A Revised National Planning Policy Framework: 10 Key Changes

21 July 2021

Yesterday, (20th July) the Government produced a new version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The MHCLG confirmed in a statement that the updated NPPF "will place greater emphasis on beauty, place-making, the environment, sustainable development and underlines the importance of local design codes". Key changes include the following;

1. Measures to improve design quality

Updated policies aim to improve the design of new developments, in response to the findings of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

These include:

  • Changes to the overarching social objective of the planning system (paragraph 8b) to include the fostering of “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”. The old version had required “a well-designed and safe built environment”.
  • A new paragraph 128 states that in order to “provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage”, all local planning authorities “should prepare design guides or codes.  This new demand is consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences. It says design codes can be produced as either part of a local plan or as a supplementary planning document. They can also be prepared at an area-wide, neighbourhood or site-specific scale – and can be prepared by landowners or developers for their own sites.
  • A new paragraph 133 is introduced which focusses on ‘beautiful’ development.  A test that development should be well-designed, confirming that development which “fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes” should be refused. 
  • Paragraph 133 continues to confirm that “significant weight” should be given to “development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes”. Significant weight should also be given to “outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area”, the new paragraph 133 says.

2. Inclusion of trees in new developments

A new paragraph 131 is introduced, stating that “planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments, that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible”. This paragraph continues to confirm that applicants and local planning authorities “should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places”.

3. Adjusting the presumption in favour of sustainable development for plan-makers.

The NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development for plan-makers (paragraph 11a) says that “all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.

4. Development plan policies for proposed large new settlements should have a 30-year timescale rather than the former 15.

Paragraph 22 states that strategic policies “should look ahead over a minimum 15 year period from adoption, to anticipate and respond to long-term requirements and opportunities, such as those arising from major improvements in infrastructure”. A new sentence adds: “Where larger scale developments such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns form part of the strategy for the area, policies should be set within a vision that looks further ahead (at least 30 years), to take into account the likely timescale for delivery.” 

5. New limits on the use of Article 4 directions to restrict PD rights 

A new paragraph (53) has been introduced stating that Article 4 directions, which remove PD rights in specific areas, where they relate to residential conversions, should only be used where it is “essential to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts”, for example the “loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability”. In “all cases”, Article 4 directions should be “based on robust evidence and apply to the smallest geographical area possible”.  The new wording confirms it is ‘very unlikely’ an Article 4 direction could now extend to a whole town centre.  

6. Councils should restrict the removal of statues.  

A new paragraph (198) states: “In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque, memorial or monument (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.”

7. Encouraging faster delivery of further education colleges, hospitals and prisons 

A new paragraph (96), states: “To ensure faster delivery of other public service infrastructure such as further education colleges, hospitals and criminal justice accommodation, local planning authorities should also work proactively and positively with promoters, delivery partners and statutory bodies to plan for required facilities and resolve key planning issues before applications are submitted.”

8. The United Nations climate change goals have been added.

Paragraph 7 in the section on “Achieving sustainable development” states that “the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”. It now adds: “At a similarly high level, members of the United Nations – including the United Kingdom – have agreed to pursue the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development in the period to 2030. These address social progress, economic well-being and environmental protection.”

9. Planning and Flood risk should be managed by development opportunity. 

The section on “planning and flood risk” now confirms that plans should manage any residual flood risk by using opportunities provided by new development and “improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management)”.

10. Tightened rules governing the acceptability of isolated homes in the countryside.

Paragraph 80 sets out the circumstances in which isolated homes in the countryside can be acceptable. Previously, it said such homes would be acceptable if the design was “truly outstanding or innovative” – now the word “innovative” has been removed.

Should you have any queries regarding the implications of these changes upon the development potential of your site or holding, please do not hesitate to contact us.  

Anne Pawsey