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29 January 2016

National Planning Policy Framework: significant amendments proposed

We review the government's proposed changes to the NPFF - consultation closes on 22 February 2016.

Planning applications must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. National planning policy, set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), is one such material consideration and must also be taken into account in the preparation of local and neighbourhood plans. The NPPF is therefore important to all those who engage with the planning system.

A consultation on the government's proposed changes to the NPPF was issued on 7 December 2015. It seeks views on the following:

Starter homes

The Housing and Planning Bill defines starter homes as new dwellings for first time buyers under 40, sold at a discount of 20% to market value and subject to a price cap (£450,000 in London and £250,000 outside London). Further restrictions introduced by the Secretary of State may apply. Local authorities will be under a statutory duty to promote the delivery of starter homes with a proportion to be delivered on all suitably sized housing developments.

The NPPF is proposed to be amended to:

  • clarify that unviable or underused employment land should be released for starter homes unless there is significant and compelling evidence (e.g. significant additional evidence of market demand) to justify why such land should be retained and to encourage starter homes on land previously in use for retail, leisure and non-residential institutional uses;
  • encourage starter homes within mixed use commercial developments and in rural areas (subject to a local connection test), to enable communities to identify opportunities for starter homes.

Broadening the definition of affordable housing

Currently the definition of "affordable housing" includes social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. This includes some low cost home ownership models, such as shared ownership and shared equity, provided they are subject to "in perpetuity" restrictions and the subsidy is recycled.

The government proposes to widen the definition to encompass a fuller range of affordable housing products so as not to "stifle" innovation, including discount market housing and innovative rent to buy models, which may not be secured in perpetuity or may not require recycling of subsidy. It will be a requirement for local authorities to plan for the housing needs of those who aspire to home ownership.

When negotiating section 106 agreements, the definition of affordable housing should be considered carefully. In light of the proposed changes and the uncertainty regarding availability of funding for registered providers, a wide definition of affordable housing may be beneficial.

Increasing the density of development around commuter hubs

The proposed changes would require local planning authorities to require higher density development around commuter hubs wherever feasible. No definition of high density is proposed but a commuter hub is defined as:

a)  a public transport interchange (rail, tube or tram) where people can  board or alight to continue their journey by other public transport (including buses), walking or cycling; and

b)  a place that has, or could have in the future, a frequent service (at least every 15 minutes during normal commuting hours) to that stop.

Supporting development

The government also proposes changes to:

  • give substantial weight to the benefits of using brownfield land for housing i.e. a presumption in favour of brownfield land;
  • strongly support all proposals for sustainable development on small sites of less than 10 units;
  • make local authorities subject to housing delivery tests (with unspecified action) in instances of sustained under-provision compared to the local plan.

These measures would support the Housing and Planning Bill which is currently working its way through Parliament and which proposes registers of brownfield land suitable for housing and a permission in principle process to facilitate development of small sites in particular.

The proposed changes are intended to further the government's continued house building and home ownership agenda. Consultation closes on 22 February 2016.

This article was written by Jemma Gregory. For more information please contact Jemma on +44 (0)20 7427 1023 or