Updates to Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) - July 2019

Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published updates including new sections on Green Belt, Housing Supply and Delivery and Effective Use of Land.

The government has published a raft of updates to its Planning Practice Guidance (PPG), including new sections on Green Belt, Housing Supply and Delivery, and Effective Use of Land.

Here we discuss each section in turn:

1. Green Belt

The ever-contentious Green Belt has been given – in theory – additional clarity through the amendments to the PPG, particularly in terms of means of assessment. To a certain extent these follow relevant appeals and case law, most obviously in making explicit the ‘spatial’ and ‘visual’ aspects of ‘openness’ when assessing the impact of proposals, as well as the impacts of associated activity such as traffic generation. 

Interestingly, another factor in considering proposals is “the duration of the development, and its remediability”, creating some tension with the former Secretary of State’s approach in dismissing appeal APP/D0840/W/15/3140774 (albeit in the context of landscape effect and loss of productive agricultural land), in which then incumbent Sajid Javid MP disagreed with his Inspector’s recommendation that “any potential visual impacts and effects on landscape character would be temporary and reversible”… and stated that “reversibility of the proposal is a matter to which he [Javid] gives little weight” in considering a development with a 30-year duration.

Just how ‘temporary’ is ‘temporary’ will therefore be a matter of judgement preceding any consideration of how much weight should then be ascribed to a development’s ‘remediability’.

The Guidance also sets out prospective means by which strategic policy-making authorities may compensate for the release of Green Belt land through improvements to other retained parts through, for instance; Green Infrastructure, woodland planting, landscape and visual enhancements, biodiversity gains, walking and cycle routes and/or improved recreation provision.

This may appear to some as something of a muddying of the waters between Green Belt (i.e. development gap) and landscape/biodiversity/recreation designations, offsetting one against the other in a manner akin to demolishing a listed building but providing some new bat boxes.

In any case, its relevance may be translated by some to individual development proposals and not simply strategic allocation of land, provided these are of a sufficient scale, allowing extra weight to be given to compensatory measures in decision-making.

Finally, the Guidance provides detail of how such measures may be positively secured, including the need for early engagement of stakeholders, establishment of land ownership and scope of works and the specific means of ensuring compliance. The latter, it indicates, may include planning conditions, Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), and may extend to long-term maintenance.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner at Evans Jones, says:

“While these additions to the Guidance in a sense crystallise that already established in appeal decisions and the courts, they also mark a yet further broadening of the Green Belt’s apparent role in landscape, biodiversity and recreation, rather than its original purpose as solely a means of containing development. Notwithstanding, the clear indication is that the strategic release of Green Belt land is something at which authorities should be looking closely. For landowners and developers, this may mean opportunities for strategic promotion and careful consideration of specific uses, and potential compensation, within the Green Belt.”

2. Housing Supply and Delivery

The various updated Guidance on Housing needs, supply and delivery follows the inception of central Government’s Standard Method for calculating housing supply and, now this seems to have been finally moulded into some kind of workable condition, represent an attempt to develop further the mechanisms and considerations for ensuring that this properly meets local needs while addressing the critical nationwide shortage of homes.

As such, the updated section ‘Housing needs of different groups’ seeks to identify the subcategories of residential occupiers in a way not reflected in the bald figures of Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) and Housing Land Supply. These groups, for instance, include the elderly and those in need of supported living, travellers (in respect of whom there is a separate section in the Guidance), students, self-builders and those in or seeking affordable or private rented accommodation.

In respect of affordable housing, it is evident that the updates seek to provide some clarity on a number of issues including reiterating the definition of affordable housing (as in Annex 2 of the Framework) and setting out how authorities should calculate and plan to meet the need for affordable housing in their area. In particular, the guidance advocates bringing forward affordable rural exception sites through a collaborative approach between landowners, authorities, parish councils and community land trusts.

The Guidance also draws attention to the Public Sector Equality Duty and the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding (Register) Regulations 2016, to which policymakers will need to pay keen regard if they are to demonstrate a robust assessment of these more detailed components of their anticipated need for housing, as well as satisfying their statutory responsibilities.

Of course, policymakers may – and have the facility to – adopt a housing need figure in excess of that produced by following the Standard Method, and the factors they may consider in this respect are discussed in the updated ‘Housing Supply and delivery’ section of the Guidance, on which we will produce separate blogs very soon.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner at Evans Jones, says:

“It is clear that following the first bungled attempt at introducing the Standard Method, the Government now acknowledges that this is not a complete solution and that detailed assessment is fundamental to proper plan-making and decision-taking. While the Standard Method will no doubt save time and confusion at appeals, it is highly important that applicants are able to demonstrate that they are catering for a specific need where appropriate, and likewise for authorities to have a clear picture of those needs from the outset.”

3. Effective Use of Land

This stems from the introduction of the near-eponymous chapter of the National Planning Policy Framework when republished in 2018 (and later updated in 2019).

The content of Section 11 of the Framework is now supported by the long-awaited guidance updates:

  • Allocated Sites

The Guidance avoids being explicit, but the message is clear; authorities should not indefinitely protect employment and other non-residential allocations if there is little or no prospect of their coming forward for their allocated purpose.

