NPPF – NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK

NPPF National Planning Policy Framework

INTRODUCTION TO THE NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK – NPPF

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), sets out how the government sees the planning system in England working in practice in accordance with primary and secondary legislation. The NPPF provisions are supported by further detail set out in national Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG).

NPPF / NPPG do not apply in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland as they have their own devolved planning systems.

First published as a single document in March 2012, the NPPF was issued to replace thousands of pages of policy and guidance previously contained within Planning Policy Guidance Notes (PPGs), Planning Policy Statements (PPSs) and Planning Circulars.

The NPPF was updated in 2018, 2019, 2021 and then in September and December of 2023.  The latest version of the NPPF was published with much fanfare on 19th December 2023, but was amended just a day later when it emerged that the published document contained an error on a key paragraph relating to neighbourhood plans.  The current version of the NPPF is therefore the 19th December 2023 version (as amended).  

Policies set out in the Framework are to be considered in the preparation of local and neighbourhood plans and are a material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

The Framework does not contain specific policies for nationally significant infrastructure projects which are covered instead by National Policy Statements for major infrastructure.

The Government made much of the fact that the NPPF streamlined national policy back in 2012, but the document has also been subject to criticism over its lack of clarity and detail in some areas which has led to litigation and extensive discussion at public inquiries and local plan examinations.

Local authorities had until March 2014 to review and update their Local Plans to bring them into line with the Framework’s policies.  Where this did not happen, existing local plans and policies in those areas were judged to be ‘out- of- date’ and given less weight than the policies of the NPPF in the determination of planning applications and appeals.  This is still the case today where out-of-date local plan policies are given reduced weight in the planning balance than current national policy and the 2023 changes emphasise the need for local authorities to have up to date local plans.

A significant consequence of this approach was an increase in the granting of planning permissions for housing developments in ‘greenfield’ locations since the NPPF’s inception in 2012, with an emphasis on the need for councils to boost the supply of housing, although it remains to be seen what effects the 2023 changes will have in this regard.  Many commentators, including the Home Builders Federation (HBF) believe that the changes will result in a significant slow down in new home permissions, despite a government target to build 300,000 new homes a year in England remaining in place.  

NPPF POLICIES

The policies in the NPPF have been written with the aim of achieving ‘sustainable development’, reflecting what is the main purpose of the planning system. 

NPPF high-level definition of sustainable development:

‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

Paragraph 8 of the Framework outlines that,

‘Achieving sustainable development means that the planning system has three overarching objectives, which are interdependent and need to be pursued in mutually supportive ways (so that opportunities can be taken to secure net gains across each of the different objectives):

a) an economic objective – to help build a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right types is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth, innovation and improved productivity; and by  identifying and coordinating the provision of infrastructure;

b) a social objective – to support strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by fostering a well-designed, beautiful and safe places, with accessible services and open spaces that
reflect current and future needs and support communities’ health, social and cultural well-being; and

c) an environmental objective – to protect and enhance our natural, built and historic environment; including making effective use of land, improving biodiversity, using natural resources prudently, minimising waste and pollution, and mitigating and adapting to climate change, including moving to a low carbon economy.’

“Plans and decisions should apply a presumption in favour of sustainable development.”

NPPF  paragraph 11

The NPPF chapter structure emphasises the importance of key policy topic areas in terms of how sustainable development is to be delivered:

  • Achieving sustainable development
  • Plan-making
  • Decision-making
  • Delivering a sufficient supply of homes
  • Building a strong, competitive economy
  • Ensuring the vitality of town centres
  • Promoting healthy and safe communities
  • Promoting sustainable transport
  • Supporting high quality communications
  • Making effective use of land
  • Achieving well-designed and beautiful places
  • Protecting Green Belt land
  • Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change
  • Conserving and enhancing the natural environment
  • Conserving and enhancing the historic environment
  • Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals

 

A PRESUMPTION IN FAVOUR OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

At the heart of the Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development (Paragraph 10). 
 
Paragraph 11 outlines that, 
 
‘Plans and decisions should apply a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
For plan-making this means that:
 
a) all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects;
 
b) strategic policies should, as a minimum, provide for objectively assessed needs for housing and other uses, as well as any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas, unless:
 
i. the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a strong reason for restricting the overall scale, type or distribution of development in the plan area; or
 
ii. any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.
 
For decision-taking this means:
 
c) approving development proposals that accord with an up-to-date development plan without delay; or
 
d) where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining the application are out-of-date, granting permission unless:
 
i. the application of policies in this Framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides a clear reason for refusing the development proposed; or
 
ii. any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.’

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