The new planning rulebook

The new planning rulebook

David Bainbridge, Partner Bidwells, provides an assessment of the new National Planning Policy Framework. 

Published on the 24 July, the new National Planning Policy Framework was released just ahead of the summer recess of Parliament as promised by Ministers.

Described as the Government’s new planning rulebook, the policy framework for England is not ground-breaking being relatively unchanged from the consultation draft earlier in the year.

The policy framework is a material consideration for planning decisions from publication whereas local plans can be assessed under the old framework if submitted for examination on or before 24 January 2019.

There has been a rush to submit plans for examination which is exactly what the Government wanted in view of its objective to increase the coverage of up to date local plans. 

Ministers have regularly stated their ambition to achieve delivery of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, which should be seen in the context of delivery of 217,000 new homes last year.

Missing pieces

Unfortunately, a few pieces of the planning jigsaw puzzle remain missing.  The standard methodology for assessment of housing requirements has yet to be published and further planning practice guidance is due.

There is evidence the Government has listened to and acted on some responses to the consultation version.

The broader definition of affordable housing and stricter definition of what housing sites are deliverable for the purposes of calculating housing land supply are positive changes retained from the draft.

The planning practice guidance which accompanies the policy framework has been updated on development viability maintaining an approach of residual appraisal and for a benchmark land value to be established based on existing use value plus a premium.

The guidance states that the returns to developers are assumed to be 15% to 20% of gross development value although a lower figure may be more appropriate. 

It is concerning that this seemingly arbitrary restriction is being sought through guidance and that some planning decision makers will aim for the lower of the range to the detriment of delivery of land for residential development.

In the announcement of its half year results by Taylor Wimpey Plc, published at the end of July, areas presenting the greatest uncertainty to the housing industry and the Group include the future of the Government’s Help to Buy scheme post-2021 and changes to the viability assessment in planning.

It is difficult to square the circle where financial objectives are to achieve developer returns greater than the Government’s guidance on development viability assessment.

The Home Builders Federation has commented on its concerns about over-zealous local planning authorities making heroic assumptions about the premium over existing use value that landowners would accept and the amount of return to developers that would be considered appropriate by investors.

The Government has reinforced its objective to diversity the housing market by retaining the requirement in the new policy framework for local planning authorities to identify land to accommodate at least 10% of their housing requirements on sites no larger than one hectare unless they have strong reasons not to. This has already resulted in some authorities seeking details on smaller sites which could benefit smaller developers and landowners.

New interpretations and unforeseen implications will come forward because of the new planning rulebook, but the real test will be the pace and scale of delivery of new housing. 

David Bainbridge, MRTPI, Partner, Planning at Bidwells, has 20 years’ planning experience. He has successfully delivered planning permission and land allocations for residential, industrial, leisure and mixed-use developments. David is a former Chair of the East Midlands Royal Town Planning Institute, having qualified in 1999.

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