It’s a myth that sustainability goals of the NPPF will get in the way of development. Quite the contrary – newer housing and development only needs to be smarter.
Much has been written in recent years about the restrictions on growth created by the UK’s land-use regulations, such as those that limit development on greenbelt lands. While incorrectly blamed as the cause of the housing shortage that is acute and building – the issues are multifactorial and complex – the complexity of those regulations has been discouraging to developers and would-be land investors.
That said, several bright spots have emerged in just the past two years. One was the passage of the Localism Act, which essentially streamlines regulations as it cedes authority to local planning authorities (away from regional authorities, which were widely blamed for stymying economic growth). Part and parcel with the Localism Act is the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which sets out government planning policies for England. The NPPF works under the auspices of the Department for Communities and Local Government, which issued an extensive overview of its policies in March 2012.
To what extent does the NPPF encourage the construction of new homes? In general, the localism theme allows for a variety of approaches – much broader than was previously the case. Without question, the environmental sustainability ethos engendered by the NPPF strives to encourage reuse of structures, such as the conversion of abandoned industrial, commercial and educational structures to housing, where feasible. But following are several points from the Framework where new building on raw land might on the whole achieve a positive outcome within sustainability objectives:
• Growth is a goal. “The Government is committed to ensuring that the planning system does everything it can to support sustainable economic growth. Planning should operate to encourage and not act as an impediment to sustainable growth. Therefore significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth through the planning system.”
• Build it for modern, green transport. “Encouragement should be given to solutions which support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reduce congestion. In preparing Local Plans, local planning authorities should therefore support a pattern of development, which, where reasonable to do so, facilitates the use of sustainable modes of transport.”
• Build holistically. “Planning policies should aim for a balance of land uses within their area so that people can be encouraged to minimise journey lengths for employment, shopping, leisure, education and other activities.”
• Working, productive relationships between developers and planning authorities. “Local planning authorities have a key role to play in encouraging other parties to take maximum advantage of the pre-application stage. They cannot require that a developer engages with them before submitting a planning application, but they should encourage take-up of any pre-application services they do offer. They should also, where they think this would be beneficial, encourage any applicants who are not already required to do so by law to engage with the local community before submitting their applications.”
• Flesh out problems and objections in early phases. “The participation of other consenting bodies in pre-application discussions should enable early consideration of all the fundamental issues relating to whether a particular development will be acceptable in principle, even where other consents relating to how a development is built or operated are needed at a later stage. Wherever possible, parallel processing of other consents should be encouraged to help speed up the process and resolve any issues as early as possible.”
In other words, planning has made some significant steps forward in ways that are friendly to development. If this attracts more investors to land and real estate, all the better. A growing UK population needs homes to make ownership and renting more affordable, so a cooperative working environment with clearly articulated goals is certainly a good foundation on which to build it.
Would-be investors in land need to consider all the variables: market needs, available sites and the objectives of local planning authorities. Before embarking on a land investment, the investor needs to consider whether to “go it alone” or participate in a joint venture partnership with professional land development specialists among its advisors. An independent financial advisor can help that investor identify also the degree to which land should occupy one’s full portfolio.
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