The end of 2023 saw publication of the latest Housing Delivery Test results and the updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In this viewpoint, Head of Planning (London & South) Mary-Jane O'Neill, takes a look at the details and identifies the local authorities across England that are failing on housing delivery.
Starting with the NPPF, which sounded like an early Christmas present for planners, reactions are likely to be mixed. Nevertheless, there are fewer changes to the NPPF compared with the consultation version of the document.
Local plans to influence housing land supply targets
A change to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ means that a planning authority will not now be required to continually demonstrate a five-year housing land supply annually if its adopted plan is less than five years old, and the adopted plan identified at least a five-year supply of specific and deliverable sites at the time of adoption.
A four-year housing land supply target will apply for authorities with a local plan in progress i.e. the plan has reached Regulation 18 or Regulation 19 stages, including both a policies map and proposed allocations towards meeting housing need. Additional detail on five-year housing land supply calculations is expected, most likely via updated planning practice guidance, which has not yet been released.
The truncated four-year period may make it harder to justify development through a lack of housing supply in terms of demonstrating a tilted balance. The provisions also place greater onus on developers to submit five-year housing land supply (and housing needs) evidence base work sooner in the local plan review process. We note, however, that some local plans prepared under older versions of the NPPF and adopted in the last five years may not be able to demonstrate that their housing land supply was ‘deliverable’ at the point of adoption, which may present an opportunity for additional development.
Furthermore, neighbourhood plans now have increased importance and receive greater protection against the tilted balance being applied for a period of five years (rather than two) from adoption, and where these allocate sites to meet a housing requirement.
Greater clarity needed on urban uplift
There is increased mention of using the standard method to calculate housing need, as it is named an advisory starting point for establishing a housing requirement. This potentially provides greater scope for authorities to depart from this position and allocate less new land for housing. It nevertheless incorporates an uplift that applies to certain cities and urban centres, and should be accommodated within those cities and urban centres themselves. There is, however, no explanation that justifies this uplift, and subsequent densification may be hard to achieve in some areas.
The updated NPPF makes clear that the urban uplift should be accommodated within those cities and urban centres concerned rather than exported to surrounding areas, except where there is a voluntary cross-boundary agreement to do so, or where this would conflict with other policies in the NPPF.
In addition, the NPPF now includes specific references to assessing needs for retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes, which is often a rented product, and could mean there is a need for more explicit local planning policy support in future. Evidence bases may also need to be updated in this regard.
Helpfully, the NPPF has not adopted the proposal that past over-delivery will be a reason not to meet need. This is due to needing to also consider ‘under-delivery’, and the risk of double counting homes via the standard method.
61 local authorities failing to meet housing delivery targets
The consequences of failing to meet housing delivery targets are continued, with penalties still including an action plan, a 20% buffer added to the five-year housing land supply, and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The 2022 Housing Delivery Test (HDT) results will need analysis for all residential development projects. However, authorities that are not required to continually demonstrate a five-year housing land supply should disregard the 20% buffer requirement.
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A total of 61 authorities now fall within the presumption category, compared with 51 in the previous year. This includes 19 new ‘presumption’ authorities. There is a clear London/South East emphasis in terms of the local authorities identified although not exclusively as set out in the table below. Nine authorities have also moved out of the presumption category including Brentwood, Bristol City Council, Medway and Warrington.
|Local Planning Authority (LPA)
|% housing delivered
|Kingston upon Thames
|Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation
Table 1: New authorities with the presumption penalty
Guidance around the green belt remains largely unchanged
It continues to be the case that green belt boundaries can be reviewed or changed when plans are being prepared or updated in “exceptional circumstances”. Authorities may choose to review and alter green belt boundaries where these circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, which should be made only through the plan-making process. Previous changes proposed in the December 2022 NPPF consultation draft, that stated that “green-belt boundaries are not required to be altered if this is the only means of meeting the objectively assessed need for housing over the plan period” were not implemented, which is positive. It is unclear, however, how this will work with green belt authorities, with high levels of unmet housing need.
Beauty and placemaking play an important role
The NPPF goes further to strengthen the role of beauty and placemaking in the planning system by expressly using the word ‘beautiful’ in relation to ‘well-designed places’. Numerous references to beauty and beautiful are now incorporated throughout the document, with Chapter 12 being retitled ‘Achieving well-designed and beautiful places’. The primary means of achieving this will be through local design codes, in accordance with the National Model Design Code.
In addition, significant weight should now be given to the need to support energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to existing buildings, which is a very welcome update.
The changes made to the NPPF that seek to deliver increased certainty by encouraging more authorities to have an up-to-date local plan in place, is welcome. Where plans are emerging, however, there will be a greater need to prepare or submit five-year housing land supply and housing needs evidence base work at the outset (Regulation 18 or 19 stage) and before plans are adopted. There is also likely to be increased scrutiny and importance for demonstrating the five-year housing land position at the local plan examination.
However, it remains to be seen if the newly adopted plans considering some of the new NPPF provisions, particularly in green belt authorities, will deliver a sound basis for meeting housing needs and encouraging economic growth.
As is often the case with any new policy guidance there will be a period of settling down while both applicants and local planning authorities seek to ascertain the likely impacts and potential strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We are continuing to monitor these and will provide further updates in due course. For any queries in the meantime, please do get in touch.
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