For planning in England, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provide important guidance for the preparation of planning policies by local authorities and the vetting and determination of new development proposals. Any planning decision or project in England needs to conform to the guidelines as laid out in the NPPF.
The planning system is changing frequently. Most recently, the UK government published a new white paper on the 'Planning for the Future', which will see the next wave of major changes.
When the first NPPF was published in 2012, it streamlined various disjointed policies into a single document. Six years on and with Brexit in full swing, the UK is in the middle of substantial economic and political shifts. Neighbourhood planning has taken off, there is more need for appropriate, affordable housing than ever and online services for digital planning are beginning to emerge.
The last major revision of the National Planning Policy Framework was made in July 2018, and it has since received a minor update in February 2019. Especially the 2018 revision introduced provisions that were significant for community engagement.
So how does the new NPPF compare with regard to community engagement, housing, and the potential for digitally-enabled planning, and how have priorities changed?
A new focus on planning
While the new NPPF retains its overarching theme of ‘sustainable development,’ the most striking change is a renewed emphasis on plan making, planning process, and delivery of housing.
In advance to its publication, organisations such as the Future Cities Catapult, the Ordnance Survey, and the Land Registry have driven discussions around delivering an increased number of appropriate homes in the right places. Programs such as Future of Planning may have helped to move planning processes to the front in the new NPPF, which aims to deliver better efficiency, transparency, and ’the effective use of land’ partly through better processes.
However, previous priorities such as the vitality of town centres, supporting healthy and safe communities, supporting sustainable transport and high-quality communications have been retained.
Aspects relevant to community engagement
Let’s look at how this affects community engagement in housing and residential developments:
The priorities in the new NPPF suggest a greater focus on delivering suitable and better quality developments in the right places, and one part of this is better direction through the planning system. There is a greater emphasis on the role of plan making and the processes that create good outcomes, such as early engagement supported by accessible, digital tools. The document encourages plan making that is efficient and transparent while delivering better quality or suitability of projects coming forward.
Major changes are currently considered by the UK government as part of the discussions to review the planning system for England. At present, it is too early to tell how these proposals may change the role and content of the NPPF going forward. However, judging by the discussions in relation to the white paper 'Planning for the Future', changes will see a more concerted effort towards digitisation, 'best-in-class' community engagement, especially at plan-making stage, and potentially national-level guidance in the form of design codes.
As a leading company for digital engagement and end-to-end planning processes in the UK, PlaceChangers helps organisations to adopt digital tools for better collaboration and stakeholder engagement. Reach out to us for advice.