New NPPF 2018. What difference will it make to Neighbourhood Plans?

Simple answer is ‘not a lot’! At least in the short term. The main immediate impact is that there will be better protection for areas with ‘made’ neighbourhood plans but no up-to-date Local Plan. Para 14 of the new NPPF says that in such areas the adverse impact of allowing housing schemes that conflict with the neighbourhood plan is likely to “significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits” as long as the NDP was adopted less than two years ago and meet its housing requirement, and the LPA have at least a three-year housing land supply. The LPA’s housing delivery rate, under the new delivery test, must also be at least 45 per cent of the local requirement over the previous three years. This doesn’t impact on Cornwall as its Local Plan is quite recent, but there is quite a lot of Devon that could be helped by this approach.

The most helpful change is that the new NPPF says that LPAs should provide neighbourhood plan groups with a housing requirement figure (Paras 65 and 66). Local Plan strategic policies should “set out a housing requirement for designated neighbourhood areas” and once the strategic policies have been adopted, the figures should not need re-testing at the neighbourhood plan examination, unless there has been a significant change in circumstances that affects the requirement. However, don’t forget that Local Plan figures are a ‘baseline’ and an NDP’s own evidence might justify a bigger allocation. Where it is not possible to provide a requirement figure, the the new NPPF says local authority should provide an “indicative figure” if the neighbourhood planning body requests one.

There is also a useful definition of ‘major development’ as being ‘housing development where 10 or more homes will be provided, or the site has an area of 0.5 hectares or more. For non-residential development it means additional floorspace of 1,000m2 or more, or a site of 1 hectare or more’. The useful advice on Local Green Space is retained, slightly tweaked and given new paragraph numbers.

In the longer term the impact could be greater and perhaps more worrying. Paras 68 and 69 require that 10% of housing should be on sites no larger than 1 hectare, and encourages NDP groups to consider the opportunities for allocating small and medium-sized sites consistent with this suitable for housing in their area. Potentially this could lead to a closer relationship between LPAs and NDP groups as the higher authority seeks to encourage NDPs that help them deliver on this requirement.

Para 28 says that ‘Non-strategic policies should be used by local planning authorities and communities to set out more detailed policies for specific areas, neighbourhoods or types of development’. To be clear, by changing the emphasis from ‘may’ to ‘should’, LPAs are given the go ahead to be more involved in local detail.

Another area of concern is the encouragement in para 71 of ‘entry-level exception sites’, suitable for first time buyers (or those looking to rent their first home), on land not already allocated for housing. This could complicate the already fraught issue of exception sites, adding to community dis-satisfaction with policies which appear to function by encouraging unplanned developments in defiance of Neighbourhood Plan provisions.

Finally, we must await the impact on NDPs of the proposed new process for calculating housing requirements. The NPPF says that strategic policies should be informed by a local housing need assessment, conducted using the new standard method set out in the national planning guidance. The effects are largely unknown as yet, but several professional bodies have expressed concern about the impacts, with the LGA concerted that the system could generate new housing need numbers that are dramatically above the currently planned need in Local Plans and which may seem undeliverable.

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