Out-Law News 2 min. read

UK government outlines Business and Planning Bill

Reforms proposed in a new Business and Planning Bill published by the UK government highlight the central role the planning process has to play in the country's economic recovery from the coronavirus outbreak, two planning law specialists have said.

Nicholle Kingsley and Sue Chadwick of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said, though, that the government could still make more of this opportunity to deliver widespread and lasting reform to the planning process in England.

Chadwick said: "The Bill is an extraordinary mix of different legislative agendas: planning, licensing, financial, and HGV testing and licences. This is partly a sign of the times but also a strong indication of just how fundamental the planning system is to a functioning economy."

Kingsley said: "While some will breathe a sigh of relief at the planning measures unveiled today, there will be many who will be disappointed. Put simply, the temporary and short term nature of most of these measures do not provide enough scope for meaningful impact and recovery for businesses grappling with the economic pressures prompted by the pandemic."

The only proposed permanent change to the planning process is outlined under clause 20 of the Bill. It allows the Planning Inspectorate to implement "flexible deployment" of written representations, hearings or local inquiries – or a mix of all three – for any appeal process, including those relating to a planning application, enforcement notice or for changing affordable housing under a section 106 agreement.

Kingsley said: "The permanent changes which allow planning inspectors to use hybrid or mixed procedures will need to be closely followed in practice to see what effect this has to clearing the current appeals backlog and the future speed and efficiency of the planning appeal process. They are however, practical short term measures while the extent of the wider reform agenda remains uncertain," she said.

Among the temporary planning measures proposed include the introduction of a new, fast track application process for the temporary variation of planning conditions relating to construction site working hours. The extension can be to hours or days. The extension can only be granted to April 2021. Approval will be deemed to be granted if the local authority does not respond in 14 days.

Chadwick said the short deadline for response is likely to "put an enormous amount of pressure on local authorities that are already stretched", while Kingsley said difficulties are likely to arise from more flexible construction site working hours in respect of issues of noise and other residential amenity.

Clause 17 of the Bill provides for the extension of some planning permissions and applies both to permissions that are due to expire and those that have expired already. Where permissions were due to expire between the date the Bill comes into force and 31 December 2020 the time limit for commencement or submission of reserved matters is extended to April 2021. Where permissions expired on a date between 23 March this year and the date the Bill comes into force then the time limit for commencement is extended to April 2021.

Where the expired permission needed an environmental impact assessment (EIA) then an additional environmental approval will have to be obtained. The local authority has to be "satisfied" that the EIA and habitats requirements are met and this test is simply that the proposal is covered by an up to date EIA or assessment.

"This could be a source of challenge for third parties unhappy with the original proposals," Chadwick said. "Both developers and local authorities will need to make sure that they comply with the legal principles behind the legislation."

The Bill is likely to become law very soon. An "all stages" debate on the Bill is scheduled to take place in the House of Commons on 29 June.

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