Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the National Housing Federation


1. The National Housing Federation represents 1,200 independent, not for profit affordable housing providers in England. The Federation’s members include housing associations, co-ops, trusts and stock transfer organisations. They own and/or manage more than 2.5 million homes provided for affordable rent, supported housing and low cost home ownership, and offer an increasingly diverse range of community and regeneration services. Our members currently develop approximately 40,000 new affordable homes per annum.

2. The Federation strongly supports the Government’s planning reform. Many opponents of the NPPF have fundamentally misrepresented it, greatly inhibiting a useful public debate. The NPPF will not usher in a planning free-for-all, and several complaints about the proposed changes are not supported by a detailed review of the document, read as a whole. To date, the most vociferous critics have made no real suggestions on changes to the draft to provide a planning framework that genuinely delivers sustainable development. Our submission addresses some of the critics’ main concerns, as well as making some important suggestions to ensure the Government’s approach is brought out fully and correctly in the drafting (see Annex).


3. The Federation welcomes the draft NPPF. It properly emphasises that the planning system should accommodate housing and commercial needs unless that would prejudice environmental or other interests. Achieving this balance lies at the heart of sustainable development.

4. In summary the Federation:

believes that reform to the planning system to encourage “good growth” is essential in tackling England’s acute and growing housing crisis. With over half of England’s affordable homes currently delivered on planning gain sites (worth £2 billion per annum), the reformed planning system must clearly and effectively support the delivery of affordable homes. Planning reform is, however, only part of the solution to securing more housing. Addressing issues such as the squeeze on mortgage lending and restoring public investment in new social housing is also critical;

suggests it is vital that the NPPF signals very strongly that appropriate new housing and employment development is important everywhere, and is not just consistent with the sustainability of the countryside, but an essential requirement for it;

agrees that the definition of sustainable development derived from the Brundtland Commission is appropriate. Quite properly it emphasises balancing the needs of both present and future generations;

supports the requirement on local planning authorities to ensure that the planning system operates to ensure that much needed housing land, including land for affordable housing, is provided;

believes that the policy on housing in the NPPF needs to make it clearer that affordable housing is a key element of sustainable and balanced communities, and that local plans should contain target numbers for affordable homes and a requirement for affordable housing to be part of market housing proposals;

endorses the emphasis on providing housing for all groups in need, although explicit clarification that this includes vulnerable and excluded groups would be beneficial;

noting the importance of Strategic Housing Needs Assessments (SHMA) to local plans, suggests that SHMA should be subject to separate scrutiny as part of the local plan examination, and should also be required to be “sound”;

believes that the presumption in favour of sustainable development, as part of a plan led system, is balanced, workable and essential. The NPPF should be clearer that where anticipated growth is met by the local plan, that means that development elsewhere can properly be resisted if it would prejudice that local community’s vision of the sustainable development of the area. It would be appropriate to consider delaying the introduction of the presumption in favour of sustainable development for a limited period after the introduction of the NPPF to give local authorities a challenging but realistic window within which to get new development plans in place;

welcomes the core planning principles, but believes these need to include a principle stressing the importance of mixed tenure, mixed income communities as well as a stronger emphasis on high quality design;

believes the duty to cooperate is capable of being effective if it is properly, and rigorously, examined as part of the local plan process;

considers there should be a clear statement that the Community Infrastructure Levy (and New Homes Bonus) should be a material consideration. The draft NPPF does not adequately tie together CIL, NHB and the planning system; and

believes there should also be a very clear statement that the Community Infrastructure Levy should not be set at a level that prejudices the delivery of affordable housing.

Is the NPPF Fit for Purpose?

5. England faces an acute and growing housing crisis. There are 1,750,000 households, 4.5 million people, on local authority waiting lists for an affordable home. Around three million people are living in overcrowded homes. 230,000 new households are formed each year, but little more than 100,000 new homes are being built annually, further compounding the problem. Reforms to the planning system are essential as part of any strategy to tackle this crisis.

6. The NPPF should set out the main principles of the planning system, at both the development plan and development control level. The system should be simple and transparent. Local authorities should promote plans that allow communities and economies to function sustainably, efficiently and equitably. Those plans should accommodate identified social and economic needs where that can be done without prejudicing real environmental or other interests. The best spatial form for meeting those needs can best be judged locally, and communities should be encouraged to participate in planning the future of their areas. The aim should be to secure the right development, in the right place at the right time—“good growth”.

7. Against the background of those plans, the main question in dealing with an application should be whether there is any good reason, in the public interest, why the proposal should be refused. Whether the proposal is consistent with, or conflicts with, the plan should be the main determinant. If the plan is not determinative then the main consideration, against the background of relevant policies, is whether there would be material harm.

