Planning simplified

We’ve all heard about the recent NPPF,which was published just a few weeks ago and came in to play immediately. Theupdated version from the original draft was also largely welcomed across a widerange of sectors. The main argument for the changes were for planning to becomemore streamlined; the removal of multiple documents in the form of PlanningPolicy Statements and Planning Policy Guidance in to one single document ofjust 50 pages.

What does this mean though for housing andspecifically housing in London? Well yesterday I went along to the good people at the NLA for anevent on these changes titled ‘NPPF: Planningfor growth‘ to try and find out. Guest speakers ranged from government departments and representatives from local authorities (Westminster, Camden, Enfield), along with developers (Berkeley, Derwent) and consultants/architects (AECOM, DPP, GL Hearn, Drivers Jonas Deloitte, bptw, Berwin Leighton Paisner) as well as CABE and English Heritage.

The event kicked off with a keynote address fromSteve Quartermain; Chief Planner at the DCLG who spoke at length on what hasprobably been the most contentious aspect, that of the ‘presumption in favourof sustainable development’. He stated that the ‘presumption’, “ispositive and designed to make things happen” but also stressed point 14,which states permission will be granted, ‘unless any adverse impacts of doingso would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’, not a charter then to concrete over the countryside…

Another point mentioned throughout the day was thatthe NPPF is designed to bring about a ‘change in mindset’, with localcommunities deciding on how they want their areas to develop. The 2011 LocalismAct designed with bottom-up principles at its heart, is also the main themewithin the NPPF. Quartermain stated it is ‘essentially about working to aplan’. It is now in the communities’ hands to set their local plans and to workto them. ‘Local plans are the cornerstone of the system’.

Bob Robinson of DPP highlighted that 25 out of the33 London boroughs had Core Strategy’s in place and being worked to (localplans). Two however are still working to pre-2004 UDPs. Other councils acrossthe country are still using plans from 1997 apparently. When asked aboutgovernment targets for house building Quartermain stated that there wasn’t any. It’s not as if previous targets had in any way worked anyway is it? It’sup to local planning authorities to set their own targets within local plans. What sustainable development means is also for eachLPA to decide, which makes sense. Every area or community is different to thenext. 

Another point which features in the 50 page document is viability. Whatdoes this mean? Well it means less affordable housing probably. Point 173states that requirements such as affordable housing should be taken into accountof the normal cost of development to ‘provide competitive returns to a willingland owner and willing developer to enable the development to be deliverable’. Speakers on the day mentioned the inflexibility of CIL being another argument for developers to build less affordable housing.

Essentially however, what I took most from the event is that the NPPF will have a limited impactupon London. Most LDAs already have pro-growth local plans in place. The new National Planning Policy Framework is a material consideration to their own local plans, designed to put greater pressure on councils to keep them up-to-date.All of this however remains just words. The new NPPF has been designed to bringmore clarity over the long-term which most agree probably will. However in theshort-term don’t be surprised if things slow up with more decision making doneby appeal. Developers will test the boundaries of what the new policies meanand how they are to be interpreted. These decisions are then likely to setprecedents.

Just this Tuesday in fact, Councillors inBermondsey refused a payday loan scheme recommended for approval by planners,with the interpretation of the NPPF apparently at the centreof the 1-hour discussion. Cllr Mark Gettleson declared:”Someone has to test the NPPF and it might as well be us.” (


About Paul Wellman

Follow Paul for commentary and updates on the London Residential Market on twitter here @PaulWellman_EG

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