Change begins again

Change begins again

In July 2014 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued a ‘technical consultation on planning’, a 98 page consultation paper putting forward proposals for change, and posing a significant number of questions. Six areas are covered:

  1. neighbourhood planning 
  2. reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth
  3. improving the use of planning conditions 
  4. improvements to the planning application process 
  5. amending environmental impact assessment thresholds 
  6. improving the development consent order process

Regrettably, the only way to fully get to grips with the numerous changes proposed is to read the consultation paper as a whole. Some however jump out more than others.

Neighbourhood planning

The proposals regarding amendments to neighbourhood planning broadly speaking appear to be aimed at introducing more formality into the process of designating neighbourhood areas, introducing time limits throughout the process and suggesting more rigid consultation exercises. Interestingly, the paper asks whether there should be a statutory requirement for a statement of reasons / environmental report / an explanation why an emerging plan is not subject to strategic environmental assessment. Ironically this is followed by a question as to what further steps might be taken to encourage more communities to produce a neighbourhood plan.

Reducing planning regulations

The reduction in regulations really means proposing the introduction of more permitted changes of use. The pick of the suggested new permitted development rights are:

  1. change from light industrial and storage and distribution, to residential;
  2. change from laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs, to residential;
  3. making permanent the right to change from office to residential, and large extensions to dwellings;
  4. change from A1, A2 and laundrettes, amusement arcades/casinos and nightclubs to restaurants and cafes (A3);
  5. change of use from A1 and A2 uses and laundrettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs, to assembly and leisure uses (D2);
  6. increasing the current floor space that can be put towards internal mezzanine floors as permitted development from 200 sqm.

Improving the use of planning conditions 

Two practices concerning planning conditions have been a bugbear for a long time: the tendency to impose too many conditions (particularly Grampian) and delays in discharge. The consultation paper proposes a deemed discharge process, allied with a reduction in the time limit for the return of the fee payable from 12 weeks to 8 weeks.

The consultation paper poses relatively open questions about what steps could be taken to restrict the proliferation of conditions on planning consents.  Sharing the draft decision notice with the developers in advance of grant, but only for major developments, is proposed. In practice this often happens in any event.  What might be more useful is the suggestion that authorities should be required to justify the use of pre-commencement conditions.  

Improving the planning application process

There is an interesting section (Section 4) in the paper on improving the planning application process, chiefly focussed on better controls on consultations with statutory consultees (the likes of Natural England, English Heritage, Highways Authority and the Secretary of State).  These should be welcomed by the development industry and I would recommend reading that section of the report if this is a subject close to your heart. Equally, take the opportunity to have your say.

Environmental Impact Assessment thresholds

Currently the screening process can be brought into play even where developments are relatively small scale in terms of area.  For urban development projects and industrial estate development the threshold is just 0.5 hectares. No replacement limit is proposed, rather an open question is asked as to where the limit should be set. However, the paper does suggest raising the screening threshold for development of dwelling houses to up to 5 hectares including where there is up to 1 hectare of non residential urban development.

The response paper to the representations received should make for informative reading. The consultation is open until 26 September 2014, so if you have seen developments stalled by the sorts of issues discussed in the paper, I would urge you to send your comments to DCLG.

For the full paper, see:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/technical-consultation-on-planning

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