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Briefings

Member Briefing: Secretary of state publishes statement on planning measures

Date: 27/03/15

Secretary of state publishes statement on planning measures

In a written Ministerial statement published on 25 March Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced a number of steps the government are taking to streamline the planning system, protect the environment, support economic growth and assist locally-led decision-making.

The full Ministerial Statement can be read here:

SOLAR ENERGY

The statement gives new permitted development rights for the installation of solar panels on  roofs. These new rights will be available from the 15th April 2015.

The statement also recognises the tension between increasing solar energy capacity and public opposition to large solar farms, particularly in sensitive landscapes and on best and most versatile agricultural land. Reference is made to the planning practice guidance which sets out the balance that needs to be struck especially the necessary evidence to develop on the best and most versatile agricultural land.

BROWNFIELD LAND

The government has agreed to fund local authorities who wish to produce local development orders on brownfield land as pilots for their policy target of 90% of brownfield land to be covered by LDOs. This follows a recent consultation on the proposal and a bidding round for local authorities.

GREEN BELT

The government is concerned that unauthorised development in the green belt causes harm that cannot be mitigated. The government therefore proposes to introduce a planning and recovery policy in the next parliament to ensure that the openness of the green belt is restored where development has been unauthorised.

PARKING STANDARDS

The statement claims that, despite national parking standards being revoked by this government some local authorities are still applying maximum parking standards. The statement therefore adds to paragraph 39 of the National Planning Policy Framework. The following text now needs to be read alongside that paragraph: “Local planning authorities should only impose local parking standards for residential and non-residential development where there is clear and compelling justification that it is necessary to manage their local road network.”

Non residential car parking spaces can also be rented out without a change of use being made.

STREAMLINING PLANNING PROCESSES

The government has finally consolidated the Development Management Procedure Order (DMPO) incorporating all of the amendments that have been implemented since the original order was made in 2010. The full DMPO can be found here: and will come into force on 15th April 2015.

The new Order incorporates the new provisions for deemed discharge of planning conditions, a provision HBF has been advocating for some time. Although there are a number of provisos and exemptions the provisions may change current practice of local planning authorities with regard to the discharge of conditions making the process faster and more predictable.

PLANNING PRACTICE GUIDANCE

The WMS makes a number of useful references to proposed updates to Planning Practice Guidance. Of note to members are changes to guidance with regard to the threshold to be applied to Environmental Impact Assessment screening of development projects. The new thresholds (assumed to be in line with the previous consultation of 5ha or 150 dwellings) will apply from 6 April 2015.

The government has responded to the recent consultation on speeding up S106 agreements and will update the guidance to reflect best practice of discussing such agreements earlier in the planning process, greater use of standard clauses and preferring conditions to legal agreements. 

The previously announced exemption of small sites from affordable housing contributions has been misunderstood by some as being only guidance rather than policy. The statement makes it clear that this is not the case and that the new thresholds should be applied everywhere.

Further guidance on the empty building credit against affordable housing contributions is also to be published shortly.

Government is also publishing new guidance to make clear that up to date assessments of housing need should not normally need to be updated for a full 12 months, and that untested assessments of housing need are inevitably less robust than those which have been subject to examination.

PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS

As of the 15 April further permitted development rights will be allowed for change of use from more business uses (casinos, warehouses and launderettes) to residential use following a prior approval process.

Disappointingly there is no extension to the time period for the change of use of offices (B1(a) use) to residential and this therefore remains as May 2016. The statement says that the government will “further consider the case” for such an extension to the time period.

ZERO CARBON HOMES

Under the Infrastructure Act 2015 the future energy performance of new dwellings will be covered by the building regulations. The Act provides for the offsite mitigation component of the zero carbon policy - “allowable solutions” – to be incorporated in building regulations to enable compliance with all the requirements of the zero carbon policy to be dealt with via these regulations.

However, in order to assist smaller developers and the costs associated with on-site compliance of smaller sites, developments of 10 units or less will be exempt from contributing to the allowable solution component of the zero carbon standards so that their regulatory requirements would be limited to meeting the equivalent of level of (the outgoing) Code Level 4 for Energy performance on-site.

HOUSING STANDARDS – STREAMLINING THE SYSTEM

The statement sets out the new regime of housing standards, previously consulted on through the housing standards review. This places new national technical standards in “optional” building regulations and introduces a new national space standard (applied through local plans only).

The government has now withdrawn the Code for Sustainable Homes. New and emerging local plans should not require technical standards in excess of those set out in the new building regulations. The optional new national technical standards should only be required through any new Local Plan policies (including application of the national internal space standards) if they address a clearly evidenced need, and where their impact on viability has been considered. Such standards cannot be required through neighbourhood plans.

For the specific issue of energy performance, local planning authorities will continue to be able to set and apply policies in their Local Plans which require compliance with energy performance standards that exceed the energy requirements of Building Regulations until commencement of amendments to the Planning and Energy Act 2008 in the Deregulation Bill 2015.

This is expected to happen alongside the introduction of the full requirements of the zero carbon homes policy in late 2016. The government has stated that, from then, the energy performance requirements in Building Regulations will be set at a level equivalent to the (outgoing) Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4. Until the amendment is commenced, the government expects local planning authorities to take this statement of the government’s intention into account in applying existing policies and not set conditions with requirements above a Code level 4 equivalent.

From the date the Deregulation Bill 2015 is given Royal Assent until 30 September 2015: The government’s policy is that planning permissions should not be granted requiring, or subject to conditions requiring, compliance with any technical housing standards other than for those areas where authorities have existing policies on access, internal space, or water efficiency.

Planning permission may still be granted on the basis of existing Local Plan and neighbourhood plan policies on access, internal space, and water efficiency, even though they may have a degree of conflict with the new national technical standards.

Where there is an existing plan policy which references the Code for Sustainable Homes, authorities may continue to apply a requirement for a water efficiency standard equivalent to the new national technical standard, or in the case of energy a standard consistent with the policy set out in the relevant paragraph of the statement, concerning energy performance.

From 1 October 2015: Existing Local Plan, neighbourhood plan, and supplementary planning document policies relating to water efficiency, access and internal space should be interpreted by reference to the nearest equivalent new national technical standard. Decision takers should only require compliance with the new national technical standards where there is a relevant current Local Plan policy.

A Whitaker

HBF Planning Director