8. There is little doubt that the wealth of policy, circulars, guidance and manuals, and legislation, has confused the planning picture. This has disenfranchised much of the population and the development industry, over-professionalised the process and made it costly and time-consuming. The proposed reduction of policy to around 50 pages is long overdue and necessary.

9. Overall the draft NPPF sets out a good framework within which local plans can be developed. It identifies the key issues that need to be addressed and sets out a sensible basis for determining applications, while leaving considerable scope for local plans to be developed that respect local issues and priorities—where they meet proper needs. Generally the draft NPPF is fit for purpose.

10. However, in shortening the policy framework some essential earlier guidance is given too little emphasis or has been lost:

the approach to affordable housing and to other needs not met by the market should make it far clearer that mixed, balanced and inclusive communities (which are rightly promoted) must include housing for all, including affordable homes. Local plans should be directed to contain policies setting out how affordable and other housing requirements will be met, including requirements for a proportion of most if not all market led schemes to be affordable.This is especially important given that well over half of all affordable homes are delivered on planning gain sites, even since the economic downturn (the figure was 56% in 2009–10, down from 62%, according to CLG HSSA data). The value of the planning system’s support for new affordable homes is in excess of £2 billion per annum;

the Government should signal a stronger spatial vision about where it would prefer to see development taking place;

it would be helpful to have a paragraph in the NPPF that summarises the main components of sustainabiity, noting that this will be tailored to local circumstances through the plan making process. At the moment the elements of sustainability are scattered throughout the document and it would be useful to have a clear statement of them in one place.

11. After decades of fairly prescriptive central guidance, there is an understandable fear that a lack of central position on an issue means that local plans cannot include policy. If local circumstances justify it then, clearly, there can be a local policy presumption against, for example, development in the countryside or protection for woodland. The NPPF should note that historic policies have not been jettisoned, but have been left for local plans, if appropriate, to apply them locally.

12. The only area where there is a risk that the draft NPPF risks not achieving its intentions is in the way it addresses the period up to the adoption of a local plan conforming with the NPPF. It should be clear that if an emerging local plan, accommodating identified growth, is being prepared then that will be a material consideration in deciding applications. It would also be appropriate to consider delaying the introduction of the presumption in favour of sustainable development for a limited period after the introduction of the NPPF to give local authorities a challenging but realistic window within which to get new development plans in place.

13. A structural issue is that the draft NPPF does not, fully, tie together the Community Infrastructure Levy and the planning system. There should be a clear statement that CIL (and New Homes Bonus) should be a material consideration. It should be emphasised that financial considerations are clearly relevant at the development plan stage—and are intended to influence decisions about the scale and location of development. However, it should also make clear that financial considerations should not over-ride proper planning decisions. Permission should never be bought or sold.

14. At a more detailed level, there should also be a very clear statement that the Community Infrastructure Levy should not be set at a level that prejudices the delivery of affordable housing. The Planning Minister has stated that the introduction of CIL should not compromise affordable housing. However there are currently no provisions in the Localism Bill, draft NPPF or CIL regulations/guidance to ensure this, and the Crossrail CIL and other emerging CIL charging schedules are being set at levels that will significantly reduce the number of new affordable homes that can be secured through planning obligations.

Does the NPPF gives sufficient guidance to local planning authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and others, including investors and developers, while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions?

15. In broad terms the NPPF gives clarity to all parties involved in the planning system about what it is meant to deliver. No one is sensibly saying that planning should not try to accommodate housing needs, including affordable housing requirements, so the real question for local communities is, if those needs can be accommodated, is what would be the best and most sustainable way in which to achieve this. The NPPF makes it clear that these are the issues that need to be addressed.

16. In some cases there will be environmental or other interests that need to be protected, that will prevent growth being accommodated—although the Federation is concerned that, too often, sustainable development in the countryside, needed to support existing communities, is rejected as an option. Rightly, however, if a local community wants to give priority to environmental interests above meeting, for example, housing needs, then they will have to justify that position, and have it examined at inquiry. At that examination the local planning authority will have to demonstrate how it will meet assessed needs in other parts of the plan area or how other authorities are assisting it in response to the duty to co-operate.

