Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Garden communities: planning applications and consenting

Out-Law Guide | 06 Dec 2021 | 1:09 pm | 2 min. read

There are various options to obtain planning permission for garden communities in England and Wales.

The most common are outline planning applications or hybrid planning applications, where most of the scheme is applied for in outline and some elements in detail. Sometimes there may be two linked applications, with highways and some other infrastructure contained in one application and twin tracked with an outline application for the key residential, open space and community facilities in another, particularly if there is a need to progress the highways or other infrastructure early to help with the delivery programme.

Local development orders (LDOs) are an option to provide planning permission for specific classes of development within a defined area, subject to certain conditions and limitations. They do not have as much flexibility in relation to the use of section 106 contributions and have yet to be used widely on projects the size of typical garden communities, though recent examples such as those at Nansledan in Cornwall have raised interest. There may be some instances where this is a credible option, but typically at present an outline or hybrid application is more tried and tested and may be easier to prepare and deal with in consenting terms.

Development consent orders (DCOs) provide another route to gaining planning permission and land control for key infrastructure requirements.

The pros and cons for the various consenting routes, including costs, programme and the local political landscape should be carefully assessed

Where there is a core area of a garden community involving qualifying infrastructure under the Planning Act 2008; and/or a significant business or commercial park or centre which could be designated as a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) in scale or importance, and in particular where there is also a need for land assembly via compulsory acquisition or a multitude of consents required, a DCO could be considered for those parts of the scheme, potentially alongside a planning application or LDO for the rest of the scheme.

If the garden community component is developer led, the DCO can be prepared by the developer and is subject to public examination by the Planning Inspectorate and approval by the relevant Secretary of State. Where there is a lack of political consensus or risk of severe delays in the planning process at a local level, this is a potential option some developers may consider, particularly as it is possible to now include 500 homes in a DCO where those relate to the core NSIP itself.

The government is also now considering the introduction of DCOs for large scale communities such as garden communities as part of its consideration of the Planning Bill. If such proposals are introduced, it would mean projects would not necessarily need to be led by infrastructure concerns to be eligible for the DCO process.

For some transport infrastructure, a Transport and Works Act order (TWAO) is another option.

The pros and cons for the various consenting routes, including costs, programme and the local political landscape should be carefully assessed.

Regardless of the route chosen, a robust environmental impact assessment (EIA) and transport assessment (TA) will be needed to underpin the consenting application. Interim assessments when major milestones of the development are met should be considered given the long-term nature of the project and the fact that baseline requirements are likely to change over time. Developers may need to reach an agreement with local authorities, such as through the terms of their Section 106 agreements, to monitor and review the impacts, and update the EIA and TA as required.