Government launches 'technical consultation' into further planning reforms

Out-Law News | 01 Aug 2014 | 4:59 pm | 2 min. read

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has launched a 'technical consultation ' (98-page / 475 KB PDF) into proposed further planning reforms, outlining proposals for a wide range of changes aimed at simplifying and speeding up the planning process.

Among the proposals are several measures to reduce the number of developments for which a full planning application is required. The government introduced a right to convert offices into homes without applying for planning permission for a three year period in May 2013. Under the new proposals, this permitted development right would be extended beyond 2016 and new rights would allow homes to be created in buildings currently used for light industry, warehousing, launderettes, casinos, nightclubs and amusement arcades.

It is also proposed that the definition of 'shops' be broadened to include many property uses currently classed as financial and professional services, to enable businesses to move between premises without requiring local authority planning consent. Permission would not be required for conversions for several use classes into restaurants and cafes under the proposals, but new restrictions would prevent changes of use to a pay day loan shop or betting shop without consent.

New measures are proposed to speed up and simplify the neighbourhood planning process, including introducing a 70 day time limit for local planning authorities to determine applications to designate a neighbourhood area and removing the requirement for a minimum six week consultation and publicity period when preparing a neighbourhood plan or neighbourhood development order.

The government raised concerns in the document that "local planning authority practice around the use of [planning] conditions and discharging conditions that need further approval can add unnecessary burdens and delays to the development process". To address these concerns, a new "deemed discharge" mechanism is proposed, allowing applicants to regard matters "as having the approval or consent of the local planning authority" where councils fail to respond within six weeks to an application to discharge certain types of planning condition.

Also proposed are requirements for local authorities to share drafts of proposed conditions with applicants for major developments in advance of making a decision, and to provide written justifications explaining why any pre-commencement conditions applied are required to be discharged before development starts.

Several changes are proposed in relation to development consent orders (DCOs), through which the government gives permission for nationally significant infrastructure projects. The process for making changes to DCOs is to be simplified under the plans, reducing the number of people that need to be consulted about material changes and giving the government discretion to dispense with the need to hold an examination.

The timescales for decision-making relating to changes to DCOs will also be shortened and developers will be given the choice, under the proposals, of whether certain non-planning consents are dealt with as part of the DCO application or obtained separately from relevant consenting bodies.

Other measures proposed in the document are changes to the thresholds at which Environmental Impact Assessments and statutory consultee involvement are required in planning applications.

"Since 2010 we've made significant strides in reforming our planning system from one of draconian top-down targets, to one where local people are in charge and it's working well," said housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis in a statement. "Last year alone, planning permission was granted for 216,000 new homes."

"Today's proposals will help scrap even more red tape and make it easier to get the homes and shops communities want built, while at the same time breathing life into our vital industries," added Lewis.

The consultation is open until 26 September.