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Not the usual development management policies?

Debating the introduction of statutory National Development Management Policies into the English planning system

This blog has been produced by the following authors at the University of Liverpool and Arup:

  • Dr. Olivier Sykes - University of Liverpool (top left)
  • Dr. Sebastian Dembski - University of Liverpool (top right)
  • Ian Ford – Associate Town Planner, Arup (bottom left)
  • Jess Jones – Graduate Town Planner, Arup (bottom right)

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (2022) proposes the introduction of ‘National Development Management Policies’ (NDMPs). These are to be given full statutory weighting in decisions on planning applications and the government hopes they will “make it easier to produce plans and foster a genuinely plan-led system, leading to clearer and more certain decision making”. It has also argued that NDMPs will result in “swifter”, “slimmer” and more “locally relevant” plans and cut out unnecessary duplication of policy across different planning scales. Informed by this latest proposed change to the legislative and policy framework for planning in England, the University of Liverpool and Arup were asked by the RTPI to explore how NDMPs might work and equivalent policies in other places. In February 2023, an expert workshop was held in Liverpool, bringing together planners from local and devolved government, private consultancy, infrastructure planning, planning law, and social housing. The RTPI will use this research to help inform its response to the current consultation on the NPPF alongside the NPPF roundtables the RTPI are currently conducting with its members. 

The scope, thematic focus and status of NDMPs  

The scope of NDMP proposed by the government in its consultation was described as ‘relatively sensible’ by one participant and there was sympathy with the general aim of trying to make planning policy simpler to understand and more consistent across scales. There was less confidence in the ‘policy gaps’ identified so far by government as potentially requiring the introduction of NDMPs. Further topics which might be considered included the needs of an ageing population, health and well-being, and design codes. However, it was also felt that many questions remain about the form and content of NDMPs, notably the evidence base and extent of consultation on which they will be based.  

Consideration was also given to how NDMPs might integrate with the existing hierarchy and weighting of plans and policy. Some clear principles have been stated, for example, that new development plans will be precluded from including policies that duplicate or are inconsistent with NDMPs, and that NDMPs would take precedence where there is conflict with local plan policies when deciding on a planning application. However, there was a feeling that there will still be scope for different interpretations. The planning lawyers present suggested that this might be good for business for those working in planning law, but neither they, or the rest of the room, welcomed the potential for new uncertainty to be introduced into the delicate relationships and weightings which characterise decision making in English planning.

The situation in other planning systems

National planning policy in other places was also discussed. It was noted that in Wales and Scotland the National Plan and the National Planning Framework (NPF) are part of the statutory development plan. In Scotland the new NPF (2023) for the first time also incorporates Scottish Planning Policy (SPP). There are clearly differences between the national planning frameworks in place in these jurisdictions, the present NPPF in England, and the proposals for NDMPs. However, it was noted that attempts to strengthen national level planning policies and ‘streamline’ development plans and their preparation were also features of some other UK planning systems - e.g. in Scotland. There are important differences too regarding scrutiny, with the NPF in Scotland being based on extensive consultation and requiring Parliamentary approval. The examples of the Netherlands and Germany meanwhile showed how in federal systems and states with authentic local self-government, subsidiarity and local autonomy remain important features of planning.  

Remaining questions

A number of participants questioned whether NDMPs would really have the hoped-for impacts.  Despite wording indicating that “Decisions on planning applications” will “need to be made in line with the development plan and National development Management Policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise” some argued there would still be decisions that departed from the development plan and NDMPs in light of local political considerations and citizen opinion.  

Both private and public sector participants expressed concern that more centralised planning policy may reduce local autonomy and the scope for innovation. There were also implications for the ‘larger than local’ scale of planning and where this might ‘fit’ in a context of greater centralisation of policy. And whilst in theory NDMPs may provide “policy safeguards” with statutory weight on nationally important matters such as flood risk and climate change, would they be innovative enough in tackling the challenges these raise?

There were also concerns that NDMPs may be too broad given the stated aim that they should be relevant to the entire country, or “significant parts of it”.  The risk of policies being drafted from a London and South East of England perspective was noted as a potential issue. It was agreed that achieving the clarity, usability, and national–local relevance which the government is seeking could be challenging.

The workshop concluded that given the detail available at this stage only the potential impacts of NDMPs could be considered. Further consultation would be required to establish their scope, identify policy gaps, and to develop scrutiny and legitimacy given the far-reaching powers accorded to ministers to formulate new NDMPs. As ever with alterations to planning policies and instruments the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and the devil (as always) will be in the detail!  


The views of this blog are those of the authors and do not represent Arup or the University of Liverpool. 

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