Having first announced proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in December 2015, the government's long awaited draft revisions to the NPPF emerged yesterday.

This briefing note considers the proposal to introduce into the NPPF specific reference to the 'agent of change' principle, the principle by which a person or business introducing a new land use is responsible for managing the impact of that change.

Specific mention of the 'agent of change' principle was contained in the Annex to the government's Housing White Paper 'Fixing our Broken Housing Market' (published for consultation in February 2017) (the HWP). The HWP proposed an amendment to the NPPF to emphasise that planning policies and decisions should take account of existing businesses and other organisations when locating new development nearby and, where necessary, to mitigate the impact of noise and other potential nuisances arising from existing development. It was considered that this proposal would mitigate the risk arising from the imposition of restrictions or the possible closure of existing businesses due to noise and other complaints from the occupiers of new developments.

In a statement made by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 18 January 2018, it was confirmed that the NPPF would be clarified to include detailed reference to the 'agent of change' principle.

The revised draft NPPF, which has been published for consultation, implements the HWP proposal. In particular, paragraph 180 (contained in Chapter 15: Conserving and enhancing the natural environment) states that planning policies and decisions should ensure that new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities (including places of worship, pubs, music venues and sports clubs). Existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established. The paragraph goes on to confirm that where an existing business or community facility has effects that could be deemed a statutory nuisance in the light of new development in its vicinity (including changes of use), the applicant (or 'agent of change') should be required to secure suitable mitigation before the development has been completed.

If, following the consultation on the revised draft NPPF, the emphasis on the 'agent of change' principle is retained as a feature of national planning policy, the principle will be a material consideration to be taken account of by decision-makers in the determination of planning applications. However, elements of the 'agent of change' principle can already be found in existing policy - paragraph 123 of the current NPPF advises that planning policies and decisions should recognise that existing businesses should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them because of changes to nearby land uses; and the supporting Planning Practice Guidance indicates that consideration should be given to the potential effects of locating new residential development close to existing businesses that cause noise. Therefore, the proposal to include an explicit reference to the 'agent of change' principle in the NPPF amounts to a change of emphasis rather than the introduction of an alien and entirely novel concept.

There is a clear tension between the 'agent of change' principle and other policy objectives, such as housing supply - new development could be hindered if too much emphasis is placed on the principle, thereby giving rise to a detrimental impact on the local economy; and the technical evidence submitted in support of noise-sensitive developments may become the focus of more intense scrutiny by local planning authorities. Furthermore, the use of conditions and/or planning obligations to mitigate noise impacts and other nuisances could increase, which itself may result in knock on effects for scheme viability and the ability for other policy objectives, such as affordable housing targets, to be met.

Whilst the consultation on the revised draft NPPF is still to run its course, there does appear to be a growing impetus to afford greater protection to music venues and the night-time economy by putting the 'agent of change' principle on a more formal and clear footing. By way of example, at the turn of the year the House of Commons gave its approval to the Planning (Agent of Change) Bill, a Private Member's Bill moved by John Spellar MP, which is designed to protect existing music venues from closure or crippling cost arising from the development of new residential properties in their vicinity, especially over questions of noise. The Bill had its first reading in the Commons on 10 January 2018 and is expected to have its second reading on 11 May 2018, the day after the consultation period on the revised draft NPPF closes.