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The key updates to the NPPF on housing delivery

The government published the highly-anticipated revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) just before the end of 2023, following the consultation in December 2022. In the run up to an election in a housing crisis, national policy on housing delivery is going to be hotly debated. On the one hand, the government is under pressure to increase the delivery of new homes (with a target of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s). On the other hand, it will have a keen eye to the views of its core voters.  Therefore, the delivery of housing in the UK involves navigating a political tightrope, balancing various interests and challenges. The revisions to the NPPF seek to incentivise local planning authorities (LPAs) to keep their local plans up to date, but give more scope for authorities to avoid speculative appeals and Green Belt reviews, leading to concern from some in the industry that the revisions will not support higher levels of housing delivery overall.

This article highlights a few of the key updates on housing delivery:

Housing Need:

Standard method – The government has introduced new wording to clarify that the outcome of the standard method should only be used as an ‘advisory starting point’ for establishing housing requirements (although the targets were never mandatory). In addition, the revised NPPF confirms examples of exceptional circumstances which justify an alternative approach to assessing housing needs including demographic characteristics for the particular area. 

Uplift – The standard method incorporates the 35% uplift which applies to those urban local authorities in the top 20 cities and urban centres detailed in national Planning Practice Guidance. The revised NPPF clarifies that the uplift should be accommodated within the administrative areas of those cities and urban centres except where there are voluntary cross boundary redistribution agreements or conflict with NPPF policies would arise.  

Retirement Housing – The government recognises the need for a diverse range of housing to meet the demands of an ageing population. As such when establishing housing need, the revised NPPF includes express reference to LPAs considering the needs of older people who require retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.

Housing Delivery: 

Small and medium size sites - The new NPPF emphasises the importance of small and medium sized sites in achieving the housing requirements of an area. Through policies and decisions, LPAs should seek opportunities to support small sites to come forward for community-led development for housing and self-build and custom build housing. 

Annual Updates of Specific Deliverable Sites

Annual updates – The revisions have removed the annual requirement to identify and update a supply of specific deliverable sites where the LPA have an adopted plan which is less than 5 years old which identified at least a 5-year supply of specific deliverable sites. The presumption in favour of sustainable development (on which a number of applications and appeals are founded) may therefore no longer apply in those circumstances.  In addition, the new NPPF allows those LPAs with emerging local plans (which have been submitted for examination or reached regulation 18 or regulation 19 stage) to identify and update annually a 4-year housing land supply as opposed to 5-years (with a 20% buffer as explained below). 

For those LPAs without an adopted plan less than 5 years old, the LPA may confirm the existence of a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites (with a 20% buffer if applicable) through an annual position statement. 

Supply of Sites / Build out rates – Prior to the recent updates, LPAs were required to include a buffer (5%, 10% or 20%) into their housing land supply. LPAs were also required to monitor build out rates by preparing an action plan where the housing delivery test fell below 95% of the LPA’s housing requirement over the previous three years. 

Under the new NPPF, the requirement for an action plan remains where delivery falls below 95%.  The 5% and 10% buffers have been removed. However, the 20% buffer remains where delivery falls below 85% of the housing requirement over the previous three years. 

Where delivery falls under 75% of the requirement over the previous three years, the presumption in favour of sustainable development will also apply. This housing delivery test will apply the day following the annual publication of the Housing Delivery Test results. Until such results are published, the previously published results will continue to be used.  

Green belt

Controversially, the new NPPF sets out that there is no requirement for Green Belt boundaries to be updated when plans are being prepared or updated for example in order to meet housing need. However, an LPA can choose to do so if it can demonstrate exceptional circumstances. For many of those areas which are constrained by Green Belt, it seems unlikely that housing need will be met.

Transitional arrangements for plan making

These policies will only apply, for the purpose of examining plans, to those plans which reach regulation 19 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 (presubmission) stage after 19 March 2024. Any plans which reach such stage on or before that date will be examined under previous versions of the framework.

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