

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we need more housing, fast. Derek Stebbing, Policy Planning Consultant at Strutt and Parker, has this to say about the government’s package of measures. “What we’ve got is a clear direction of travel from the government. This is all about speeding up housing delivery and it’s high on their priority list.”

But when it comes to the practicality of delivering housing targets, there are often conflicting views. Planning authorities feel that developers sometimes hold back from going through with a build once permission has been granted, and developers say that there’s too much red tape slowing things down.

The government’s proposed changes tackle both sides of the issue:

  • Bringing forward more land for development. The newly relaunched, Home England, has new land buying powers and funding to deliver an average of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
  • Getting rid of log jams in the planning system. A review panel chaired by Sir Oliver Letwin is currently investigating the factors that delay build out of development proposals. The outcome is likely to be a move to reduce planning conditions and obligations, particularly those which have to be discharged before work can begin on site.
  • A new Housing Delivery Test. One of the most significant proposals is the introduction of a standard method of calculating housing need. A Housing Delivery Test would then measure each local authority’s performance in delivering new homes.

There were also hints that developers could be penalised for not developing land where permission has been granted when putting in new applications.

This carrot-and-stick approach aims to tackle the big issues that slow down development. But in many parts of the country, the affordability of new homes is just as much an issue as the number of homes being built.

Building more affordable homes

One of the proposed new measures is that at least 10 per cent of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership. But the reforms dig deeper than this to make sure the percentage of affordable housing agreed on at the planning stage is actually delivered.

Under the current planning system, a viability assessment is used to agree a realistic proportion of affordable housing for a scheme. But as large schemes can take several years to complete, changing market factors can lead to housebuilders revisiting their costs and their initial viability assessment. In most cases, this leads to a reduction in the delivery of affordable housing.

The NPPF revisions propose restricting the use of viability testing to developments which don’t comply with local plan policies, which would prevent housebuilders negotiating down the proportion of affordable housing at a later date. The government also suggest that viability assessments should be made publicly available, presumably so local communities can hold developers to account.

But with volatility in both the housing market and construction costs, developers and planning authorities could well face some tough choices. If delivery of affordable housing is the priority, this may come at the expense of other community benefits, such as local transport improvements.

Brownfield vs Green Belt

In her speech on housing, the Prime Minister stated that “answer to our housing crisis does not lie in tearing up the Green Belt”. Indeed, the proposed changes to the NPPF strengthen protection for the Green Belt, along with ancient woodlands and historic coastlines. Instead, there will be more flexibility around building in urban areas and brownfield sites, for example, redeveloping under-utilised retail or industrial space into homes and extending existing blocks of flats and houses upwards.

The Green Belt was put in place to prevent urban sprawl. But one of the effects of this is to move development out into the countryside, further from towns and cities, where there isn’t the same level of transport infrastructure.

Derek feels that a more pragmatic approach to building on certain Green Belt areas would help boost housing supply while making the best use of existing infrastructure. “Many planners feel that the planning reforms could have gone further. There has to be a more realistic view taken in a policy sense to Green Belt development.”

What’s coming up next?

The consultations on the changes to the NPPF and reforming developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure run until the 10th May, with a further announcement expected in the summer.

This is just one part of the measures government have announced to tackle the housing crisis. Funding is being brought forward through the Housing Infrastructure Fund and the Home Building Fund, and a social housing green paper is expected later this year. While the changes to the NPPF could have been more radical in some areas, the government’s commitment to boosting housing supply is clear.