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BIDEN causes plan-demonium - how the NPPF could impact regions

Reflections

DLUHC says the long-awaited NPPF reforms will ensure “the right homes are built in the right places”, complete with Gove’s shiny new acronym, to build BIDEN. It intends to prioritise Beauty, Infrastructure, Democracy, Environment and Neighbourhoods when building homes – nothing at all to do with the POTUS!

The government claims it will speed up local plans being brought forward. However, offering councils the ability to reduce targets – which are now no longer mandatory – only risks creating further uncertainty in areas where political volatility has caused dither and delay. This will have a significant impact on the supply and affordability of homes at a time when we need it most.

In the wake of the NPPF changes, we’ve gathered insight from Meeting Place’s directors across our regions, to understand what the update could mean for the sector…

Joseph Baum, South East

The test in paragraph 226 of the NPPF is clearly designed to offer a greater degree of protection for Local Planning Authorities with Local Plans at Regulation 18 or 19 stage. After years of delay and drift, from Horsham to St Albans, many of us returned from our Christmas break to the sight of several Local Authorities announcing Regulation 18 consultations – South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse, Sevenoaks and Basingstoke and Deane to name just three. 

Whilst the timing of an updated NPPF and this new raft of Local Plan consultations is no coincidence, if the new NPPF has achieved anything, it has been to get Local Authorities to move to the important next stage in the Local Plan-making process.

Is this a genuine attempt by councils to finally grasp the housing crisis? Or is it a cynical attempt to avoid costly appeals by using the new rules as a shield? For those of us who believe in a plan-led system, we hope that this is the former.

Jonathan Simpson MBE, London

On Tuesday, relations between the Government and City Hall deteriorated further as Sadiq Khan argued housing delivery has exceeded the Government’s set affordable housing target.

Perhaps to be expected, Gove and DLUHC have responded that over the past three years completions have averaged 38,000, this is 18,000 short of the London Plan annual target. With Gove’s review of the London Plan due to be published any day now, we should expect escalating rhetoric and a potential showdown between the Secretary of State and the Mayor of London.

Gove has repeatedly said he will strip City Hall of planning powers and amend the London Plan to reduce regulatory complexity. Whatever the merits of the respective case between DLUHC and City Hall, this is an argument that Gove will be happy to have. The more column inches that are filled by wrangling with City Hall the less time is spent focusing on the wider impacts of the NPPF and the decision to abandon national housing targets. Whilst there is a valid discussion to be had around simplifying areas of the London Plan that frustrate investment and complicate the planning process, the war of words suggests that it is not a discussion being had in good faith.

Freddie Palmer, West of England

Amongst other things, the Green Belt changes throw up questions for the former Avon counties (three of which are mid-consultation on various stages of draft plans) as well as BCP and its neighbours. We’ve struggled with regional planning down here – we didn’t need more uncertainty.

Uncertainty threatens investment. With Labour pledging to reverse NPPF changes if they win an election – not yet scheduled but almost definitely this year – the uncertainty only grows. We’re working hard with local leaders and our clients to create the certainty needed to keep the cogs moving, hopefully, the government will lend a hand soon too. 

Joel Fayers, East of England

Aside from the well-documented changes, the real takeaway was the focus on those councils that are deemed to be underperforming. Uttlesford was placed in special measures back in early 2022 and at the time, it did seem somewhat unfair when comparing their situation to others.

With Chorley and Fareham already falling foul of his stricter approach before Christmas, all eyes will now be on the remaining named authorities and their plan timetables which are due on Mr Gove’s desk in mid-March. Considering St Albans’ plan will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the naughty step might need to expand further!

Helen Goral, Midlands and North

Two of the seven councils that received an intervention letter from Michael Gove MP are in the Midlands, Amber Valley Borough Council and Ashfield District Council. Both councils have not yet adopted a Local Plan and were given 12 weeks to revise their Local Development Scheme following the new NPPF.

Lichfield District Council made advanced progress with its new Local Plan, but chose to withdraw this from examination and begin work on a brand new plan with a focus on delivering new settlements, rather than accommodating their required targets for new homes in existing communities.

Whilst Independent-led Ashfield District Council was scathing about Gove’s intervention, saying: “We have the crazy situation where the Conservatives in government demand houses are built on green belt only for their own MPs to oppose them”.

Elsewhere in the region, Solihull Council is balancing the requirements with local political sensitivities about protecting the Green Belt. The council paused its Local Plan in March 2023, with The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) lobbying for Solihull to start its Local Plan process again due to concerns about development on Green Belt land and urban sprawl.

Whilst down the road in South Warwickshire, the joint plan between Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon District Councils was delayed for a further two years in November 2023. Both councils saw substantial political change at the May elections and this, combined with “uncertainty of potential changes to national planning policy and to the planning system”, has resulted in more time being required to progress the new Joint Plan.

Councils across the region continue to walk a tricky tightrope between balancing the need for new homes, protecting green spaces and securing funding for new infrastructure. We’ll be watching closely for the slew of elections this year, which includes: West Midlands councils, Mayoral elections for East Midlands (new role), West Midlands and cities including Liverpool and Manchester. All will have impacts, especially with devolution deals, and how this could all interplay with a future Labour government is yet to be seen.

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