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 and again in 2021.  The most recent version was published on 20th July 2021.  

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  This is still the case today where out-of-date local plan policies are given reduced weight in the planning balance than current national policy.

A significant consequence of this approach has been an increase in the granting of planning permissions for housing developments in ‘greenfield’ locations since the NPPF’s inception, in keeping with the government’s intention to boost the supply of housing.

 

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 and safe built environment, 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 contribute to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; including making effective use of land, helping to improve 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 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) plans should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area, and be sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change;
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.’
 
 

PLANNING REFORMS – POSSIBLE PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE NPPF

The government updated the NPPF in July 2021, with changes made to implement findings of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission “Living with Beauty” report.  This added a focus on the use of design codes and consideration of beautiful design in the determination of planning applications and formulation of policy.
 
In September 2021, a cabinet reshuffle lead to Michael Gove MP being appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities which includes the portfolio for the English town planning system, replacing Robert Jenrick MP. 
 
Ministers have recently briefed that a comprehensive review of the Framework is to be undertaken alongside implementation of the government’s proposals for wider reform of the planning system.
 

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