The new NPPF introduces a new Chapter 11 -
This chapter builds on some of the core principles in the original NPPF with regard to effective use and sets a range of requirements that policies should include in order to promote the effective use of land. It is clearly linked to finding more ways to increase the delivery of homes through brownfield land and it states that -
"Strategic policies should set out a clear strategy for accommodating objectively assessed needs, in a way that makes as much use as possible of previously developed or brownfield' land."
This is consistent with the stated aims of increasing housing and the protection of the green belt and means that local authorities have to demonstrate that all of the land in their area has been properly assessed when their policies are considered.
The chapter includes the expected proposal to support higher density housing where it is required. In addition, the chapter sets some other positive policy requirements to support the principle of making effective use of land in both policy making and decision taking. They include -
- encouraging multiple benefits from both urban and rural land, taking opportunities to achieve net environmental gains (this includes specific examples of new habitat creation and the improvement of public access to the countryside);
- recognising what roles undeveloped land could play;
- giving substantial weight to the value of using brownfield land;
- promote and support the development of under-utilised land and buildings (especially to meet identified housing need where land supply is constrained);
- supporting opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial buildings;
- being responsive to changes in demand for land by keeping land availability and allocation under review and where applications for allocated uses are not realistically coming forward land should be reallocated for more deliverable uses and applications for alternative uses should be supported where they will contribute to meeting unmet need.
The NPPF requires local planning authorities to take a pro-active role in identifying and bringing forward land suitable for development needs (such as sites in public ownership and sites on brownfield registers). The NPPF actively encourages authorities to take a role in facilitating land assembly and to use CPO powers to help meet development needs. Authorities are required now to take a positive approach to applications for alternative land uses where it would help to meet identified needs, in particular proposals should be supported that:
- use retail and employment land for homes in areas of high housing demand, as long as there is an acceptable impact on town centres; and
- make more effective use of land already providing community services (as long as it maintains or improves service quality).
While these requirements are applicable to both brownfield and greenfield land, it seems that there is a real focus on ensuring that all brownfield space is considered as the first option to minimise the need for greenfield development.
Achieving appropriate densities
The new NPPF includes a changed approach to determining appropriate densities for new development. The original NPPF required authorities to set out their own approach to housing density to reflect local circumstances. The new NPPF requires that policies and decisions should support development that makes efficient use of land, taking into account issues such as:
- identified housing need;
- market conditions and viability;
- availability and capacity of infrastructure;
- the desirability of maintaining existing character and setting compared to regeneration/change; and
- the importance of well-designed attractive and healthy places.
It is identified that where there is either an existing or anticipated shortage of housing both policies and decisions should avoid homes being built in low densities to ensure optimal use of land. Where there is such a shortage:
- plans should contain policies to optimise the use of land in the area, including minimum densities for areas where there is good public transport. It is expected that these will seek an uplift on existing densities in those areas, unless there are strong reasons otherwise. These policies will be tested robustly at examination;
- use of minimum density standards should be considered for other areas, with the possibility of a range of standards linked to the accessibility of the areas covered by the plan;
- applications should be refused where they fail to make efficient use of land taking into account the policies in the framework and when considering applications for housing, authorities should take a flexible approach in applying policies or guidance relating to daylight and sunlight.
These requirements place great importance of first identifying the objectively assessed need in the area and the wider goal of achieving optimum efficiency of land use. Development at higher densities will inevitably provide less on site infrastructure and therefore place greater pressure on existing infrastructure. It seems that the assessment of existing capacity and finding solutions to make these developments feasible will be critical if higher density schemes are to be successful. The effective use of planning obligations and CIL will be essential although higher density schemes could in theory create the higher revenues needed to provide and/or improve the necessary infrastructure.
As with the policy requirements being introduced to ensure effective use of land, the proposals for greater density could also been seen as further protection mechanism for the green belt.