17. One of the key components of the NPPF is an ability to understand “objectively assessed” housing needs. The Federation proposed amendments to the Localism Bill that would have placed a clear statutory duty on local authorities to assess housing and other needs on an annual basis, and for the results of that analysis to be made public. Both the capture of information and its publication are important. Local plans will, necessarily, evolve and having up-to-date information is critical in ensuring that they do so. Making that information readily available will allow local communities, elected representatives and the development industry to hold local authorities to account. The NPPF would benefit from a clear statement about the critical importance of rigorous housing needs assessments.

18. The Federation also believes that housing needs assessments should be scrutinised separately as part of a local plan examination. Only if the housing need assessment is, itself, sound can the local plan on which it relies also be sound. If the document itself is examined then that would provide a far stronger, and more rigorous, foundation for the local plan.

19. The NPPF should make it clear that local plans should build on the principles set out in the NPPF. Plans should set out local aspirations about what can be developed, what can be protected, the standards of design that are required and proposed mixes of development. If identified needs can sustainably be met then the plan offers the opportunity to create a local vision and template for the future of the area. The NPPF should make it clearer that the absence of historic policy and guidance at a national level does not prevent planning authorities using those policies that are locally relevant—for example adopting brownfield first principles or providing protection for the open countryside. If the opportunity is seized plans will provide certainty to developers and investors, guidance to the planning inspectorate (and, critically, to elected officials) while giving local communities the chance to shape their areas.

Is the definition of “sustainable development” contained in the document appropriate; and is the presumption in favour of sustainable development a balanced and workable approach?

20. The definition of “sustainable development” derives, directly, from the Brundtland Commission. It is a longstanding and well accepted definition. What the NPPF does is place it, quite clearly, in a planning context. Planning is primarily meant to deal with the use and development of land. It is only one of a number of mechanisms for dealing with environmental concerns, social equity issues and infrastructure funding.

21. In the planning context, land should be available to meet social needs and facilitate economic growth to meet present needs provided that it does not have an unacceptable environmental cost. Part of that equation is to consider whether development would prevent the enjoyment of a resource by future generations. The NPPF successfully identifies and achieves an appropriate balance.

22. The Federation’s view is that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is capable of working well at a development plan level. Local plans should, normally, be able to accommodate projected growth. As part of the local plan process, judgments can be made about the location of that growth, and the local community’s view on the most sustainable patterns of growth. Where there are important environmental or social interests to protect then the local plan process provides a vehicle to protect them. The Federation’s view is that this is a balanced and workable approach. Indeed, the Federation goes further. This type of presumption is essential at a local plan level to ensure that housing needs, including the critical requirement for more affordable housing, are met wherever possible.

23. The operation of the presumption at a development management stage is less clear. Development in accordance with the local plan should, quite rightly, be permitted. Development which would prejudice the sustainable development aspirations of a community, as reflected in a local plan, should be refused. For example, if a community has concluded that projected development can all be accommodated on brownfield sites, and infrastructure is being planned to accommodate that, then development on an alternative greenfield location could justifiably be refused. Indeed, the local plan might well have included a policy protecting that greenfield, justified on the basis that “can be accommodated elsewhere”.

24. However, the draft NPPF notes that there should be a presumption in favour of development where local plans are, absent, silent, indeterminate or out of date. This is qualified to note that permission should be refused where “the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits”. It needs to be made clear that environmental, social and other interests are sufficient, where appropriate, to justify refusal even where the local plan is silent. As noted above, issues and proposals identified in emerging local plans should clearly be an interest to weigh in the balance in making a determination. Additional clarity is required in the NPPF to emphasise that in the period before up to date local plans are adopted existing policies, including those on affordable housing, should still be given significant weight.

25. Many local authorities without up-to-date development plans are concerned about losing all control of development once the finalised NPPF is published. Clearly it is incumbent on these councils to their plans adopted as soon as possible. However it would be appropriate for Government to consider delaying the introduction of the presumption in favour of sustainable development for a limited period after the introduction of the NPPF to give local authorities a challenging but realistic window within which to get new development plans in place.

Are the “core planning principles” clearly and appropriately expressed?

26. The principles set out in paragraph 19 are a helpful reminder of the key elements of the planning system.

27. Two additional key issues should be addressed as part of the core planning principles. The first is that, ideally, communities should be mixed. There should be a range of uses and activities within an area. There should be a variety of housing stock available, of varying tenures, at different prices, and for different income levels. We should avoid social ghettos; areas of either all social housing or all expensive homes.

28. The design of both buildings and places contributes significantly to social wellbeing as well as economic value. The need for good design should be a core principle that is reflected in both the development plan and in development management decisions.

29. In both places we have set out proposed wording in the Annex.

Does the NPPF, together with the “duty to cooperate”, provide a sufficient basis for larger than local strategic planning?

