New UK planning framework to create more homes and jobs in the building industry

The Property industry in the UK has welcomed changes to the country’s new National Planning Policy Framework published today (Tuesday 27 March) by planning minister Greg Clark.

He told the House of Commons that change had become necessary as the country’s planning system had sprawled into 44 separate documents resulting in the planning system becoming slower and fewer new homes being built in the last decade.

He also said that too much development had been mediocre, insensitive and detracted from the character of the local environment and he said that the new plan would not only create jobs and homes but leave the countryside, towns and cities in a better form for the next generation.

Concessions have been made since the document was first proposed, most notably a revised definition of sustainable development. The British Property Federation, the leading body representing landlords and commercial property developers, said the changes should ease the concerns of those who criticised the plan in draft form.

It believes that amendments to the framework, including the inclusion of a requirement for developers to build on brown field sites ahead of green field sites, and a more robust town centre first policy with office development allowed were needed.

The NPPF takes immediate effect and will mean that local authorities will have to produce a Local Plan. It is estimated that around half have not yet done so.

‘We believe the NPPF is now a more moderate and sensible document. The changes to the framework do not, however, alter its overall objective of supporting well planned sustainable growth within a streamlined, plan led system,’ said Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF.

‘Government has made some sensible concessions while still ensuring that local authorities must provide homes and jobs where they are needed. What’s needed now is clarity over how the NPPF is going to be implemented. Urgent questions remain over how local authorities should determine how many homes and jobs they need, and what the guidance that underpins the NPPF should be,’ she explained.

‘And those local authorities that have failed in the last eight years to draw up an up to date Local Plan must now get on and create one. Hopefully the transitional arrangements announced today will be the spur they need,’ she added.

From the announcement it is clear that  local authorities with a post-2004 local plan that is broadly in line with the NPPF will be able to use those policies for 12 months. For local authorities with no up to date plan, the NPPF will come in to force today.

Local Authorities with a good track record at allocating land for housing must earmark a five year supply plus 5%. Others must earmark a five year supply plus 20%.

The Royal Institution of Charted Surveyor said that it supports the government's vision of reforming the guidance to the planning system. ‘However, we would also like to see to government address the serious problems currently affecting the UK housing market, such as the lack of affordable mortgage and development finance. Reforming the planning system in isolation will not deliver the 100,000 extra homes required each year or the jobs needed to breathe life back into the UK's anaemic housing market,’ said Jeremy Blackburn, RICS head of UK policy.

‘However, the NPPF provides a robust framework alongside existing national policy statements and we are optimistic that sustainable development can be delivered. Carefully targeted professional guidance and detailed good practice notes will be central in supporting the process and this is a job for RICS and the other professions. The time has come to stop talking and start delivering the development and growth UK Plc so badly needs,’ he added.

John Adams, head of planning at Drivers Jonas Deloitte, said there are bound to be teething problems. ‘It is great to see a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, as part of a suite of policies designed to promote growth.  However, local authorities who have rightly pressed ahead with Local Plans as part of the Government’s localism agenda could find them inconsistent with the Framework,’ he explained.

‘Many councils have been arguing that there needs to be a transition period and that the NPPF will need to be brought in incrementally, to allow local authorities to amend their plans to make them NPPF proof. Others have argued that growth cannot be put on hold and the NPPF policies will need to come into immediate effect and with full force,’ he added.

Also different local authorities could still interpret the definition of sustainable development, according to Paul Smith, director of Apex Planning Consultants. ‘For years the planning process has had a reputation for being confusing, bureaucratic and slow but the arrival of the pared down Planning Policy Framework is no guarantee that things will get simpler. Once conflicting precedents are set, the waters will quickly be muddied,’ he said.

‘What is clear is this document does not give carte blanche to developers intent on building on green belt land. Opponents who raise the spectre of urban sprawl are being disingenuous at best and misleading at worst,’ he added.

Cluttons property consultants and chartered surveyors described the new plan as ‘a common sense approach. ‘The NPPF we now have is a concise, sensible and stable framework which will put pressure on councils to develop local plans which meet the social, economic and environmental demands in their areas. If developments are in the public interest, it is presumed they should be permitted,’ said Malcolm Chumbley, head of UK development agency at Cluttons.

‘We are very pleased the government’s common sense approach has prevailed and it has not succumbed to the fierce lobbying from other interest groups. It is now time to move on from the polarised debate and focus on bringing forward land for housing and for business which encourages economic growth,’ he added.

It is encouraging for the country’s severe housing shortage, according to Sue Foxley, head of research at Cluttons. ‘At the heart of this planning issue, we have a severe housing shortage which is crippling families across the UK. The new planning framework is finally addressing this in a constructive way. it has put people and communities needs at the forefront of the policy, paved the way for job creation and given the house building sector the boost it so badly needs,’ she explained.

And Chumbley also pointed out more could have been done to provide more housing, more quickly by allowing the very many empty commercial properties to be converted without the need for extra consents.

The plan is vital if the government is to meet its targets of 250,000 new homes a year, said Samantha Baden, property analyst at FindaProperty. ‘The new national planning policy framework may be unpopular, but it's vital if the government is to meet its targets of 250,000 new homes each year,’ she explained.

‘Whether or not a development goes ahead should be dependent upon demand and sustainability, not on the applicant’s ability to sift through paperwork and red tape, and the move to a default yes to planning permission should go some way towards this.

‘A housing shortage in many parts of the country, particularly around London, now means that rental accommodation, let alone getting onto the first step of the property ladder, is unaffordable. The shortage in London for instance, means that rental costs are four times those of Yorkshire, at well over £2,000 per month, pricing many people out of this market completely,’ she pointed out.

‘The new framework will inject growth into a struggling property market and help to bring down some of the many barriers facing buyers and renters face in the UK’s most sought after areas,’ she added.