Updates to the NPPF, Chapter 14 – Flood Risk, 20th July 2021
What has changed?
For the most part Chapter 14 is unchanged. However, subtle word changes have been introduced which can impact the approach applied to a planning application with a focus to flood risk. To support our client’s understanding these changes we have listed the new paragraph numbers with the old bracketed beside, as well as placing the new wording in bold.
Chapter 14 – Planning and Flood Risk – Paragraphs 159 to 169 (155 to 165)
Paragraph 161 (157).
“All plans should apply a sequential, risk-based approach to the location of development – taking into account all sources of flood risk and the current and future impacts of climate change”.
Paragraph 161 (157), bullet C
“using opportunities provided by new development and improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding, (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management);
An impactful change that will affect future development is that climate change is needed to be assessed for all sources of flooding. The guidance on climate change has been updated on several occasions over the last decade. It is unclear in practice how this is supposed to be achieved and we have sought clarification from the EA about the intent of this change. As it stands it is not clear if climate change modelling will be required on surface water/pluvial mapping.
The EA most recently updated the climate change allowances on 20/07/2021. To discover how climate change could affect your planning application using the EA allowances click here
Paragraph 162 (158)
“The aim of the sequential test is to steer new development to areas with the lowest risk of flooding from any source. Development should not be allocated or permitted if there are reasonably available sites appropriate for the proposed development in areas with a lower risk of flooding. The strategic flood risk assessment will provide the basis for applying this test. The sequential approach should be used in areas known to be at risk now or in the future from any form of flooding”
The fact that this now specifies “any source” is formalisation of the risk based development approach that has been applied by the EA and the Local Authorities over the last few years – steering the most vulnerable development both regionally and within site applications to the areas of lowest flood risk.
Paragraph 163 (159)
“If it is not possible for development to be located in areas with a lower risk of flooding (taking into account wider sustainable development objectives), the exception test may have to be applied. The need for the exception test will depend on the potential vulnerability of the site and of the development proposed, in line with the Flood Risk Vulnerability Classification set out in Annex 3.”
The change seems to be wording from zone to area, perhaps as a result of the changes from fluvial/tidal to all sources of flooding. The addition of Annex 3 – Flood Risk Vulnerability Classification although a new addition to the NPPF, the majority of the wording has been extracted from the PPG – Table 2. It is noted that there are new additions to each classification to the Annex that are not included in the PPG. It is presumed that the PPG will be updated in due course.
Essential Infrastructure – new additions
Essential utility infrastructure which has to be located in a flood risk area for operational reason, including infrastructure for electricity supply including generation, storage, and distribution systems; and water treatment works that need to remain operational in times of flood.
Solar Farms are now listed as Essential Infrastructure
Paragraph 164 (160)
“The application of the exception test should be informed by a strategic or site-specific flood risk assessment, depending on whether it is being applied during plan production or at the application stage. To pass the exception test it should be demonstrated that:”
This change appears to simply be a language clarification with no impact on policy.
Paragraph 167 – bullet point b (163)
b) the development is appropriately flood resistant and resilient such that, in the event of a flood, it could be quickly brought back into use without significant refurbishment.
The addition of this wording highlights a clear shift to implementing property flood resilience, flood resilient construction and also suggesting that greater weight may be applied to having a suitable flood response plan in place prior to planning applications being submitted.
Paragraph 168 (164)
The footnote numbers have changed from 50 to 55 and 51 to 56. The wording of each footnote is the same as it was previously.
Chapter 14 – Coastal Change – Paragraphs 170 to 173 (155 to 165)
Coastal Change – remains unchanged other than paragraph numbers.
What does this all mean? What are the implications of the changes?
With the sequential test now requiring all sources of flooding to be reviewed, it is envisaged that this will require greater focus against the multiple sources of flooding as opposed to the traditional approach of assessing whether a site was located in Flood Zone 1, 2 or 3. This could have greatest impact on decision making for Local Plans, Strategic Flood Risk Assessments, and at a site-specific development level too.
In practice, a Development Site located in Flood Zone 1 according to the EA flood map for planning could now fail the sequential test on the basis that it is in a high-risk surface water flood area.
However, it is acknowledged in the NPPF that it might not be possible for development to be in areas (previously zones) with a lower risk of flooding (taking into account wider sustainable development objectives), the exception test may have to be applied. An NPPF compliant Flood Risk Assessment should always include the Exception Test and address parts A and B or at the very least refer to it as certain developments in certain flood zones are exempt from the Exception Test.
It is encouraging that the NPPF now promotes more green infrastructure to mitigate flood risk. Small-scale development can contribute towards the green infrastructure, but larger benefits will be witnessed on how major development could now benefit flood mitigation and unlock the development potential of other sites whilst mitigating the impacts of flooding to existing communities. The development could now be viewed as more favourable in flood risk-affected areas especially if it can promote green infrastructure and mitigate flood risk.
Creating greater resilience and being able to mitigate flood risk is the key objective of the NPPF. This is further highlighted through Paragraph 167 where it promotes that development is flood resistant and resilient but also to be able to be operational in a short space of time without significant refurbishment. As such there will be greater emphasis on the design of new development, external and internal materials, particularly the internal finishing’s to support such policy objectives and even property flood resilience (PFR).
Interestingly the Planning Practice Guidance Flood Risk and Coastal Change, Table 2, as of 21/07/21 have not been updated in line with Annex 3 of the NPPF. Solar Farms are now to be viewed as essential infrastructure as is any infrastructure that can generate, store and distribute electricity.
All the changes are a positive step to making sure that the right decisions are made to mitigate flood risk and that new development is more resilient. In a greater aspirational piece, the benefits from green infrastructure and developers working alongside partners to mitigate flood risk could be valuable to all.
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