Concern that national planning policy changes made after compromise deal with Tory rebels will deepen housing crisis
Michael Gove has given the housing sector until March 2 to respond to a consultation over major revision of national planning policy, which delivers on the compromise deal agreed with backbench housing rebels before Christmas.
As promised by the housing secretary earlier in December, the consultation on reform of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), finally published on 22 December, spells out a raft of measures weakening the policy requirements for councils to have to plan for more homes.
These measures include dropping the requirement to review green belt land in order to deliver a local area’s housing need, dropping the duty to co-operate between authorities to deliver housing targets, and the setting out of a whole raft of other reasons why authorities might be able to justify not meeting the housing numbers produced by the government’s “standard method” formula.
In response a spokesperson for the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said the measures would fail to tackle the housing crisis, though the Royal Town Planning Institute welcomed the opportunity to end recent policy “uncertainty” and deliver a more “stable” system.
In addition to the measures listed above, the NPPF consultation proposed significantly weakening the application of the Housing Delivery Test, which currently incentivises councils to ensure homes are built in their area by applying penalties to those where delivery falls a long way below target. In addition, it proposes removing the requirement for councils with an up-to-date plan to demonstrate a five-year supply of land, and proposes putting in place a two-year transitional arrangement whereby councils with draft plans in the system also don’t have to demonstrate a five-year supply.
However, the document says it will keep in place the current “standard method” for assessing local housing need until at least 2024, when the next household projections data are published.
The consultation also proposes a series of measures in policy designed to help tackle the slow build out of schemes by developers, including making clear that past “irresponsible” behaviour by applicants can be taken into account in determining applications, as can slow proposed build out schedules.
Rules around Biodiversity Net Gain are to be tightened up, with plans to ban the use of artificial grass in new build schemes. The consultation also sets out some detail of the areas to be covered by controversial proposed National Development Management Policies, which are being legislated for in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. The plan for the policies has been described as centralising, with NDMPs due to have the power to trump local plan policies where there is a conflict.
The consultation said NDMPs will either cover existing topics covered by the NPPF; selective new additions to reflect new priorities, such as net zero; or selective “new additions” to close current “gaps” in national policy, citing examples such as carbon reduction in new development, allotments and housing in town centres.
A spokesperson for the TCPA, which has previously called for a fundamental duty to be inserted into the NPPF for the planning system to address climate change, said its initial view of the consultation was: “It is immediately clear that the consultation draft National Planning Policy Framework represents a missed opportunity to take action on climate change, health and well-being. The failure to confront the climate crisis is a disaster for many communities.”
The spokesperson added: “The lack of a strategic approach to housing delivery undermines any ambition to tackle the housing crisis.”
Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, said the reforms appeared to be a “missed opportunity” to “overhaul the system, increase resource for our local authorities and support growth”. He added: “We continue to be concerned that changes to housing targets will see less homes delivered and some areas of the country unable to meet their population growth.”
However, RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills welcomed the document. “We welcome the fact government appears to have understood uncertainty has been bad for the planning system and that a consultation like this for the public and our members is essential for a more stable system.”
Planning lawyer Simon Ricketts said the document was a package of reforms which appeared “likely to stick”. He said: “It’s a serious set of proposals which deserves a serious response.”
The consultation follows Michael Gove’s backroom deal with Conservative MPs after more than 50 signed up to a rebel amendment to the Levelling Up Bill calling for the scrapping of “mandatory” housing targets, with many others backing a raft of other proposed changes. Gove’s compromise with rebels led by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers allowed the bill to pass the House of Commons unscathed.
At the time of the deal, the Home Builders Federation warned the moves agreed to by Gove could result in a complete collapse in local authority plan-making as councils sought to take advantage of the potential to reduce their housing numbers.
The consultation includes a proposed draft text of the new NPPF, with responses to the consultation’s 58 questions to be returned by 11.45pm on March 2.