New NPPF: The Opposite of Planning
It’s perplexing that the government can appear to be listening, to have understood a problem, and then devise a pointless or counter-productive solution. With the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (let’s call it NPPF2) they’ve gone and done it again.
Cast your minds back a couple of years to the Housing White Paper, which was titled ‘Fixing the Broken Housing Market’. This appeared to recognise, at long last, that it wasn’t possible to tackle the housing shortage simply by relaxing the planning system, and that there was a problem of landbanking and many thousands of unbuilt planning permissions. This was followed with a consultation on planning reforms, under the banner ‘Right Homes, Right Places’, which sought to address the problem of developers using convoluted arguments of financial viability to wriggle out of providing affordable homes. Crucially, this was accompanied by a proposed new standardised method for calculating housing need, which it was hoped would avoid protracted arguments about number-crunching.
It seemed that things were looking up, although the effect of the new housing need calculations had very different impacts in different places. For most of West Yorkshire, except Kirklees, the new method seemed to produce more realistic numbers.
NPPF2 adopts the new housing need calculations, and also requires viability assessments to be more transparent. These changes are welcome. But – and it’s a big BUT – it also introduces ‘housing delivery tests’ which mean that, if houses aren’t built at the rate the Local Plan envisaged, the blame is placed squarely with the local authority, and the Local Plan is deemed to be out of date. This appears to leave councils with two choices: either make as cheap and easy as possible for developers to get their own way on sites, or spend years fighting appeals. In other words, there’s no real change, and there’s no onus on developers to build out their existing permissions more quickly. It’s the opposite of planning.
CPRE argues that local authorities should be entitled to rely on the information developers give about build-out rates during the Local Plan process, and if housing is built more slowly for any reason outside a council’s control, the council shouldn’t be penalised. We can only hope that it galvanises local authorities into setting more realistic targets that they have a better chance of fulfilling; but more years of messy planning and aggressive speculators lie ahead.