The revised NPPF: summary & early comments

The shiny new NPPF is here. Except, it’s not really that new at all. We have become very familiar over the course of the last year with how the government wishes to introduce ‘beauty’ into the planning process. This of course follows the recommendations of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission. 

So, fear not, the revised NPPF is not a wholescale revision and it largely updates wording. But subject to decision making following the Planning For The Future White Paper, large scale changes may be on the horizon.

The word “beautiful” gets five mentions, five more than previously because this is the first time the word is included. MHCLG states that this should be read as an ambition rather than a policy test, perhaps in recognition of its ambiguity and subjectivity. What constitutes beautiful? You might ask; well, the revised NPPF is accompanied by a National Model Design Code (NMDC) – more bedtime reading. This provides guidance on the production of design codes, guides and policies; a development that is not well designed will be refused, as per paragraph 134. 

It is intended that the NMDC will filter through into these documents, with decisions, therefore, being specific to each local planning authority or indeed at a site-specific or neighbourhood scale, as Neighbourhood Planning groups will be able to produce design codes too.  

During the consultation on the revised NPPF, it was raised that some of the policies may have an impact on plan-making. In response, MHCLG have set up a transitional arrangement, set out in Appendix 1. This means that existing policies will not be considered out-of-date just because they were adopted (or made) prior to the publication of the Framework. Paragraph 22 also states that large scale developments (allocations) such as new settlements or urban extensions should now look ahead to at least 30 years, due to the significant time it takes to deliver them. But emerging plans which have reached the Pre-Submission stage (Reg 19), will not have to follow this new requirement. 

The use of Article 4 directions to remove permitted development rights will also change. Largely, I presume, stemming from concerns that authorities might implement them across entire town centres to prevent the conversion of Class E use to residential use. Article 4 directions will need to be limited to the smallest geographic area possible, and the Framework makes it clear that this would be unlikely to extend to a whole town centre. 

MHCLG also highlight the importance of trees and introduce a requirement for streets to be tree-lined. Footnote 50 does provide an exemption, where in specific cases there are clear, justifiable and compelling reasons why the provision of street lined trees would be inappropriate. 

It has also been clarified that development within the setting of designated areas should be sensitively located and designed to avoid or minimise adverse impacts; it will be interesting to understand exactly how the setting of designated areas will be defined.  

So whilst most of the changes are subtle, the introduction of the NMDC is a clear indicator of the government’s drive towards ‘beauty’ and improved design. But with this comes extra work for local authorities, who are now required to liaise with other key statutory bodies at the pre-application stage. 

The consultation response document recognises concerns about resources, but only hints at exploring changes that might help in this regard, such as, you guessed it, ever-increasing planning submission fees. But for now, this step change is likely to bring additional pressures, with no additional support, on already stretched local planning authorities. 

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