National Planning Policy Framework: What is it?

National Planning Policy Framework
The National Planning Policy Framework has been updated that aims to assist decision makers approve proposals to improve existing renewable energy sites (Image credit: Getty Images)

A new revision to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will aim to increase the emphasis on beautiful housing, and give local authorities power to reject low-quality housing schemes.

The NPPF revamp announced on 5 September will reward high-quality house designs and make it mandatory for councils to produce local design codes, which increase the emphasis on ‘beauty’ in development.

While the new revision only briefly mentions self builders, the revision means that those building their own homes could find it easier to secure planning permission if their builds are well-designed and use high-quality materials.

We look at the main changes announced in the National Planning Policy Framework and what the new policies could mean for local areas. 

What is the National Planning Policy Framework?

The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the government’s planning policy for housing, as well as topics including business, transport and the natural environment.

Local authorities follow the NPFF when they prepare local plans used to decide whether local planning applications are approved or rejected. 

The NPPF was first established in March 2012 before revisions in July 2018 and February 2019, and July 2021, but September's revision will replace the previous version. The policy change is among a spate of planning reforms this year.

Former housing secretary Robert Jenrick said of the publications: “I have set out the government’s vision for a planning system that make beautiful, sustainable and life-enhancing design a necessity, rather than a luxury.

“Our revised National Planning Policy Framework will ensure that communities are more meaningfully engaged in how new development happens, that local authorities are given greater confidence in turning down schemes, which do not meet locally set standards." 

What’s included in the new revision?

The changes are designed to make it easier for local authorities to embrace beautiful, practical and sustainable housing designs, while rejecting homes that don’t meet this criteria. 

Councils had previously been encouraged that their local plans should ‘positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of the area’, but the revision puts a stronger focus on beauty. 

Now, councils will have to promote a sustainable pattern of development that seeks to: meet the development needs of their area; align growth and infrastructure; improve the environment; mitigate climate change; and adapt to its effects.

The NPFF also states that streets should be lined with trees to help improve biodiversity and access to nature through design, and existing trees should be maintained wherever possible.

National Planning Policy Framework

The revised NPFF says streets should be lined with trees to help improve biodiversity and access to nature through design.  (Image credit: Getty Images)

National Model Design Code

In a separate document, the government also published a National Model Design Code (NMDC) to help local authorities produce their own design codes and emphasise the approval of practical, sustainable designs while rejecting poor-quality designs.

The code also includes references to custom and self build, with accompanying guidance underlying how design codes can encourage self build and custom build developments.

Permitted Development update

It also lays clear in Paragraph 53 which instances local authorities can opt out of Permitted Development (PD) rights. Article 4 directions (which remove PD rights) can be used to prevent the conversion of non-residential property to homes under PD rights if it is ‘necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts’.

The new wording also says it is ‘very unlikely’ an Article 4 direction could extend to a whole town centre. Architects Journal said of this change that it “essentially weakens the only planning mechanism which councils currently have to resist the creation of new homes through permitted development.”

Paragraph 79

There’s also a noteworthy update to Paragraph 79 of the NPPF, which previously required a home to be “innovative” in order to build in a rural area, but this is no longer a test within the policy.

Additionally, the clauses for allowing the development of “isolated dwellings” policy have been moved from Paragraph 79 to Paragraph 80This is what the changes mean for self builders.

What has the reaction been?

Paul Miner, head of land use at Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said he “hugely welcomed” the plans.

However, he urged caution over the government’s Planning Bill which will come before parliament later this year. “The government’s disastrous planning proposals, that look set to halve democratic input in planning, will completely undermine any progress on design and design codes. Good design is impossible without local democracy and accountability in the planning system.”

David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, added: “As the government’s National Design Guide advises, any specific details and measurable criteria for good design is most appropriately set out at a local level," he said.

"The requirement for councils to have a local design code will also require additional resources and skills, so it will be important that councils are fully funded and supported to provide the extra capacity needed.”

Jack Woodfield
News Editor

Jack has worked in journalism for 11 years and is the News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, a role he has had since 2019. He strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and hydrogen heating. In 2021 he appeared on BBC's The World at One to discuss the government's planning reforms. 

He enjoys testing new tools and gadgets, and having bought his first home in 2013, he has renovated every room and recently finished a garden renovation.