The National Planning Policy Framework: how will a revised plan impact rural housing?

Following the government publication of a revised NPPF, CLA Planning Adviser Shannon Fuller explains everything that members need to know about the current framework
village houses- yorkshire

On 20 December 2023, the UK Government published a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which coincided with a speech from Michael Gove on the next stage in the government’s long-term plan for housing. The publication of the revised NPPF followed an earlier consultation, one that the CLA responded to and garnered 26,000 replies.

The consultation closed on 2 March 2023 and featured some significant proposals that would substantially change the way in which the planning system operates. Including:

  • Amendments to how local authorities calculate housing need;
  • Consideration of the past behaviour of applicants when making planning decisions;
  • Further protection of the green belt;
  • Greater protection for neighbourhood plans; and
  • Further protections for the best and most versatile land.

In our consultation response, we sought to highlight the importance of the five-year housing land supply (5YHLS) and essential need of the presumption in favour of sustainable development in order to ensure a robust supply of rural housing development through the planning system.

The government has proceeded with the proposal to remove the 5YHLS, but with some amendments. To be exempt from the 5YHLS, a local authority must now be able to demonstrate that they have had a local plan adopted in the last five years and have a supply of land for housing for at least a five-year period. Positively, the government has not proceeded with its proposal to remove the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The revised NPPF

The latest version of the NPPF was the second announcement of its kind in 2023. On 5 September, a revised NPPF was published, amending policies specifically relating to onshore wind development. This earlier publication represented one of the positive aspects of change for the NPPF and one that the CLA supported as it is essential to decarbonise the grid . We were hopeful that it could be a hint that future planning reform could include further wins for CLA members. For more information on the previous publication relating to on-shore wind, please read our blog here.

One of these wins focusses on heritage, with a new paragraph (numbered 164) included within the NPPF 2023. This new paragraph makes it clear that ‘significant weight’ should be given to planning decisions to decarbonisation works for domestic and non-domestic buildings, especially where there are no permitted development rights. This is a move in the right direction for listed buildings and is a positive outcome for a long-standing CLA ask.

As part of our consultation response in 2023, we aimed to make clear that agricultural land already has a sufficient protection in planning policy. This is by various means, including the protection of the best and most versatile land and through green belt designations in certain areas. Despite this, the government is proceeding with their proposal for a better protection of agricultural land. The NPPF has been amended to ‘ensure the availability of land for food production is adequately weighted in the planning process’. Whilst it is positive that the need for food security is being recognised within national policy, it must be considered that many agricultural businesses need to diversify in order to continue operating in a sustainable and viable way. National planning policy must not be a hinderance to this.

In another positive move, the CLA is pleased to see that proposals put forward within last year’s consultation to amend the planning definition of ‘affordable housing’ will be consulted on further in the future. This creates an ample opportunity for landlords that are non-registered providers to deliver much needed affordable housing. The CLA has been calling for the amendment of this definition and we are pleased to see the government committing to its consideration. A future consultation is also expected on amendments to planning policies for social rent, with particular focus on the importance of these policies in rural areas.

In addition to the revised NPPF being published, Gove also announced that the Department for Levelling-up, Housing and Communities will:

  • Undertake a consultation on extensions of time for planning applications;
  • Undertake a consultation on the statutory consultee system; and
  • Publish league tables of local planning authority performance.

Last month also saw the long-awaited announcement of local planning authorities that have been successful in securing the Planning Skills Delivery Fund. 111 authorities will receive the fund which over the first year aims to tackle planning application backlogs and support the development of skills within planning departments.

The CLA had concerns 12 months ago that the proposals forming the revised NPPF would result in rural areas being left behind once again. Whilst the publication of the new framework and various announcements last month has seen some of these concerns dissipate, there is still cause for concern that the housing crisis of the rural area will continue to take hold.

The CLA will continue to lobby for a fair opportunity for the rural economy within the planning system throughout 2024.

Key contact:

Shannon Headshot
Shannon Fuller Planning Adviser, London