New NPPF: What does the future hold for transport, regeneration and development planning?

A draft of the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in March. This new framework is set to bring a few changes to some aspects of transport planning, urban regeneration and environmental assessment. We’re going to have a look at some of those changes and the effect they may have on our wide-ranging projects with diverse clients. We’ll also highlight where the NPPF remains the same, so that you don’t have to wonder about looming modifications when you’re at the initial stages of transport planning and urban renewal.

What is the NPPF?

Most of you will be familiar with the NPPF and its role in project planning, but let’s have a quick recap.

The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the government’s planning policies for England, and how these should be applied. It provides a framework within which locally prepared plans for housing and other development can be produced.

Sometimes, there can appear to be conflict between different priorities when it comes to planning – for example, the need to deliver a sufficient supply of homes alongside the need for sustainability and the protection of Green Belt land.

The NPPF looks at all these priorities, outlining a range of aims designed to support the best interests of all parties.

Transport

Let’s start by looking at how things shape up from a transport perspective. Mayer Brown’s transport specialist, Richard Gregory, delved into the draft NPPF in order to discover what might be important to our clients involved in transport planning, highway infrastructure and urban regeneration. Here are the key points that he identified:

  • Transport issues should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and development proposals.
  • Decision taking is largely unchanged. The theme of ‘the presumption in favour of sustainable development’ remains.
  • The Travel Plan is no longer referred to as a ‘key tool’ to facilitate sustainable development.
  • There is an emphasis on emissions and air quality, and the promotion of plug-in and other ultra-low emission vehicles, which could be considered to conflict with the aims of a Travel Plan.
  • Developments should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if the residual cumulative impacts on the road network or road safety would be severe.
  • The addition of the term ‘road safety’ in the above statement is new…
  • …but the definition of ‘severe’ is still not clear.
  • However, the new NPPF draft does now state that when assessing if a site is to be considered sustainable, the following should be ensured: ‘appropriate opportunities to promote sustainable transport modes, safe and suitable access to the site for all users and that any significant impacts from the development on the transport network, or on highway safety, can be cost effectively mitigated’.

Noise impact

There are also a few changes in relation to noise impact. Paul Gray, who heads Mayer Brown’s Noise and Vibration team, explains:

“The policy appears to strengthen the need for noise impacts to be controlled. Whilst current policy sets out imperatives that policies and decisions should ‘aim’ to avoid significant adverse impacts, and reduce ‘other’ impacts to a minimum, the revised policy appears slightly more assertive – the need to ‘aim’ is now removed.

“The new policy will require that planning policies and decisions should ‘mitigate and reduce to a minimum potential adverse impacts resulting from noise from new development – and avoid noise giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life’ – a slight re-ordering of the aims set out in existing policy. However, more subtly, the existing reference to ‘other’ adverse impacts has been removed and the revised policy more simply refers to ‘potential adverse impacts’.

“At face value, the revised policies appear to retain the status quo, but it will be interesting to see what changes may be made to accompanying planning practice guidance, i.e. what definitions may be attributed to the identification of ‘significant’ or ‘potential’ adverse impacts. 

“Bullet point ‘b’ of the new paragraph 178 may seem like a new addition, but is almost identical to the fourth aim of existing policy set out in paragraph 123 – retaining a need for areas of tranquillity to be identified and protected.

“The biggest change is to be found in paragraph 180 of the revised NPPF. It promotes the ‘agent of change’ principle – making the developer responsible for ensuring that appropriate mitigation is implemented within development proposals, to ensure that they are successfully integrated with existing land uses. Particular attention is drawn to the need to ensure that existing businesses (and community facilities, including places of worship, music venues and sports clubs) do not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of new development, reinforcing and expanding existing policy. 

This strengthened policy will prompt a need for development planning to consider carefully the noise impacts of existing land uses.”

Flood Risk

Meanwhile, Mayer Brown’s Steven Lecoq has been looking at future planning and development implications when it comes to flood risk. Here’s what he discovered:

“Revisions to NPPF chapter 14  Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change – do not point to any significant changes in terms of flood risk.

