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Technical consultation on further changes to planning law and procedure

Print publication

08/09/2014

As part of ongoing attempts to ensure a more transparent, efficient and streamlined process, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has launched a technical consultation on further proposals for reform of the planning process (the Consultation). Measures such as the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework, the online planning guidance portal, and the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 have already brought significant changes. However, under the auspices of the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, this Consultation considers additional ways to simplify and reduce the burdens faced under current planning and environmental regulation.

The Consultation highlights plans to:

  • improve the use of planning conditions;
  • introduce new thresholds for environmental impact assessments (EIAs);
  • modify the planning application process;
  • refine the determination process for nationally significant infrastructure projects; and
  • change the neighbourhood planning regime.

Planning Conditions

The Consultation acknowledges that planning conditions play an important role in shaping developments. However, the tendency for some local planning authorities (LPAs) to impose numerous conditions at the decision-making stage and delay in discharging conditions is noted. A key part of the Consultation is the suggestion that, going forward, LPAs will have to share draft conditions with applicants for major developments before a decision is made. It is also expected that written justification will have to be given in relation to any pre-conditions – that is, those requiring action before any on-site development work begins. If accepted, the proposal would require LPAs to explain why the matter must be addressed before development.

In line with proposals made as part of the current Infrastructure Bill, Section 3 of the Consultation seeks views on the practical approach to ‘deemed discharge’ for conditions where the LPA has not made a timely decision. It appears an exemption will apply to conditions:

  • relating to development subject to an EIA;
  • relating to development likely to have a significant effect on a qualifying European site;
  • relating to development in areas of high flood risk;
  • requiring a Section 106 Agreement or a Section 278 Agreement is entered into before development can proceed; and
  • requiring the approval of details via a reserved matters application.

So these will only be able to be discharged following a formal LPA decision. The suggestion is for deemed discharge to be available any time after the expiry of six weeks from the day after the discharge application was received by the LPA. The relevant applicant would then have to submit a notice, informing the LPA of the situation, and that the deemed discharge will be considered effective if nothing further is heard within two weeks.

Permitted Development Rights

The Consultation details changes that would ease the planning burden facing retailers, both in central and out-of-town locations. Extended permitted development rights (PDRs) will heighten operators’ ability to take advantage of the ever-increasing move towards internet shopping and particularly the rise of ‘Click + Collect’.

It is suggested that existing PDRs allowing offices to be converted into new homes should be made permanent. Having been introduced temporarily in May 2013, the change of use from office (Use Class B1(a)) to residential (C3) would now be permitted beyond the original 30 May 2016 ‘expiry’ date. Alongside this, new PDRs may be established to allow the creation of homes in buildings used for light industry B1(c)), and warehousing (B8) – provided they were used as such at the time of the 2014 Budget (19 March 2014). Launderettes, casinos, nightclubs and amusement arcades in use as at 19 March 2014 will also be able to change to residential use as long as certain requirements are observed.

Further, the Government proposes to:

  • make permanent the PDRs for residential single-storey rear extensions, allowing extensions of up to eight metres for a detached house and up to six metres for other house-types;
  • make permanent the PDRs allowing larger extensions for shops, financial and professional services, offices, and industrial and warehouse buildings;
  • widen Use Class A1 to a broader ‘retail class’ encapsulating most financial and professional services (currently covered in Use Class A2) – so the change from a shop to an estate agent, for instance, will be possible;
  • allow change of use to the new, wider ‘retail class’ from betting and payday loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3), drinking establishments (A4) and hot food takeaways (A5);
  • allow properties under 150 square metres and in use on 5 December 2013, to change from their existing A1 / A2 / launderette, amusement arcade, casino or nightclub use, to restaurant / cafe (A3) or assembly / leisure use (D2) without permission in certain instances;
  • introduce a new PDR, allowing commercial filming and associated physical development on certain sites;
    support the installation of solar photovoltaic panels on non-domestic buildings;
  • allow waste management facilities to replace buildings, equipment and machinery in certain situations without specific permission; and
  • permit sewerage undertakers to install equipment housings via new PDRs.

Payday loan and betting shops would be excluded from a new, wider ‘retail class’. Such establishments would therefore not benefit from the heightened planning flexibility, with local councils retaining control over these opening in their area.

Environmental Impact Assessments

The screening threshold for EIAs for development of residential property in urban areas will potentially be raised from 0.5 hectare to five hectares. This equates to schemes of less than 150 units being excluded. The change would significantly reduce the burden on developers of sites in town and city locations, being expected to reduce the number of such screenings from 1,600 per year to approximately 300. If accepted, a substantial reduction in the time and costs expended to obtain planning permission on such projects would be likely.

For industrial estate development, the screening threshold may also be raised from 0.5 hectares to five hectares. However, if any development project is in a sensitive area, case-by-case screening will continue.

Additional

A further proposal under the Consultation is to alter the approach to obtaining views from statutory consultees. The change is expected to reduce the number of applications needing input from organisations such as English Heritage, Natural England and the Highways Agency. Most notably, the Environment Agency would not be affected here. Correspondingly, where development is proposed near a railway, the notification requirements would be strengthened.

Amongst the other measures open for discussion, is the suggestion that local authorities should resolve applications for neighbourhood area status within 70 days of receipt. Currently, applications can take an average of 126 days, with some being submitted 400 days before any decision is made. Many local communities have already produced neighbourhood plans or development orders. While parish councils, town councils and neighbourhood forums would still need to consult and win a local referendum before submitting their final plan / order, it is proposed that the minimum six-week consultation and publicity period is removed.

Consultation Response

The Consultation was officially launched with publication of the formal document on 31 July 2014. Any member of the public with an interest in the proposals may respond, but the deadline for submissions to DCLG is Friday 26 September. The Consultation’s outcome is likely to be known within three months of the closing date. For more information on the possible impact of the changes or the process for submitting representations, contact the Planning and Environment team at Walker Morris.

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