6 proposals which affect developers & LPAs: Technical consultation on Planning

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The Department for Communities and Local Government has published a consultation on a range of plans to streamline the planning system. The consultation closes on 26 September 2014.

Proposals to streamline neighbourhood planning procedures, increase permitted development rights (PD rights) and introduce statutory measures for deeming the discharge of planning conditions should have a fairly significant effect on the plan-making and planning application procedures for both developers and LPAs.

The government advocates the measures as 'practical improvements that build on earlier reforms, to help more people benefit and, overall, help us get the development and housing our future growth depends upon', but there are fears local authorities could lose control over development in their areas and miss out on valuable funding

1. Neighbourhood planning

  • proposals to introduce a statutory time limit of 10 weeks within which a local planning authority (LPA) must make a decision on whether to designate a neighbourhood area.
  • amending the NDP and NDO consultation requirements
  • requiring further documents to accompany an NDP/NDO when submitted to an LPA to comply with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

By no longer prescribing a minimum period for pre-submission consultation and publicity, there may be concerns that developers with an interest in an NDP or NDO will not have an opportunity to engage in the process. The government recognises this and advises that those with an interest in land allocated for development in the NDP should be directly consulted during the NDP’s preparation. Regulations already include a requirement to consult the owners and tenants of land proposed to be developed under an NDO proposal and the government proposes to introduce a similar requirement for NDPs.

2. Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth

There are multiple proposals to create new PD rights. The keys ones propose to:

  • allow light industrial buildings (B1(c)) and storage and distribution buildings (B8), which were in that use at the time of the 2014 Budget, to change use to residential (C3) use
  • allow some sui generis uses to convert to residential (C3) use, namely launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs
  • replace the current PD right for change of use from office to residential from May 2016. Exemptions applying to the current PD right will not apply to the new PD right
  • make permanent the existing PD right for a householder single storey rear extension or conservatory
  • enable the change of use to the wider retail (A1) class from betting shops and pay day loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafés (A3), drinking establishments (A4), and hot food takeaways (A5)

Office to residential conversions and PD rights have been controversial since their temporary introduction. The right is subject to a number of significant qualifications, eg excluding vacant new offices, listed buildings, scheduled ancient monuments and certain 'exemption areas'.

Many LPAs expressed concern when the PD right was initially introduced, but experience to date reveals that these powers are now being used effectively by developers. An example of this is the approval by Birmingham City Council of the conversion of 10 floors of an office building into 120 flats in a conservation area.

LPAs can also consult with the community about whether PD rights could be withdrawn, using Article 4 directions. See Practice Note: Article 4 directions

Developers are likely to welcome the new rights, and potential increased viability of schemes as a result. However, it is likely that the absence of the need to pay contributions via planning obligations will affect infrastructure in LPA's areas and could be challenged in future. LPAs may suffer from losing control over the location of housing developments in what they perceive to be the most appropriate places.

3. Deemed discharge of planning conditions

The consultation proposes to introduce a ‘deemed discharge’ where an LPA has not responded within a reasonable time to an application to discharge certain types of planning condition.

This is hoped to result in a more efficient process for handling conditions and more certainty on time frames for applicants. Applicants may also benefit from the reduced number of conditions, due to the greater focus on addressing issues before a decision is made. A reduced number of conditions could reduce fees and administrative costs applying for a condition to be removed, varied or discharged.

LPAs may benefit from fewer conditions being attached to planning permission, and therefore they will need to dedicate fewer resources to dealing with discharge. However, LPAs have warned that the increased time pressure may put a further strain on their already tight resources.

4. Planning application process improvements

These include measures to:

  • change the thresholds for statutory consultee involvement in planning applications 'to achieve a more proportionate approach' and change arrangements for notification and referral of applications to the Secretary of State on some heritage matters
  • improve the process of notifying measures requiring that railway infrastructure managers are notified of planning applications for development near to railways

5. Environmental Impact Assessment thresholds

There are proposals to raise some of the size thresholds for screening projects for the need for an environmental impact assessment. New thresholds have been proposed for industrial estate development and urban development projects including housing.

6. Improving the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime

Changes to development consent orders (DCOs) for nationally significant infrastructure projects include:

• simplifying the process for making changes to DCOs, reducing the number of consultees and giving the government discretion to dispense with the need to hold an examination

• shortening timescales for decision-making relating to changes to DCOs and giving developers the choice of whether non-planning consents are dealt with as part of the DCO application or obtained separately from relevant consenting bodies

What are your thoughts? Do you welcome these changes? Have you say below or email the consultation.

Filed Under: Planning

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