It seems hardly a week goes by without the Government announcing another initiative ‘to get the planners off our backs’. In case you’re losing track, here’s the state of play on the main proposals as at 30 November 2012. We’ve grouped them under three headings: the Growth and Infrastructure Bill; Permitted Development Rights; and Other Changes:
Growth and Infrastructure Bill
The Growth and Infrastructure Bill was presented to Parliament on 18 October 2012. It has just completed the line by line scrutiny of Committee stage (when many amendments were tabled) and will now go on to Report Stage. The Bill as presented takes forward several of the Coalition Government’s planning commitments:
Local planning authorities in special measures
Clause 1 allows that where a local planning authority has been ‘designated’, an applicant for a major development will have the choice of making the application direct to the Secretary of State/Inspectorate. DCLG is consulting (1) on its proposals for designating a LPA which has ‘consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions’: where 30% or fewer applications for major development are determined within 13 weeks (16 weeks for EIA applications) or where more than 20% of major decisions are overturned at appeal – in both cases averaged over a two year period. Planning applications which are subject to Planning Performance Agreements would not be included in the statistics.
Clauses 2 and 3 broaden the powers of the Secretary of State and Inspectors to award costs between parties and to recover his own costs at planning appeals and certain other planning proceedings, along with broader powers to award costs at compulsory purchase order inquiries. The Clauses would enable the SofS/Inspector to award costs even where none of the parties has applied for such an award.
Reducing information accompanying planning application
Clause 4 introduces a limit on the Local Planning Authority’s power to require information with planning applications which should be proportionate and material to the application in question.
Renegotiating affordable housing requirements
Clause 5 provides for an application to be made to vary affordable housing requirements contained in a planning obligation in order to make a development economically viable. Where the planning obligation makes a development economically unviable, the local planning authority must modify replace or remove the obligation. It also allows an appeal to the SofS where the planning obligation is not modified as requested. The clause will come into force on the day the Act is passed.
Stopping up and diversion of highways
Clause 9 will enable a draft order for stopping up or diversion of highways to be published at planning application stage rather than the current position where applicants usually have to wait until planning permission has been granted.
Amongst other things, Clause 13 prevents town and village green registration from occurring when a number of “trigger” events happen, such as an application for planning permission or where the land is identified for potential development.
Nationally significant commercial development
Clause 21 enables the SofS to direct that certain commercial and business development (but not housing) is of national significance and as such will require development consent as a nationally significant infrastructure project and will thus be determined by the SofS. The direction would only be made at the request of the applicant or prospective applicant. The DCLG has published for consultation guidance (2) on the types and forms of projects to be prescribed in the regulations. The types and sizes of projects suggested include: over 40,000 sqm for offices, research and development, manufacturing, warehousing, conference and exhibition centres developments; over 100 ha in area for tourism, leisure and sports and recreation developments; 40,000 seat sports stadia; and over 100,000 sqm major mixed use developments (excluding housing).
Permitted Development rights
In July 2012, the Government published for consultation proposals to extend permitted development rights for the reuse of existing buildings (3) . On 12th November 2012 the Government published for consultation further proposals for extending permitted development rights for a temporary 3 year period to make it easier for businesses and homeowners to extend their properties (4) . The key proposals from both documents are summarised below:
For a period of three years in non-protected areas, permitted thresholds for single storey rear extensions would increase from 3m to 6m for semi-detached dwellings and 4m to 8m for detached, subject to various limitations including no more than 4m high and development to cover not more than 50% of the curtilage of the house.
For a period of three years in non-protected areas, increased permitted size limits for extensions to shops, professional/financial services and offices to 100 sq m. Increased permitted size limit for industrial premises to 200 sq m.
Agricultural buildings to other uses supporting rural growth
Proposals to permit changes from agriculture to other low impact business uses such as workshops, offices, storage, food processing, café, leisure.
Higher thresholds for changes between B1, B2 and B8
Proposed doubling of the current floorspace limit from 235 sq m to 470 sq m for permitted changes of use between B1 and B8 and from B2 to B1/B8.
Temporary 2 year low impact uses
Proposed permitted temporary (2 years) change of use of ‘redundant buildings’ currently falling into use classes A, B1, D1 and D2. Appropriate temporary uses likely to be within use classes A1, A2, A3 and B1.
Hotels (C1) to dwelling houses (C3)
No details on possible size bands, but the consultation paper states these are more likely to apply to smaller hotel premises.
The Planning Guarantee
The Government’s Plan for Growth (March 2011) included a proposed guarantee that no planning application should take more than a year to decide. This would allow a maximum of 26 weeks for the local planning authority to reach its decision and, should there be an appeal, a similar maximum period of 26 weeks for the Inspectorate. DCLG is consulting (5) on a proposed amendment to secondary legislation whereby the applicant’s planning application fee would be refunded if the planning application remains undecided after 26 weeks.
DCLG published for consultation on 1 November 2012 its proposals (6) to streamline the appeals system and ‘change behaviours’ through changes to secondary legislation. Some of the key proposals are: submission of appeal statement and draft statement of common ground when the appeal is made rather than after 6 weeks; subsequent agreement of Statement of Common Ground after 5 weeks; inquiries to be held within 16 weeks rather than 20 weeks; hearings to be held within 10 weeks rather than 12 weeks; fast-track Commercial Appeals Service for advertisement consent, changes to shop fronts, change of use and minor development <1,000 sq m – for these applications there would be a 12 week period rather than 6 months in which to appeal.
While the Government has not announced any proposals to change the law in relation to protection of the Green Belt, in a Ministerial Statement on 6 September 2012 the Minister for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles announced that the Government will encourage local planning authorities to review and tailor the extent of Green Belt land in their local areas. The Statement emphasises the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the Green Belt but at the same time refers to ‘considerable previously developed land in many Green Belt areas which could be put to more productive use’. As an incentive, LPAs who review green belt land in their local plans will have their local plan examination process prioritised.
Commercial to residential
The National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012) includes at para 51 the Government’s advice that councils should normally approve change of use from commercial B uses to residential provided there are not strong economic reasons why this would be inappropriate. Many thought this was the end of the matter, but in his 6 Sep Ministerial statement Eric Pickles announced that the government will ‘…introduce permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential purposes, while providing the opportunity for authorities to seek a local exemption where they believe there will be an adverse economic impact.’ The Government has yet to publish its proposals.
Flats above shops
On 1 October 2012 an amendment to the General Permitted Development Order (7) came into force which now enables buildings used as shops or financial and professional services to change to a mixed use incorporating up to two flats (and to revert back to non-residential use) without the need to apply for planning permission. The previous GPDO allowed change of use to only one flat.