Long-term Plan for Housing - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 11 January 2024.

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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 December.

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s commitment to housebuilding and the planning policy reforms we are making today.

This Government want to build more homes in the right places, more quickly, more beautifully and more sustainably. We know that the right way to deliver this is through a reformed planning system. Today, the Secretary of State and I are laying out our plan for that reform, and we are clear that it is only through up-to-date local plans that local authorities can deliver for communities, protect the land and the assets that matter most, and create the conditions for more homes to be delivered.

Having plans in place unlocks land for homes, for hospitals and general practitioner centres, for schools, for power grid connections and more. It lays the foundations for our economic growth and the levelling up of our communities. The first change we are making today is to update the National Planning Policy Framework. We consulted on a series of proposals last December and received more than 26,000 responses, which we have worked through in detail.

The resulting update builds on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and delivers on the intent set out by the Secretary of State last year, and it does so in a way that will promote building the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, which will ensure that the environment is protected and give local people a greater say on where and where not to place new, beautiful development.

I will now summarise the key changes being made to the framework today, and honourable Members should refer to the consultation response and the framework itself for the published policies. First, the standard method for assessing local housing need figures has sometimes been difficult to apply in some areas and has been blind to the exceptional characteristics of local communities. The new NPPF makes it clear that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting point in plan making for establishing an area’s housing requirement.

The revised NPPF also now provides more clarity on what may constitute exceptional circumstances for using an alternative method to assess housing need. The framework is also clear that the urban uplift should be accommodated in the urban areas in which it is applied and should not be exported unless there is a voluntary cross-boundary agreement in place. New homes are most desperately needed in urban areas, so it is essential that city councils plan properly for local people.

Secondly, given the importance of the green belt to so many, the new NPPF is clear that there is generally no requirement on local authorities to review or alter green-belt boundaries. Unlike Labour’s plan to concrete over the countryside, we will not impose top-down release of green-belt land against the wishes of local communities. Where a relevant local planning authority chooses to conduct a review, existing national policy will continue to expect that green-belt boundaries are altered only where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, and this should be only through the preparation or updating of plans. The Government are making no changes to the rules that govern what can and cannot be built on green-belt land, but we are clarifying in guidance where brownfield development can occur on the green belt, provided that the openness of the green belt is not harmed.

Thirdly, the Government are clear that the character of an existing area should be respected, particularly in the historic suburbs of our great towns and cities. The new NPPF therefore recognises that there may be situations in plan making where significant uplifts in urban residential densities would be inappropriate, as they would be wholly out of character with that existing area. In these cases, authorities need not plan for such development. That will apply where there is a design code that is adopted, or will be adopted, as part of the local plan. I know the shadow Minister will sympathise with this change, given that he recently opposed 1,500 new homes in his constituency due to the impact on Greenwich’s local character.

Fourthly, where an up-to-date plan is in place—a plan less than five years old—and contains a deliverable five-year supply of land when examined by the inspector, authorities will no longer be required to update that supply annually. This change provides those authorities with additional protection from the presumption in favour of sustainable development. We are also fully removing what are known as the 5% and 10% buffers, which could be applied to an authority’s housing land supply. A transitional arrangement will ensure that decision making on live applications is not affected, thus avoiding disruption to applications in the system. For authorities that have not yet passed examination but are either at examination, regulation 18 or regulation 19 stage, and have both a policy map and proposed allocations, there will be a two-year grace period in which they need to demonstrate only a four-year housing land supply for decision-making. That is a strong incentive for councils to now do the right thing and agree a local plan.

Fifthly, local communities that have worked hard to put neighbourhood plans in place should not be penalised for the failure of their council to ensure an up-to-date local plan. The new NPPF therefore extends protection for neighbourhood plans from speculative development from two to five years, where those plans allocate at least one housing site. The updated framework also gives greater support to self-build, custom-build and community-led housing, and to encouraging the delivery of older people’s housing, including retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.

Next, the NPPF cements the role of beauty and placemaking in the planning system; it now expressly uses the word “beautiful” in relation to “well-designed places”. It also now requires greater “visual clarity” on design requirements set out in planning conditions and supports gentle density through the promotion of mansard roof development. Finally, the new NPPF also strengthens protections for agricultural land, by being clear that consideration should be given to the availability of agricultural land for food production in development decisions. The NPPF also supports the Government’s energy security strategy, by giving significant weight to the importance of energy efficiency in the adaptation of existing buildings, while protecting heritage.

With the updated NPPF now in place, the other reforms we are making today are focused on setting higher expectations for performance. Those who operationalise the system—local authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and statutory consultees—must live up to their responsibilities. To support that, we are taking action on four fronts. First, we will ensure greater transparency, because exposing what is really going on in a system sparks action. So we will publish a new local authority performance dashboard in 2024, and pull back the veil on the use of extension of time agreements, which in too many instances are concealing poor performance.

Secondly, we have been providing, and will continue to provide, additional financial support. That includes the increased planning fees that went live a fortnight ago, as well as a range of funds to tackle backlogs and improve capability. Thirdly, we will tackle slow processes, with Sam Richards leading a review into the statutory consultee system and a greater focus from the Planning Inspectorate where planning committees are seeing their decisions overturned on appeal.

Finally, we will intervene where we need to. The Secretary of State has issued a direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan making, requiring them to publish a plan timetable within 12 weeks of the publication of the new NPPF. Should they fail, we will consider further intervention. We are also designating two additional authorities for their decision-making performance and we will review the thresholds for designation to make sure we are not letting off the hook authorities that should be doing better.

We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed by the capital are simply not being built and opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration go begging as a result of the Mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. A review launched today will identify where changes to policy could speed up the delivery of much-needed homes. If directing change in London becomes necessary, this Government will do that.

In designing these reforms we have aimed to facilitate desirable development, constrained only by appropriate protections. That is a balance I am confident we have struck.”