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The NPPF, the possible reforms and the opportunities they present

The NPPF, the possible reforms and the opportunities they present
April 4, 2023 2:41 PM
Simon Skoczek
Simon Skoczek, CEO & co-founder of BOOM

The consultation period for the proposed reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recently closed and a full assessment of these reforms would probably result in a 200-page whitepaper. Thankfully though, we can be selective regarding the topics to focus on, given that some present clearer opportunities than others.

There are three key themes that we’ve identified from the proposed reforms:

  • beauty and wellbeing;
  • controlling densities that are significantly out of character with an existing area, and
  • improving the effectiveness of delivery on small sites.
Bridging the divide between developers and local communities

Housebuilding has a significant impact on our communities so there is understandably a lot of emotion surrounding new building projects that often leads to conflict between developers and those opposed to new developments (often branded as ‘NIMBY’s’).

In my opinion, the term NIMBY is frequently used unfairly because the general standard of placemaking is lacking and the provision of suitable, quality infrastructure fails to properly drive development. This general failure is exacerbated by not adopting a stronger, broader theme of consultation and community-mindedness which must begin much earlier in the process - from concept stage all the way through the subsequent design-development stages; community involvement and influence is key.

Regarding the general quality of placemaking delivered by developers, the report “A Housing Design Audit for England” which was published by the Place Alliance in 2021 concluded that new house design is overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ and that many schemes should have been refused. When viewed in the light that, according to RIBA, only 6% of new homes in the UK are designed by architects, these facts are two of the many reasons why the issue of wellbeing is rightfully being given greater attention.

Controlling densities and improving developments

Controlling densities that are significantly out of character with an existing area should help overcome the issue of squeezing every penny out of a site at the expense of necessary infrastructure. Through a focus on delivering greater natural, social, human and economic value through a development, the developer will improve infrastructure delivery and, in most cases, develop at a scale and density appropriate to the site.

It has been both said and concluded by the Authors of the Paper “From NIMBY to YIMBY” that for such a significant issue, with wide ranging societal and economic impacts, it is surprising how little research has been undertaken into the causes of the NIMBY but, of the research that has been done the most effective three ways to allay fears appear to be:

  1. improving the popularity (or quality) of developments;
  2. running what is felt to be a fairer development process, and
  3. convincingly guaranteeing that necessary increased infrastructure will be delivered.

Based on my industry experience building BOOM! with my co-founder Jonathan Swieboda, listening to local resident groups, watching programs, reading articles and papers, and discussing this topic with colleagues, bullet point 2 seems the easiest issue to address; it is also the right thing to do - from both a community and business perspective.

Ensuring developers have a positive impact on the community

My approach would be to consider the community a bit like a supplier/subcontractor. For example, without a supplier’s steel reinforcement the typical concrete superstructure would fail to support the static and dynamic loads imposed upon it; likewise, without proper and constant communication, a subcontractor will fail to properly coordinate delivery of their work package with other trades. Similarly, without the community and their continued involvement in the design-development of a proposed scheme, any support at planning application stage doesn’t simply fall away, it fails to materialise.

By developing an approach to development that is driven by the three identified broad themes of proposed inclusion in an amended NPPF, a developer can begin to forge its positive standing in the broader community as a quality placemaker, in turn establishing a brand that sees its schemes become attractive and sought after; schemes that deliver overall value to all stakeholders.

This will lead to greater success across many business metrics. It will also improve the efficiency of the planning phase whilst mitigating the risk of planning rejection or the need to appeal. It will lead to greater annual output, better staff, subbie and supplier morale in building something worthwhile (which in turn improves quality and safety) and, a desirable product that improves sales results and GDV.