The implication is that, subject to demonstrating the above, such allocations may be considered for alternative – more deliverable – uses; chiefly, housing. Applicants may demonstrate this by a range of simple metrics, namely:

  • the length of time since the site was allocated in the development plan;
  • the planning history of the site including any planning applications or pre-application enquiries;
  • whether there is evidence that the site has been actively marketed for its intended use for a reasonable period, and at a realistic price;
  • whether there are any changes of circumstance that mean that take-up of the site for its intended use is now unlikely.

For applicants, this helps by providing something of a tick-box exercise in relevant considerations, however it would be anticipated that authorities will remain reluctant to release allocated land, particularly when carried forward in plan-making. It is also clear that previous commercial interest – even in the distant past and different economic circumstances – may weigh against proposals for alternative uses in the present day. Applicants will need to bear in mind the expectation of transparency and consistent evidence in the process, therefore.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner at Evans Jones, says:

“This is to some extent a reintroduction of the revoked Paragraph 22 of the 2012 Framework, which warned against the long-term protection of allocated employment sites where these showed little sign of coming forward. The obvious pressure for housebuilding, changing national economic profile and age of many authorities’ Development Plans are such that this much-needed toolkit for developers is welcomed.”

  • Local Planning Authority Land Assembly

For some time, Local Planning Authorities have been encouraged to use Compulsory Purchase Orders and other legal powers to simplify and expedite the delivery of development land and the updates point toward these mechanisms again as a means of enabling ‘oven-ready’ sites. By directing readers to the Crichel Down Rules, the Government may hope or expect developers to engage more meaningfully with LPA’s where compulsory purchase is an option.

The Guidance makes clear that the use of such powers is benefited by having up-to-date plans that “articulate a vision and objectives for the future development of an area and policies to help achieve them.” Given the often-protracted process entailed and likely scale at which CPO may be utilised this is perhaps unsurprising.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner says:

“From our experience, uptake of CPO powers by Local Authorities is very limited and rarely capable of keeping pace in areas of development pressure. Paradoxically in the case of allocated land, the deliverability of sites must have been considered in the process of plan-making and allocation; the usefulness of an up-to-date plan in such circumstances is therefore questionable where land assembly is particularly challenging.”

  • Planning for Higher Density Development

As part of the Government’s drive to achieve higher densities the Guidance sets out a number of considerations for calculating appropriate density figures, whether on an individual site or a broader area. It directs that these can include measures of accessibility, local characteristics, environmental constraints (such as flooding or ‘heat islands’) and assessments of market or site viability. The updates also provide different measures of density, emphasising that these should be selected based on local housing needs, local character and built form.
This addition has the potential to assist applicants by providing set metrics against which development proposals can be tested, rather than being subjected to an often-erratic reception by Local Planning Authorities and Inspectors alike. Proposals will benefit from a demonstrable account of how these measures have been selected and influenced schemes at the planning stage.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner at Evans Jones, says:

“The additional Guidance supporting what is otherwise a short chapter in the Framework provides a clearer picture of not just how the Government is pushing for more effective use of land but also how to measure ‘effective’. We expect that landowners and developers alike will want to know just how high a density they can – and will be expected to – achieve in new developments, and the answer to that will come down to the robustness of their supporting evidence.”

  • Daylight and Sunlight

Finally, perhaps in an effort to balance what otherwise would seem to be an open door to schemes of cramped, unappealing development, the update provides a brief comment on rights to daylight and sunlight. 
The Guidance’s advice is that – while access to daylight is important and, sometimes, protected by law – there may be circumstances, such as where a receptor is much lower than its built context, in which local character should dictate a certain form of development even at the expense of that receptor’s amenity.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner at Evans Jones, says:

“That the final paragraph opens with the caveat that “All developments should maintain acceptable living standards” says much about the Government’s intended direction of travel. Although the update identifies the importance of good design in responding to the challenges of varying scale, for instance, this is a significant change to the previous, almost unassailable, protection afforded to residential amenity in particular. While good news for developers in areas of varying built form, we can certainly see the potential for friction with local Development Plans and – quite possibly – local communities.”

  • Temporary Uses

The Government advises that temporary uses of land and buildings may serve as a means of bringing vacant and under-utilised brownfield land back into use while awaiting more permanent redevelopment. 
In particular, the update draws attention to the various Permitted Development rights available to developers and landowners as a potential means of enabling short-term active use and visual improvement, although the Guidance warns on the limitations of these rights.

Chris Marsh, Senior Planner says:

“The Guidance indicates that authorities should do more to facilitate the temporary use of vacant brownfield land, potentially through the use of permitted development rights. Given that those rights – in some recent extreme cases – set the bar very low indeed, it is not expected that this route will secure the standard of housing and other buildings sought by the Government but may serve to incentivise future proposed uses for complete redevelopment, as well as supporting smaller and start-up businesses, for example.”

For more information on how the updated guidance may affect your development sites or to find out more about our Planning Consultancy services, you can contact Chris Marsh here.