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Planning Law Update 2013

It is been a long stated policy of the Coalition Government to "radically reform" the planning system in order to generate economic growth and increase the supply of housing in the UK.  So what key changes have been implemented and/or announced?

Summary of recent legislation

The first wave of planning policy that was implemented by the current Government included the Localism Act 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework 2012

  • The Localism Act aimed to take power away from central government and hand it back to local authorities and communities. The Act seeks to give new freedoms and flexibilities to local government and local communities by making reforms to the planning system to make it clearer, more democratic, more effective and to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally. To achieve these aims, the Act introduced the following key changes to the planning system:
           
    • Regional strategies are intended to be abolished;
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    • Local authorities and other public bodies will have a duty to cooperate on planning issues;
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    • Neighbouring planning is intended to allow communities to say where they think new houses or businesses should be located and what they should look like. Local authorities will be required to provide technical advice and support in relation to these neighbourhood plans;
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    • Local Authorities now have powers to set their community infrastructure levy (CIL) rates. The independent examiner will only have the power to determine whether the charging schedules are at a level that does not make development viable. Once adopted, CIL rates will be fixed in an attempt to increase transparency although there remain significant practical concerns over the practicality of CILs given that CIL rates may not be able to respond to changing economic circumstances and the risk of duplicity given that a Section 106 Agreement is still likely to be required.
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  • The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (NPPF). At the heart of the new NPPF is the key phrase "presumption in favour of sustainable development". Sustainability in this context is defined by reference to prosperity (an economic role), to people (a social role) and to places (an environmental role).
       
    The NPPF makes it clear that Local Authorities are required to have in place up-to-date development plans for their district (i.e. an up-to-date Local Plan) that reflect the 12 core planning principles set out in the NPPF.

Further proposals to change the planning system

     
  • In the March 2011 budget, a proposal was made to streamline all planning applications and to ensure that every planning application was processed within a 12 month period (including and appeals);
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  • On 3 July 2012 the Government issued a press release in which revealed a full package of measures including making it easier to re-use existing agricultural, retail and commercial building, such as offices and warehouse, without the need to submit a planning application, cutting out unnecessary information in the application process and speeding up the process for determining planning appeals;
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  • In September 2002, the Secretary of State set out proposals to legislate to (a) allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance and (b) introduce legislation that would allow existing planning obligations to be renegotiated if the proposed development was no longer economically viable and (c) increase existing permitted development rights for extension to homes and business in non protected areas for a limited 3 year period;

So how does the Government intend to implement these proposals?

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 18 October 2012 and is currently at the Report Stage in the House of Lords. This Bill seeks to enact a number of the above proposals.

In summary, the Bill will: 

  • Allow planning applications to be made directly to the Planning Inspectorate if an LPA has been designated as having a consistently poor track record;
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  • Introduce a limit on the LPA's power to require information with planning applications;
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  • Allow for planning obligations which relate to affordable housing to be modified or discharged in order to make a development economically viable;
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  • Make it easier for Local Authorities to dispose of surplus land heal for planning purposes;
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  • Provide for changes to the town and village green registration system so that land owners could block registration;

While the draft Growth and Infrastructure Bill does attempt to address some current deficiencies in the planning system, the Government has realised that further substantial reforms are needed. So what can we expect in the coming months and years?

Further legislation pending?

     
  • Application decisions. On 21 January 2013, the Government published a new consultation - "streamlining the planning application process" - which contained proposals to reinstate an applicant's ability to challenge councils about the information necessary for a planning application to be valid and to simplify the requirement to provide design and access statements with most minor applications. The consultation closed on 4 March 2013 and its findings should be published shortly.
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  • Appeals. Without making any substantial declarations, the Government has continued its rhetoric regarding a potential root and branch reform of the planning appeals procedure in order to make the appeal process faster, more transparent and to ensure a certain level of consistency. On 1 November 2012, the Government published a consultation – technical review of planning appeal procedures – which will consulate on proposals to streamline the planning appeal system as follows:
              
    • Earlier submission and notification of appeal statements;
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    • Agreeing any common ground upfront so that the parties can narrow the down the issues of dispute;
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    • Starting hearing and inquiries sooner, leading to quicker decisions, within agreed boundaries set by the Planning Inspectorate;
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    • Introducing an expedite appeals service for minor commercial developments;
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    As an interim measure, the Government instructed the Planning Inspectorate in September 2012 to divert resources to prioritise all major and economic and housing related appeals with immediate effect to try and reduce the backlog of cases.
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  • Permitted development rights. On September 2012, the Government announced that it would extend permitted development rights, for three years, in order to make it easier for homeowners and businesses to extend their properties. The main proposals of the related consultation were:
         
    • To increase the size limited for the depth of single-storey domestic extension from 4m to 8m (for detached houses) and from 3m to 6m (for all other houses), in non-protected areas;
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    • To increase the size limited for extensions to offices to 100m2, in non-protected areas, for a period of 3 years;
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    • To increase the size limited for new industrial buildings within the cartilage of existing industrial premises to 200m2, in non-protected areas, for a period of 3 years;
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    The Consultation period ended on 24 December 2012 and any changes to the current legislation would be implemented by a statutory instrument which would amend the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. However, there has been fierce criticism of these proposals from professional organisations and various government bodies and it remains unclear whether the Government will continue to seek to implement these proposals.
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  • Office to Residential. The Government has announced that it intends to introduce new permitted development rights to allow change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential. A letter to the chief planning officers dated 24 January 2013 confirmed that the new rights would come into force in "Spring 2013" and run for a period of 3 years. As many Local Authorities raised concerns regarding the impact of these rights (with particular concerns over the availability of employment sites and office space) the Government is allowing Local Authorities to seek exemptions to these new rights in certain circumstances including a exemption if there will be substantial adverse economic consequences which are not offset by the likely positive benefits.
       
    To order to seek any such exemptions, all Local Authorities had to apply to the Secretary of State with supporting evidence by 22 February 2013. An Order seeking to amend the existing legislation is expected shortly.

If you required any further information on anything covered in this briefing please contact Steven Scates.