A brave new (planning) world?

The Ministry of Housing has revised the NPPF and it’s heartening to see that a deal of time and effort has been devoted to small builders and developers, whose needs have been somewhat addressed through the helpful revision of ‘small sites’ to ‘small and medium sites’ status.

This has to be seen as a welcome move, undoubtedly contributing in no small measure to paving the way to delivering the quality houses – and homes – this country desperately needs, through a planning system that (finally) seems to be edging towards one that’s fit-for-purpose.

Under the revisions, councils will be forced to identify ‘at least 10% of their housing requirement on sites no larger than one hectare’ – it was previously stated that 20% of sites identified for housing should be half a hectare or less. It’s also encouraging to see that neighbourhood planning groups will have a long-called for chance to ‘…consider the opportunities for allocating small and medium-sized sites’ for local housing schemes.

Attempts to tackle the housing shortage can be seen moves by in the NPPF designed to tackle unaffordable house prices. New ways for councils to calculate the housing requirement of their local community (including retirement homes among other forms of housing) based on the affordability of existing homes for people on lower and medium incomes among other factors, will be seen by some as step in the right direction.

However, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which itself broadly welcomed a number of the revisions, has made it clear that the housing crisis will not be solved without direct and significant investment by government and local authorities in housing and strategic infrastructure.

You can’t help but feel that while it seems the government appears to have listened to key stakeholders and industry professionals about the importance of good design in new housing, the problems caused by those who overbid for land before procrastinating to avoid building affordable housing or providing the necessary infrastructure, cannot be ignored.

This is a source of delay, irritation and contributes to eroding the trust, which for so many is vital to securing community support for new housing. Compelling action is needed – and urgently – which targets delays in the planning system, including the overuse of planning preconditions that hinder development and asphyxiate design quality.

The Housing Delivery Test (effective from November 2018), will also compel councils to focus on increasing the number of houses in their area rather than simply looking at how many plans are in the pipeline – a subtle yet significant change. Also, ‘clearer guidance’ on infrastructure and affordable housing will be published, hopefully bringing greater clarity for both developers and councils.

Overall, the new-look NPPF is I believe a step in the right direction when it comes to tackling the chronic litany of housing issues the country faces. If there’s anything more to be said, it’s that I would have wanted to see more measures to address the widespread belief that planning in this country is a progressively systematic, impersonal process, stifled by budget reductions that restrict ambition, creativity and imagination at a local level.

Sam Dewar is a qualified planner. His firm, DPA Planning, based in Leeds, provides services and advice to enable clients to secure town planning needs and requirements. These include turnkey services, involvement part way through a planning application, and planning enforcement support. More at www.dpaplanning.co.uk