Forthcoming planning changes

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Forthcoming planning changes

Forthcoming planning changes

The Housing and Planning Bill makes provision for changes to the planning system with the aim of getting more houses built. However, some planning reform proposals which have been announced by Government do not have provision in either the Energy Bill or the Housing and Planning Bill.

Some of the changes include:

  • Section 106 contributions, sometimes known as “planning obligations”
  • Permitted development rights
  • Planning conditions
  • Changes to planning application fees

Planning obligations

These assist in mitigating the impact of unacceptable development to make it acceptable in planning terms. With this in mind the government sought views on two issues in February 2015 which were speeding up the negotiation and completion of Section 106 planning obligations; and whether the requirement to provide affordable housing contributions acts as a barrier to development providing dedicated student accommodation. It was proposed to update the Planning Practice Guidance to promote the use of standard clause and promote greater use of pre-application engagement by all parties. This has now been done.

If a council proves difficult and delays sorting out and agreeing the terms of any necessary s106 obligation, then there will be a dispute resolution option to call upon. In the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 a new clause was added at Report Stage to provide the Secretary of State with powers to restrict the enforcement of planning obligations in relation to affordable housing in certain situations. This is yet to be defined, so who knows what this means?

Permitted Development

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 (SI 332) came into force on 6 April 2016. It introduces new permitted development rights in relation to office to residential change of use, light industrial to housing change of use, launderette to housing change of use and development in connection with petroleum exploration monitoring and appraisal.

Other permitted development rights are also proposed in relation to change of use to a state funded school, for taller mobile masts and for upwards extensions of buildings in certain circumstances.

Planning Conditions

In the November 2015 Autumn Statement the Government said it will review the operation of the deemed discharge of planning conditions. Deemed discharge of planning conditions was a measure introduced where LPA’s had failed to approve an application to discharge a planning condition on time, it would be treated as approved.

In March the Government stated it wishes minimize delays caused by planning conditions. One such change is to ensure pre-commencement planning conditions can only be used with the agreement of the developer. We are sure in this instance the “pilots” will hear the clapping after landing! But then again there might not be any clapping when you read the next point.

Planning fees

With the majority of MPs believing fees for planning applications should increase, the government has taken some steps to address this problem. The proposal is to allow local authorities to outsource the processing of planning applications and to reward well-performing local authorities by allowing them to increase planning fees by an inflationary increase.

Should fees rise in line with inflation? The answer would be yes, fees should rise at least with inflation irrespective of whether the LPA is ‘performing well’. Planning fees are required to run an efficient service. Is that a torch and pitchfork crowd of colleagues I hear outside my office?

To clarify, we can all just hope this would lead to receiving an efficient service as some developers are pulling their hair out daily having to deal with “under-performing” local authorities.

Are we moving towards privatizing the planning system?

With some local authority planning departments short staffed, putting those who remain under enormous strain, so will developers be able to circumvent planning departments that take too long to process applications. To a degree we would welcome the outsourcing approach; however, will it weaken the accountability of local planning departments? Ultimately the local authority will still determine applications.

Outsourcing the processing of planning applications will likely relieve the burden on planning departments to an extent, but it is not going to solve the chronic shortage of skills and resource that is the true problem.

Watch this space!!

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