30. In principle the NPPF and the duty to cooperate can work effectively to provide a basis for “larger than local” planning. However, both are underpinned by a requirement for housing needs assessments and tools to identify the need for other forms of development. To identify housing needs a properly conducted housing needs assessment will look wider than the administrative boundaries. It will have to account for either in migration or out migration. Where appropriate it will cover the need to accommodate demand displaced from areas that cannot, themselves, accommodate it, perhaps for environmental or other capacity reasons. Critically, and this is not presently a statutory duty on authorities when they carry out assessments, they should project future housing requirements.

31. For the duty to cooperate to be fully effective it requires local authorities to work alongside each other in preparing the appropriate evidence base and, where necessary, to ensure that they address cross boundary needs. As noted above, this depends critically on there being an adequate housing needs assessment. The Federation continues to advocate, very strongly, for this to be a statutory duty on local authorities, and for the assessment to be the subject of a soundness test itself as part of the local plan examination process.


32. The Federation welcomes the draft NPPF. If the final document maintains the same principles it will make a real contribution to the delivery of much needed housing. To meet present and future needs, an important component of all new housing will have to be affordable housing. The Federation’s view is that this growth can be achieved sustainably and without materially prejudicing environmental or other important interests.

33. There are several areas where the NPPF needs to be strengthened. For housing purposes there needs to be a far stronger emphasis on the importance of mixed use communities, and the benefits of affordable housing being provided on site. It needs to be made absolutely clear that CIL should not prejudice affordable housing provision, and that viability should not be used as an excuse for inadequate schemes, including ones that do not provide appropriate levels of affordable housing.

34. In more general terms, the NPPF needs to encourage those preparing local plans, and participating in the development plan process, to embrace the opportunity. The lack of prescriptive national guidance provides real flexibility for local authorities and local communities to define their sustainable future. As they should, they will have to accommodate need, wherever possible. However, the way in which they do so, and how they protect what is important in their local area, offers a genuinely localist approach to sustainable growth.




19. A set of core land-use planning principles should underpin both plan-making and development management and should be taken into account by all those engaged in the planning system, from local authorities and developers through to communities.

These principles are:

…[only edited paragraphs included]

planning should proactively drive and support the development that this country needs. Every effort should be made to identify and meet the housing, business, and other development needs of an area, and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth. Decision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is “yes”, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles in the Framework there are clear and well evidenced reasons for refusal

planning policies and decisions should make effective and intensive use of land, promote mixed use and mixed tenure developments and communities, including housing to meet both market, affordable and other needs, that together create more vibrant and inclusive places

planning policies and decisions should encourage multiple benefits from the use of land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open land can perform many functions (such as for wildlife, recreation, flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, or food production)

planning policies should encourage innovative and inclusive design both of buildings and places, and should promote high quality development wherever possible

107. The Government’s key housing objective is to increase significantly the delivery of new homes; an objective that will contribute to sustainable economic growth. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in high quality, well designed homes, which they can afford, in a community where they want to live [...].

109. To boost the supply of housing, local planning authorities should:

[...] identify and maintain a rolling supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years worth of both market and affordable housing against their housing requirements. The supply should include an additional allowance of at least 20% to ensure choice and competition in the market for land [...]

110. The presumption in favour of sustainable development means that Local Plans should be prepared on the basis that objectively assessed development needs should be met, unless the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole. Applications should be considered in accordance with the presumption. Planning permission should be granted for sustainable proposals where relevant policies are out of date or where a local authority cannot demonstrate an up-to-date five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

111. To deliver a wide choice of quality homes and widen opportunities for home ownership, local planning authorities should:

[...] where they have identified affordable housing is required, allocate sites for affordable housing and set policies for meeting this need on site. Unless there is a clear deliverable alternative local approach, plan policies should normally identify an appropriate proportion of homes that will be affordable in any development. Exceptionally off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value will be appropriate where it can be robustly justified for example to improve or make more effective use of the existing housing stock) and the agreed approach contributes to the objective of creating mixed, inclusive and balanced communities.

112. In rural areas, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local requirements, particularly for affordable housing. Local planning authorities should consider allocating and releasing small sites that would not normally be used to be promoted solely for affordable housing. Exceptionally, where site specific viability constraints apply, authorities and communities should consider allowing some market housing or commercial uses related to the needs of the community where that would facilitate the provision of significant additional affordable housing to meet local needs. Decisions on housing in rural areas should avoid remote locations which could never realistically have close access to services, but should also recognise that thoughtfully planned expansion of existing communities may maintain and improve the viability of local services.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011