NPPF: A plan for all seasons?

The Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework received a broad welcome when it was published over the summer, but there were plenty of critical caveats as far as the industry was concerned

THE inclusion of social housing within the definition of affordable types proved to be a welcome feature of the Government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), but even so, it was felt the measure didn’t go quite far enough.

Both the National Housing Federation (NHF) and the Local Government Association (LGA) had words to say on the matter. The latter organisation said the distinction between ‘social’ and ‘affordable’ should have been made clearer, since ‘affordable’ can have a tendency to be anything but. The NHF had its caveats too.

“It is positive to see social rent retained in the definition of affordable housing – as called for by the LGA – although this definition should be clearer in separating social rent from ‘affordable’ rent, which is often not accessible for people on lower incomes,” said Lord Gary Porter, the LGA’s chair.

James Prestwich, the NHF’s head of policy, said: “We are glad to see that the Government has reintroduced social rented homes to its definition of affordable housing, We, along with many other organisations, called for this small but important step, which will certainly help to deliver more social housing, providing homes for thousands of people in need across the country.

“We know that we need to be building at least 90,000 social rented homes every year to meet demand, following eight years of sharp Government cuts. We welcome concrete proposals from the Government that help to redress this long-standing underinvestment.

“However, the Government also describes other types of housing as ‘affordable’, such as starter homes. But these are unlikely to be of any help to struggling renters or homeless families. The Government needs to focus its support and investment in social housing – this is where it is needed most.”

The publication of the revised NPPF in late July followed a public consultation held earlier in the year. The theme of the new rulebook is the building of “attractive and better designed homes in areas where they are needed”, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. It’s claimed the new rules will make it easier for councils to “challenge poor quality and unattractive development” and give local communities a greater say in how developments should look and feel.

“Fundamental to building the homes our country needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future,” said secretary of state for communities, James Brokenshire MP. “This revised planning framework sets out our vision of a planning system that delivers the homes we need. I am clear that quantity must never compromise quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules.”

The document’s key focus is on: Promoting high quality design of new homes and places; stronger protection for the environment; making sure the right number of homes are built in the right places; and greater responsibility and accountability for housing delivery from councils and developers.

Quite how it measures up to these points in practice is another matter, but it’s received a broad welcome from industry bodies. Trafford Housing Trust (THT), for instance, said it was a “strong supporter” of the new housing delivery test for local authorities.

“This policy is vital to ensure there is greater focus in areas such as the North West, where there is significant demand for homes. At the same time, the Government must work with local authorities to ensure targets are achievable,” said Larry Gold, the organisation’s deputy chief executive.

“We are in favour of the renewed focus on the quality and design of new properties. Trafford Housing Trust’s private developer arm, Laurus Homes, partners with leading architects and places a strong emphasis on engaging with local community groups so we understand what local communities want and need in terms of infrastructure, green spaces and local services. Housing developers need to create places, not just new homes.

“While we agree that housing developers need to exhaust brownfield sites and existing areas in need of regeneration, the chronic housing shortage will inevitably mean that local authorities need to consider building on green belt sites to ensure the pace and scale of development we need.

“At pre-application stage, the Government has explicitly called on housebuilders and local authorities to consider the need for additional affordable housing. We do not think a target of 10% of homes being ‘affordable’ is sufficient; we believe that more lower cost homes are required if we’re to tackle the exclusion from housing markets up and down the country. We are currently making between 30% and 50% of new homes affordable on our schemes so that we benefit local communities.

“We welcome the Government’s decision to include ‘social rent’ within the definition of affordable housing. We now need to ensure that developers are able to build more social rented homes.”

In further assessment of the NPPF, the LGA’s Lord Porter added: “It is also encouraging to see moves towards greater transparency in the planning system, and measures that try to resolve the challenges in negotiating the number of affordable homes through the viability process. However, the new proposals fail to give councils the powers they need to ensure homes with planning permission are built out quickly, with the necessary infrastructure, in their local communities.

“It is hugely disappointing that the Government has not listened to our concerns about nationally set housing targets, and will introduce a delivery test that punishes communities for homes not built by private developers. Councils work hard with communities to get support for good quality housing development locally, and there is a risk these reforms will lead to locally agreed plans being bypassed by national targets.

“Planning is not a barrier to housebuilding, and councils are approving nine out of 10 applications. To boost the supply of homes and affordability, it is vital to give councils powers to ensure homes with permission are build, enable councils to borrow to build, keep 100% of right to buy receipts and set discounts locally.”

John Acres, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: “It is good to see that we have helped Government come up with a more implementable small sites policy based on feedback from our members who recognise the need for a greater variety of sites to come forward through the planning system.

“But we must recognise the significant pressure the new NPPF requirements will put on local authority planning teams. It is imperative that chief executives, council leaders and politicians resource planning departments sufficiently, particularly as they will now be held more accountable for delivery under the housing delivery test and are expected to carry out more regular reviews of their plans.

“Our members will be vital to making the most of the new measures in the NPPF to encourage joint plan making and help different parts of the country rise to the immense economic, social and environmental challenges ahead. The NPPF should support them in their professional ambition to make great places for the benefit of the public, and we look forward to seeing their ambitions realised under the new framework.”

From the small builders’ perspective, however, the National Federation of Builders (NFB) was somewhat disappointed. The organisation’s chief executive, Richard Beresford, said: “The Government has proven to be much less ambitious than it had originally aspired to. Cutting the small sites requirement to 10% is a clear sign that the revised NPPF is not radical thinking but ponderous progress.

“Despite some positives, 99% of the construction industry has been overlooked. The Government has missed a golden opportunity to put this country on the road to addressing its housing crisis and solving the broken housing market.”

NH

This article first appeared in Northern Housing magazine #2 October 2018

 

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