Third party consultee involvement and procedural steps to change following technical consultation

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Having already issued four reports detailing the outcome of its ‘Technical Consultation on Planning’, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has outlined further changes that are to take effect. The ‘Planning Application Process Improvements: Government Response to Consultation’ report was issued on 23 January 2015 (the Report). It moves forward changes from Section 4 of the consultation.

Section 4 proposed:

  • A change to the thresholds for statutory consultee involvement, to ensure a more proportionate and streamlined process when consulting on planning applications.
  • The requirement for railway infrastructure managers (RIMs) to be notified of planning applications where development is to take place near railways.
  • Consolidation of various elements of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2010 (DMPO 2010), both to bring about the changes above and improve measurement of the overall planning process.

During the eight-week consultation period, ending on 29 September 2014, DCLG received 389 responses relating to the Section 4 changes. The majority of the proposals are to be implemented going forward. It seems likely alterations to the DMPO 2010 to effect the changes will occur before May’s General Election.

Consulting Natural England

  • Currently, Natural England (NE) must be consulted on “development within an area that has been notified to the local planning authority (LPA) by Natural England and, which is within 2 kilometres of a site of special scientific interest”.
  • This rule is to be removed. It is hoped this will limit unnecessary consultation, while giving LPAs flexibility to decide when (and in relation to what) consultation is undertaken.
  • NE must still be consulted on developments “in or likely to affect a site of special scientific interest”.
  • The change does risk uncertainties arising, both for LPAs and developers, as to when exactly NE should be consulted. However, the Report suggests that NE’s on-line tool should be used by LPAs when deciding whether or not to consult. This facility maps Impact Risk Zones around SSSIs.

Consulting the Highways Agency

  • At the moment, the Highways Agency (HA) must be consulted where development is “likely to result in a material increase in the volume or a material change in the character of traffic entering or leaving a trunk road”.
  • This is to be changed. HA will need to be consulted where development “other than minor development” is “likely to result in an adverse impact on the safety of, or queuing on, a trunk road”.
  • The alteration is again aimed at avoiding unnecessary consultation and ensuring clarity.
  • DCLG intends to undertake further work to decide whether additional arrangements should be put in place, so the HA is also consulted when a new development could potentially impact on emissions levels and so the need to monitor emissions arises.

Consulting and notifying English Heritage

  • The requirements currently in place for consulting and notifying English Heritage (EH) regarding planning permission (PP) applications and listed building consent (LBC) are complex and time-consuming. The changes outlined in the consultation are therefore going ahead.
  • Now, EH will need to be:
    • consulted before PP is granted for development affecting Grade I and II* listed buildings, Grade I and II* registered parks and gardens, scheduled monuments and registered battlefields;
    • notified of applications for PP for development affecting Grade I and II* listed buildings’ setting;
    • notified of applications for PP for development affecting a conservation area’s character or appearance, where the development involves a new building being erected or extension of an existing building when the subject-land is more than 1000 square metres;
    • notified of LPAs’ own applications for PP for relevant demolition in conservation areas;
    • notified of all LBC applications and decisions on works affecting Grade I and II* listed buildings;
    • notified of all LBC applications and decisions for works affecting Grade II listed buildings, where certain types of demolition are involved;
    • consulted on applications for PP when the development is likely to affect certain strategically important views in London; and
    • notified of instances where consent is to be granted for certain works in Greater London.
  • The aim is to reduce the burden on LPAs and limit excessive consultation, while apparently ensuring that EH’s resources are expended on the most important cases.
  • Some concerns were raised during the consultation as to whether the changes would undermine long-term protection for the historic environment. Only time will tell whether any adverse impact will result, albeit EH does still need to be consulted in a large number of instances.
  • Alongside the above, EH’s power to direct the decision of LPAs in Greater London is to be removed.
  • It remains to be seen how these changes will take effect ‘on the ground’, particularly once EH is split into two separate entities from 1 April 2015.

Notifying and referring to the Secretary of State

  • Arrangements for London will be altered, bringing it in to line with the rest of England (as far as possible) in terms of the requirements for notifying and referring applications to the Secretary of State when applications are handled by EH and LPAs.
  • In addition, LPAs will have the power to determine their own and EH’s applications.
  • This will notably reduce the current requirement whereby all EH’s applications and all LPA applications are sent to DCLG for determination.

Other heritage-related consultations

  • Two minor changes were proposed here, looking to:
    • clarify situations when the National Amenity Societies must be notified of LBC applications, so this would only be needed for demolition of a “substantial” part of a building; and
    • move the requirement to consult the Garden History Society into the DMPO, rather than relying on a Secretary of State’s direction.
  • However, there will not be the proposed revision to the wording outlined as the first change. The addition of the term “substantial” was seen to increase uncertainty and risk bringing about delays.
  • The current notification requirement for National Amenity Societies therefore remains unchanged.
  • The current Garden History Society consultation requirement though, will be moved into the DMPO.

Notifying railway infrastructure managers

  • LPAs will have to notify RIMs of all planning applications where any part of the development is within 10 metres of a railway. The term “operational railway land” is to be used, with 10 metres from the boundary of operational railway land being the measured distance.
  • RIMs are seen as best placed to then decide how to respond to a notification – if they indeed feel the need to do so at all. The Report states that a response “will not be in every instance”.
  • RIMs will be able to voluntarily opt out of notification vis-a-vis specific types of development or for development in specific areas, so that there is not unnecessary notification.
  • DCLG is to issue guidance for RIMs, particularly encouraging them to issue accurate and prompt mapping information to assist LPAs.