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Written by Richard Morgan, Senior Planning Consultant

The much-anticipated draft reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) have now been published by the Government.

The focus on addressing the housing crisis is clearly evident in the objectives of the draft and although this is laudable, the response from the housing industry suggests few are convinced the proposed changes offer enough to make a big difference.

There are however some proposed changes that could bring a much-needed boost for the rural sector. ‘Rural Housing’ now has its own section, underlining its importance in sustaining a strong rural economy. ‘Rural Exception Sites’ have been added to the list of appropriate uses within the green belt. These are sites specifically proposed for affordable housing.

Although they will not give landowners the same return as a site for marketing housing, they do create an opportunity to uplift land values where development would not otherwise be permitted and the land value would be limited to agricultural.

The draft NPPF also introduces support for the development of ‘Entry-Level Exception Sites’. These sites must comprise a high proportion of starter homes that will be offered for discounted sale or affordable rent and should be outside existing settlements on land which is not already allocated for housing. The reference to previously developed land has also been removed from the definition of windfall sites, meaning any site not specifically identified in the development plan can be considered as windfall.

There is emphasis on deliverability. ‘Deliverable’ has been added to the glossary, clarifying that for a site to be considered deliverable there must be clear evidence that housing completions will begin within five years, regardless of whether a site is allocated or has planning permission. 

There is also an acknowledgement that small sites can make an important contribution to meeting the housing requirement of an area and these sites are often built-out relatively quickly. 

Local Planning Authorities (LPA) will be required to ensure that at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less. It remains to be seen whether this will help to increase the overall housing supply, but it could present more opportunities for those with smaller land holdings to contribute to the local housing land supply.

Assuming these proposals are carried through to the final version of the new framework, it will be all the more important for owners of land with development potential at all scales to engage in the development plan preparation process and ensure their site promotion is front-loaded with comprehensive evidence to demonstrate deliverability.

Another change that has not grabbed headlines but could be a big benefit to farmers, is the introduction of an additional circumstance in which agricultural worker dwellings may be given planning permission. 

Currently, the justification for such new dwellings is strictly based on the essential need for a rural worker to live permanently at or near their place of work. The draft revised policy now allows new dwellings for ‘those taking majority control of a farm business’. The dwelling would still be subject to the standard agricultural occupancy ties but would mean a retiring farmer or farming couple could continue living on the farm, moving into a new farm dwelling allowing the incoming ‘controller’ (a son or daughter perhaps), to take occupancy of the existing farmhouse, or vice versa.

It is also positive to see ‘subdivision’ added to the list of exceptions whereby isolated homes in the countryside may be allowed. Traditionally, such proposals have been assessed in the same way as a proposed new house and would therefore require justification that there is an essential need. The new rules could allow large country houses that are impractical and difficult to let to be subdivided into multiple dwellings.

Alongside the publication of the consultation draft NPPF, new legislative changes came into force on 6 April 2018, affecting the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO).

Part 3, Class Q of the GPDO, which allows for the change of use of agricultural buildings to residential use without planning permission, has been expanded and now permits up to five dwellings to be created on an established agricultural unit, subject to the prior approval of the LPA. The Government has also produced updated guidance to clarify that building works to the extent reasonably necessary for the farm building to function as a dwelling house, including alterations to the external appearance, partial demolition and internal structural works such as new floors and internal walls, are allowed under Class Q, provided the works are not tantamount to a rebuild.

In the same amendment Order, Part 6, Class A which allows for the erection of new agricultural buildings without planning permission has also been revised, more than doubling the maximum permissible gross floor area from 465 square metres to 1,000 square metres to help farmers adapt to more modern farming practices. Farmers and landowners should be aware however that if you choose to use these permitted development rights rather than applying for planning permission, your rights to convert farm buildings to residential use without planning permission will be revoked for 10 years.

For further information or advice please contact Richard Morgan on 01434 608 980 or email richard.morgan@youngsrps.com

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