National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Changes that Affect Flood Risk
On the 27th March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published. This is a key part of the Governments reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible, to protect the environment and to promote sustainable growth. We have reviewed the NPPF document and have produced a brief summary of the new policy and have highlighted the key issues that affect flood risk management and any changes from PPS25.
Overview and Key Changes
The position of the new NPPF remains consistent with PPS25 in that development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk, but where development is necessary, making it safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere. It remains consistent in its approach to Local Plans, which are required to be supported by a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment. These are also required to develop policies to manage flood risk from all sources, taking account of advice from the Environment Agency and other relevant flood risk management bodies.
The Sequential Test remains the overarching high level mechanism through which a risk-based approach to the location of development is applied. The NPPF does not change the fact that individual sites that have already been sequentially tested as part of development plans need not be re-tested. Minor development and change of use are also exempt from the Sequential Test. There is no change from PPS25 in this respect.
There is also no further change from PPS25 in the requirement to apply the Exception Test. The NPPF has however, dropped one of the three elements of the Exception Test, which is the requirement for the development to be located on a brownfield site. It is still necessary to demonstrate that the development provides wider sustainability benefits to the community that outweigh flood risk. It is also still a requirement for a site-specific flood risk assessment to be prepared and this must demonstrate that the development will be safe for its lifetime, taking account of the vulnerability of its users and without increasing flood risk elsewhere. The FRA must also demonstrate, where possible, that the development will seek to reduce flood risk overall. Both elements of the Exception Test will have to be passed for development to be allocated or permitted.
For the Exception Test to be passed, the FRA must demonstrate that:
- within the site, the most vulnerable development is located in areas of lowest flood risk unless there are overriding reasons to prefer a different location; and
- development is appropriately flood resilient and resistant, including safe access and escape routes where required, and that any residual risk can be safely managed, including by emergency planning; and it gives priority to the use of sustainable drainage systems
Is a Flood Risk Assessment still required?
In short, Yes, NPPF still requires a site-specific flood risk assessment to be submitted for all proposals for new development (including minor development and change of use) in Flood Zones 2 and 3. Proposals of 1 hectare or greater in Flood Zone 1, or in an area within Flood Zone 1 which has critical drainage problems also require a site-specific FRA. There is no change from PPS25 here.
Alongside the NPPF sits a Technical Guidance document. This document contains most of the explanatory information on flood zones and appropriate uses etc. that has been taken directly from PPS25. There are no obvious changes to flood zone definitions or the vulnerability classifications.
The Technical Guidance document also contains information on climate change and how it should be applied. Disappointingly, the opportunity to update planning policy to bring it in line with contemporary climate change predictions has been missed, although this really only affects sites exposed to coastal flooding.
A key change that does form part of the NPPF is one which has been introduced through the Floods and Water Management Act 2010. This establishes a Sustainable Drainage Systems Approving Body (SAB) in unitary or county councils. The role of this body will be to approve drainage systems in new developments and re-developments before construction begins. Whilst the SABs or the new SuDS design National Standards have yet to be fully implemented, it will be coming within the next 12 months or so. When the SABs are established, there will be a requirement to include SuDS in all development that contains more than one property.
Whilst many of us expected that the Sequential Test would be omitted from the new planning policy framework, the fact that it remains central to flood risk policy is testament to Governments willingness to locate development outside of flood risk areas where at all possible. However, there is no real change from the current situation, so it will remain to be seen whether LPAs become more insistent on the Sequential Test being applied for small sites.
In terms of flood risk policy, the NPPF has done what it set out to in that it has condensed the 43 pages of PPS25 into a few concise paragraphs. However, when the content of the Technical Guidance is taken into consideration along with the numerous references and footnotes, the principles and requirements of PPS25 remain largely unchanged.
Changes in the Pipeline
On the not so distant horizon are additional requirements that will come into play as the Floods and Water Management Act 2010 beds in. This requires that any new drainage system will have to meet new National Standards for design, construction, operation and maintenance of SuDS. This approval will be require before construction starts and may even be required at the planning application stage.
The Floods and Water Management Act also amends S106 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to make the right to connect surface water to public sewers conditional on the SAB approving the drainage system as meeting the National Standards. The SuDS Approval Boards will be required to adopt and maintain approved SuDS that serve more than one property.
From what we have seen of the National SuDS Guidance consultation draft, meeting its requirements will be an onerous task and will present many changes from current surface water management practises. SuDS have a greater requirement for land and need to be incorporated into the very early scheme layout plans. This will in many cases reduce the achievable density of units on a site and therefore this factor needs to be taken into consideration at the very earliest stages of any development process.