Amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework
In February 2021 the government carried out a consultation on proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework ("the NPPF") and an updated version of the NPPF was accordingly published on 20 July 2021.
The government convened the 'Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission' in 2018 with the aim of championing beauty in the built environment as part of an aim to build homes that communities need. In accordance with the recommendations from the Commission, the NPPF has been amended to ensure that residents and planners will find it easier to embrace beautiful, practical design while rejecting design of ugly, unsustainable or poor quality.
In order to provide clarity about design expectations the NPPF now states that local planning authorities should prepare design guides or codes consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, which reflect local character and design preferences. With the purpose of carrying weight in decision-making, design guides should be produced either as part of a plan or as supplementary planning documents. All guides and codes should be based on effective community engagements and reflect local aspirations for the development of their area. Significant weight should be given to development which reflects local design guides and government guidance and outstanding or innovative designs which promotes high levels of sustainability. This will mean good quality design will be paramount, with local communities at the centre of decision-making in order to help shape their towns and cities.
The changes to the NPPF include an environmental commitment that all new streets are lined with trees. In addition, it is stated that planning policies and decisions should ensure 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. The government recognise that trees make an important contribution to the character and quality of urban environments, and can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The NPPF has been updated to increase emphasis on flood risk assessment, biodiversity and air quality, in respect of climate change resilience and impacts on health. The guidance on plan-making within the NPPF has been updated to specify that plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seek to, amongst other matters, improve the environment and mitigate climate change. An amendment has been made to the NPPF to include a requirement for biodiversity improvements to be provided in and around development; rather than simply making it optional as was in the case in the previous version of the NPPF.
In respect of flood risk, the NPPF now advises that local plans should manage 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. If it is not possible for development to be located in zones with a lower risk of flooding, an application for the development should be considered having regard to the vulnerability of the site and development proposed. A new 'Floor Risk Vulnerability Classification' has been added to the NPPF that categorises those types of development particularly vulnerable to flood risk.
The amendments do not extensively change the NPPF and nor do they amend guidance to accord with the wider planning changes proposed in the White Paper 'Planning for the Future' published in August 2020. Nevertheless, the revisions to the guidance should be welcomed as they place greater importance on quality and design and it can hoped that this will improve the quality of developments moving forward. It will be interesting to observe if a greater number of planning applications are refused on design grounds in the coming months having regard to the updated guidance. The amended guidance also strengthens the wider environmental mitigation controls in the planning system, which is particularly significant on account of the challenges posed from climate change.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.