  • Paragraph 148 has been amended to make it clear that planning policies should support measures to ensure the future resilience of communities and infrastructure to climate change. This is unlikely to result in any changes to the way we approach this matter.
  • Paragraph 155 has been amended to ensure that plans should have regard to cumulative impacts of flood risk, rather than just to or from individual development sites. This could change what the Local Planning Authorities expect from us as a consultancy and we may have to consider other developments that are also being progressed at the same or similar time, to ensure no cumulative impact however, this is unlikely to be the case, as generally developments have to provide betterment, or at least match the existing situation. Therefore, there are unlikely to be any cumulative impacts from nearby developments.
  • New paragraph 163 states that all major developments should incorporate SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) unless there is clear evidence that this would be inappropriate. This is the approach we take anyway, so there will not be any major changes for our work in environmental assessment in this respect.”

Air quality

Lucinda Pestana, Mayer Brown’s air quality expert, has found that  although the new draft NPPF introduces the idea of air quality positive (rather than neutral) by stating that: ‘Development should, whenever possible, help to improve local environmental conditions such as air quality…’ and  highlights the need to take into consideration the Clean Air Zones (as well as AQMAs), this new draft NPPF is not likely to alter significantly the way in which air quality is currently assessed by Mayer Brown.

“Our current assessment methodology and procedures are very robust and already meet the requirements of the new NPPF,” she explains. “The new NPPF does not seem to introduce any additional work or affect the way we currently undertake air quality assessments at Mayer Brown.”

Lucinda has picked up some key paragraphs from the Framework, to highlight requirements that influence air quality assessment. While these are already part of Mayer Brown’s assessments, it’s helpful for clients such as urban and transport planners to be aware of them:

  • Section 104 includes requirements for significant development to be focused on locations where it can be made sustainable by limiting need for travel and offering a choice of transport modes. The differences between urban and rural areas should also be taken into account in the planning process.
  • Section 168 states that: “Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment…”
  • Section 179 highlights the importance of relevant limit values and national objectives for pollutants when it comes to planning policy and decisions.

Waste

Mayer Brown’s environmental assessment expert, Andrea Hughes, has sifted through the waste section of the draft. She found that when it comes to waste in the context of development and regeneration, the new document remains the same as the current Framework. It does not have anything to say on waste in terms of the provision of facilities to encourage waste minimisation or recycling. However, both the current and draft Frameworks refer to the ‘reuse of existing resources and the conversion of existing buildings’.

Additionally, both the previous and current NPPF cross reference to the government’s National Planning Policy for Waste, which hasn’t changed since issue in 2014.

All change or a few tweaks?

On the face of it, the draft text of the new NPPF, which is now open for consultation, does not point to significant changes when it comes to planning, regeneration and environmental assessment.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how some of the tweaks to the content of the Framework play out in practice. Andrea Hughes has spotted the following items of interest regarding environmental management in relation to the planning and regeneration process:

  1. The 12 Core Planning Principles from the 2013 version are no longer in the 2018 draft.
  2. The term ‘environmental quality’ appears in the 2018 draft. This has no definition and we will watch its interpretation by the planning industry with interest, particularly where, for example (para 137), compensatory improvements in ‘environmental quality’ is given as a way in which removal of land from the Green Belt can be offset.
  3. Within ‘achieving sustainable development’, both versions of the NPPF agree that there are three dimensions to this. One of these is described as the ‘environmental role’ in the 2013 NPPF but this changes to the ‘environmental objective’ in the 2018 draft. Is this significant?  It’s open to interpretation and time will tell how the new wording plays out in real terms.

It’s important to bear in mind that the points we’ve looked at are part of a draft, and not the final document. The consultation regarding the new NPPF closes on 10th May 2018. Once the new NPPF is finalised the policies it contains will apply immediately, but there will still be six months to submit plans under the existing 2013 document.

Do you have any questions about how the NPPF may affect your regeneration or development project? Get in touch with us at Mayer Brown and we’ll explore your options.

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