The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was revised on 20 July 2021, following a consultation on proposed revisions published in January. The revised NPPF sets out the government’s planning policies and how these will be applied.

The biggest change is that the 2021 NPPF places greater emphasis on beauty. The revised policy also demonstrates a focus on place-making, the environment, sustainable development and the importance of design codes.

Some of the key changes are set out below:

  1. Improved Design Quality
  • Updated policies to strengthen the design of new developments and to provide maximum clarity about design expectations. The wording has been amended from “a well-designed and safe built environment” in the previous NPPF, to “well-designed, beautiful and safe places”. This reflects an increased focus on beauty in the planning system;
  • Paragraph 133 introduces a new test to ensure that development is well-designed, stating that “development that is not well designed should be refused, especially where it fails to reflect local design policies and government guidance on design, taking into account any local design guidance and supplementary planning documents such as design guides and codes”. The test gives "significant weight" to developments which “reflects local design policies” and demonstrate "outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design … in an area". 
  1. New developments should plant Trees
  • Paragraph 131 has been updated to “ensure that new streets are tree-lined,” and that developments incorporate trees in areas such as parks and community orchards. It is also emphasised that new trees should be maintained in the long-term and existing trees are protected and retained wherever possible.
  1. Solar and flood zones
  • Solar farms have now been identified in the updated NPPF as “essential infrastructure” from a flood risk perspective. This means that solar farms no longer need to meet the exception test in flood zones 1 and 2, potentially opening up more sites for solar development. Essential infrastructure will still only be permitted in Flood Zones 3 if the Exception Test is passed.
  1. Sustainable development
  • At paragraph 11a, the NPPF encourages sustainable development for plan-makers stating that "plans should 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 (including by making effective use of land in urban areas) and adapt to its effects”.
  1. Maintaining Statues
  • The new paragraph 198 notes that authorities should try to explain statues where possible, rather than have them removed: “In considering any applications to remove or alter a historic statue, plaque, memorial or monument (whether listed or not), local planning authorities should have regard to the importance of their retention in situ and, where appropriate, of explaining their historic and social context rather than removal."
  1. Faster delivery of public service infrastructure 
  • A new paragraph 96, aims to ensure faster delivery of public service infrastructure such as “further education colleges, hospitals and criminal justice accommodation” and that local planning authorities should work “proactively and positively with promoters, delivery partners and statutory bodies to plan for required facilities and resolve key planning issues before applications are submitted."

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has said that the purposes of the changes is to enable a planning system that makes “beautiful, sustainable and life-enhancing design a necessity, rather than a luxury”.

The new changes will require applicants to pay close attention to local design policies and there is likely to be an expectation amongst local authorities and local communities that their own design policies will be followed.