This briefing note considers the inclusion, in the revised NPPF, of a specific reference to the agent of change principle, the principle by which a person or business introducing a new land use is responsible for managing the impact of that change.
Specific mention of the agent of change principle was contained in the annex to the government's Housing White Paper 'Fixing our Broken Housing Market' (published for consultation in February 2017) (the HWP). The paper proposed an amendment to the NPPF to emphasise that planning policies and decisions should take account of existing businesses and other organisations when locating new development nearby and, where necessary, to mitigate the impact of noise and other potential nuisances arising from existing development. It was considered that this proposal would mitigate the risk arising from the imposition of restrictions or the possible closure of existing businesses due to noise and other complaints from the occupiers of new developments.
In a statement made by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 18 January 2018, it was confirmed that the NPPF would be clarified to include detailed reference to the agent of change principle.
The revised NPPF implements the HWP proposal. In particular, paragraph 182 (contained in chapter 15: conserving and enhancing the natural environment) states that planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities (including places of worship, pubs, music venues and sports clubs). Existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established. The paragraph goes on to confirm that where an existing business or community facility could have a significant adverse effect on new development (including changes of use) in its vicinity, the applicant (or agent of change) should be required to secure suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.
The agent of change principle, with the publication of the revised NPPF, is now a feature of national planning policy and a material consideration to be taken account of by decision-makers in the determination of planning applications. However, elements of the agent of change principle have been reflected in policy for some time - paragraph 123 of the previous version of the NPPF advised that planning policies and decisions should recognise that existing businesses should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them because of changes to nearby land uses; and the Planning Practice Guidance indicates that consideration should be given to the potential effects of locating new residential development close to existing businesses that cause noise. Therefore, the inclusion of an explicit reference to the agent of change principle in the revised NPPF amounts to a change of emphasis, rather than the introduction of an alien and entirely novel concept.
There is a clear tension between the agent of change principle and other policy objectives, such as housing supply - new development could be hindered if too much emphasis is placed on the principle, thereby giving rise to a detrimental impact on the local economy; and the technical evidence submitted in support of noise-sensitive developments may become the focus of more intense scrutiny by local planning authorities. Furthermore, the use of conditions and/or planning obligations to mitigate noise impacts and other nuisances could increase, which itself may result in knock on effects for scheme viability and the ability for other policy objectives, such as affordable housing targets, to be met.
In parallel with the publication of the revised NPPF, there does appear to be a growing impetus to afford greater protection to music venues and the night-time economy by putting the agent of change principle on a more formal and clear footing. By way of example, at the turn of the year, the House of Commons gave its approval to the Planning (Agent of Change) Bill, a Private Member's Bill moved by John Spellar MP, which is designed to protect existing music venues from closure or crippling cost arising from the development of new residential properties in their vicinity, especially over questions of noise. The bill had its first reading in the Commons on 10 January 2018 and is expected to have its second reading on 26 October 2018.