Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework

8 minute read
23 January 2024


On 19 December 2023, the Government published its long-awaited response to the consultation on national planning policy reform and an updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The stated purpose of the update being to address the concerns expressed by local elected representatives about weaknesses in the planning system and to align with the changes introduced by the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023.

Key changes


The stated purpose of the NPPF remains to provide a framework within which locally prepared development plans can provide for "sufficient" housing and other development. The NPPF now confirms that up-to-date development plans are a priority in meeting this objective (paragraph 1).

Local housing need

Paragraph 60 provides that the "overall aim should be to meet as much of an area's identified housing need as possible". However, the NPPF has now been updated to align with Practice Guidance and states that the outcome of the standard method for assessing local housing need is only an 'advisory starting point'. Local authorities can have regard to the exceptional characteristics of their local community in fixing local housing need (paragraph 61).

Exporting housing need

The standard method for calculating housing need was amended to include an uplift in need for the 20 most populated English cities / urban centres to make the best use of previously developed land and locate more homes in those areas. The NPPF now states that any uplift should be accommodated within those cities / urban centres and not elsewhere unless a voluntary cross boundary agreement is in place or it would conflict with the NPPF (paragraph 62).

In addition, a new footnote states that strategic policies should optimise site densities to ensure that homes are built in the right places, to prioritise brownfield / under-utilised land, and to allow people to live near the services they rely on, making travel patterns more sustainable.

Five-year housing land supply

Where there is an up-to-date development plan (less than five years old and with at least a five-year supply of sites at conclusion of its examination), a local authority is no longer required to annually update their five-year housing land supply (paragraph 76). This reduces the administrative burden on local authorities and provides additional protection from the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Transitional arrangements remove the 5% and 10% buffers that could be applied to an authority's housing land supply to ensure that decision making on live applications is not affected.

In addition, where an emerging local plan has been submitted for examination or a policies map and proposed housing allocations has been published for consultation, a local authority will only need to demonstrate a four-year supply of deliverable housing land (will apply for a period of two years from 19 December 2023, (paragraph 226). This rewards local authorities who are progressing their development plans.

Local authorities without an up-to-date development plan will be subject to tougher measures and will still have to update their supply annually. They will also be subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development if they fail to update. A 20% buffer will be added to their housing land supply where housing delivery falls below 85% (paragraph 77).

Green belt

The commitment to protecting the green belt remains. Local authorities are not required to review or alter green belt boundaries. Where they choose to review them, it is expected that boundaries will only be altered through the development plan where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified.

Character and density

To ensure that new development fits into the character of an existing area, a new paragraph 130 states that, when setting residential densities in existing urban areas, significant uplifts in the average density may be inappropriate if it would result in built development being "wholly out of character with the existing area". Where this applies, it is to be evidenced through a design code adopted as part of the development plan.

Neighbourhood plans

Neighbourhood plans allocating at least one housing site are protected from speculative development for five years (increased from two) (paragraph 14).

Community-led housing / self and custom build / seniors / student accommodation

The importance of community-led housing development and supporting diversity in the number and type of builders is highlighted. Community-led development may be excepted from affordable housing requirements (paragraph 66) and local authorities should seek opportunities to support small sites for community-led development / self-build and custom-build housing (paragraph 70). The delivery of diverse housing (including for older people and students, retirement housing, housing-with-care and care homes) is encouraged and required to be considered in establishing need (paragraph 63).

Beautiful places

Chapter 12 of the NPPF now refers to achieving well-designed "and beautiful" places, emphasising the importance of beauty although providing no clarification on how it should be assessed.

Clarity of design

Paragraph 140 provides that local authorities should ensure planning conditions refer to plans / drawings to provide visual clarity about design. This will provide certainty for those implementing planning permission and provide a clearer basis for breaches of planning control to be identified.

Energy and environment

The green agenda is supporting by requiring that, in determining planning applications, "significant weight" be given to the need to support energy efficient and local carbon heating improvements to existing buildings through installation of heat pumps and solar panels, subject to heritage considerations.

There is also strengthened protection for agricultural land, requiring the availability of agricultural land for food production to be considered when deciding what sites are most appropriate for development (footnote 62).


The changes to the NPPF are likely to have an immediate impact on decision making and will no doubt be the subject of much debate over the coming months. However, the consultation aimed to support the Government's "objectives of making the planning system work better for communities, delivering more homes through sustainable development, building pride in place and supporting levelling up more generally". But it is unclear how the changes to the NPPF will further that agenda. For example, the changes made in the NPPF do not appear to encourage the delivery of more homes. Nor do they provide any clarity on how the target of building 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s is to be achieved. Whether the dilution of housing targets may actually slow down delivery remains to be seen.

For more information or to discuss any of the points raised in this article, contact Toni Weston

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.