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Member Briefing: Government publishes major consultation to improve the planning system

Date: 31/07/14

Government publishes major consultation to improve the planning system

The Government has published a wide-ranging consultation on proposals to improve the planning system. The 100 page document, published today, features sections on (i) Neighbourhood planning, (ii) planning regulations, (iii) planning conditions, (iv) the planning application process, (v) environmental impact assessments, and (vi) nationally significant infrastructure. A summary of the major points can be found below.

More information on the consultation, including the document itself and instructions on how to respond, can be found HERE. The deadline for submissions is 26th September 2014 and HBF will be submitting a consultation response. A submission form can be downloaded HERE

A summary of some of the key points can be found below.

David O’Leary

Deputy Director of External Affairs

Section 1: Neighbourhood planning

This section of the document proposes the introduction of time limits within which planning authorities must take decisions on certain applications for a neighbourhood area to be designated. The government has estimated that on average councils are currently taking 126 days to designate neighbourhood areas, with timescales varying from 45 days to 400 days. The proposal would involve a 10 week (70 day) time limit.

The Government also proposes imposing more robust tests on the pre-application consultation for prospective neighbourhood areas, including further consultation with landowners in areas allocated for development.

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

The Government proposes:

Introducing a new permitted development right to allow light industrial buildings (B1(c)) and storage & distribution buildings (B8) which were in that use at the time of the 2014 Budget to change to residential use

Allowing some sui generis uses to convert to residential use. This will include amusement arcades, casinos, nightclubs and launderettes.

The current permitted development right (originally due to expire in 2016) for change of use from offices (B1(a)) to residential, with some amendments, will be extended to cover developments completed up to 2019. 

Section 3: Improving the use of planning conditions

Two issues are identified by the Government in relation to the use of planning conditions:

1.     Tendency of planning authorities to impose too many conditions

2.     Delays in discharging conditions

Proposed measures

Deemed discharge of certain types of planning conditions. This provision is included in the Infrastructure Bill which is currently working its way through Parliament but until now little detail of the type of conditions and the terms of the automatic discharge had been discussed. The proposal would allow developers to notify the planning authority of their intention to consider the condition discharged after six weeks. The document proposes that the following conditions be exempted from the deemed discharge:

  • development which is subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • development which is likely to have a significant effect on a qualifying European site;
  • development in areas of high flood risk (e.g. where development is in flood zones 2 & 3 or where there are reported critical drainage issues;
  • conditions that have the effect of requiring that an agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended), Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 to be entered into before an aspect of the development can go ahead;
  • any conditions requiring the approval of details for outline planning permissions required by reserved matters.

It is also proposed that local planning authorities share a draft of the proposed conditions with an applicant before making a decision on major developments.

In relation to pre-commencement conditions, the Government proposes requiring authorities to provide written justification from them as to why it is necessary for that matter to be dealt with prior to development starting. This will be in addition to any other general justification that authorities are already required to provide.

Section 4: Planning application process improvements

The Government proposes streamlining the process related to consulting with statutory consultees. These proposals, however, do not relate to the Environment Agency as decisions are still outstanding on Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 which establishes an approval mechanism for Sustanable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

In relation to Natural England, the consultation proposes removing the requirement to consult Natural England on developments within 2km of a site of special scientific interest as this radius is deemed arbitrary. It is proposed that the judgment as to whether a development is “likely to affect” a site of special scientific interest instead be left up to the local planning authority.

Similarly, in relation to the Highways Agency, the proposal will specifically exempt small developments from needing input from the HA and apply a narrower ‘test’ focused on safety and queuing.

The consultation also proposes some changes to the requirements to consult English Heritage when developing in conservation areas

Measurement of the end-to-end planning process

The Government is also seeking views on how best to measure the time taken from the submission of planning applications until their determination in an effort to improve the information it has about the total time it takes for developments to be delivered including pre-application and post-permission stages.

Section 5: Environmental Impact Assessment thresholds

The proposals are intended to reduce the number of projects that are unnecessarily screened for environmental impact. As well as industrial estate development, this relates chiefly to urban development projects.

The Government proposes raising the screening threshold for development of dwellings up to five hectares, including where there is up to one hectare of non-residential urban development. Based on an average housing density of 30 dwellings per hectare, the new higher threshold will equate to schemes of around 150 units. This is expected to reduce the number of screenings for residential developments in England from around 1600 a year to approximately 300. 

Section 6: Nationally significant infrastructure

The consultation is also seeking views on publicising non-material changes to planning applications.