NPPF 2021 – Changes from 2019 version

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06/08/2021 - Latest News

The National Planning Policy Framework which sets out the government’s planning policies for England has undergone regular changes in the intervening years, with the most recent update being published on the 20th of July 2021.

Whilst the document remains largely the same as the previous version (February 2019), the update contains several important changes. These include the addition of the United Nations climate change goals (paragraph 7) and changes to the overarching social objective of the planning system (paragraph 8b) to include the fostering of “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”. The focus around the term ‘beautiful’ is further expanded upon in the new Paragraph 133.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development has been adjusted with paragraph 11a now stating that “all plans should promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.

For new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns that forms part of a strategy for an area, plan policies should look further ahead (at least 30 years) to take into account the likely timescale for delivery (para 22). Paragraph (53) includes new limits on the use of Article 4 directions to restrict PD rights. Regarding isolated homes within the countryside, previously it was said such homes would be acceptable if the design was “truly outstanding or innovative” – now the word “innovative” has been removed (paragraph 80). Also. paragraph 96 now encourages faster delivery of further education colleges, hospitals and prisons.

Further, a new paragraph 128 states that in order to “provide maximum clarity about design expectations at an early stage”, all local planning authorities “should prepare design guides or codes.  This new demand is consistent with the principles set out in the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code, and which reflect local character and design preferences. There is also now an emphasis on using trees in new developments with paragraph 131 stating that “planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree-lined, that opportunities are taken to incorporate trees elsewhere in developments, that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly-planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible”. This paragraph continues to confirm that applicants and local planning authorities “should work with local highways officers and tree officers to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places”.

A new paragraph 133 is introduced which focusses on ‘beautiful’ development.  A test that development should be well-designed, confirming that development which “fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes” should be refused. Paragraph 133 continues to confirm that “significant weight” should be given to “development which reflects local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes”. Significant weight should also be given to “outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area”, the new paragraph 133 says.

The section on “planning and flood risk” now confirms that plans should manage any residual flood risk by using opportunities provided by new development and “improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management)”. Biodiversity improvements should also be integrated into design (paragraph 180) and where proposals affect heritage assets, new paragraph (198) states: “In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque, memorial or monument (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal.”

Do these changes pave the way for the proposed introduction of a fast track for planning applications that meet minimum design requirements and standards?