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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Chamber Blog: Government consults on more changes to planning


By Mike Gibson, Chair of the Chamber’s Property and Construction Committee

Those following my planning up-dates will know that the Government has been making changes to speed up the planning process and to reduce the burden on applicants for over the past few years.  Its reform of the planning system continues and it has recently published some more ideas with the same objectives.  In its ‘Technical Consultation on Planning’, the Government is proposing to take its changes even further and is inviting responses to consultation until 26 September.

The Government has criticised the planning system as being ‘convoluted, confusing, expensive and in many cases ineffective’ and its latest proposals:

• seek to make it easier for residents and businesses to come together to produce a neighbourhood plan or development order;
• set out proposals to further expand ‘permitted development rights’, to reduce red tape and support housing and growth and to help ensure that the planning system is proportionate and that a planning application is only required where it is genuinely justified;
• put forward four proposals to improve the use of planning conditions and enable development to start more quickly after planning permission is granted;
• focus on improving consultation with statutory consultees so that this is proportionate to those developments where the consultees’ input is most valuable;
• propose to raise the screening thresholds for environmental impact assessments (EIA) for industrial and urban development projects outside defined sensitive areas, thus reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and the cost and time taken to get planning permission;
• seek improvements to the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, including expanding the number of non-planning consents which can be included within Development Consent Orders.

Of particular note are the Government’s proposals to:

• make permanent the ‘permitted development rights’, allowing offices to be converted to residential and householders to build larger extensions, that were originally intended to last for a temporary period until 2016;
• allow light industrial and warehouse buildings, launderettes, amusement arcades, casinos and nightclubs to be converted to residential without the need for planning permission;
• broaden the shops ‘Use Class’ (A1) to incorporate the majority of uses currently within the financial and professional services ‘Use Class’ (A2) to provide businesses with greater flexibility to move between the various uses without the need for planning permission, although planning permission would be required to change from a shop to a betting office or a pay day loan shop;
• allow shops (both A1 and A2) to change to restaurants and cafes (A3) and to cinemas and music and concert halls (D2) without the need for planning permission.

Other changes would allow, without the need for planning permission, ancillary buildings, the extension of loading bays, the installation of solar panels on the roof of non-domestic buildings and the erection of larger extensions for shops, offices and industrial and warehouse buildings.

The Government is concerned that conditions of planning permission can take a long time to get Council ‘sign-off’ and proposes to introduce a ‘deemed discharge’ measure if Councils do not respond within a ‘reasonable time’. Where Councils impose ‘pre-commencement’ conditions of the type that forbids development commencing until such conditions are discharged, they must give a written justification as to why it is necessary for that particular matter to be dealt with before development can start.

More reductions in red tape are to be welcomed and these proposed changes will help to lift the burden on applicants by removing the need for planning permission in many cases and speeding up the consultation process and the discharge of conditions which can significantly prolong the application process and add to the cost of planning permission.  If the changes manage to get Councils to impose fewer conditions and no pre-commencement conditions then they will be well worthwhile.

Allowing more changes of use without the need for planning permission will provide more flexibility when marketing premises and will avoid the considerable time and cost involved with an application. However, uncontrolled changes of use from retail to a variety of uses could lead to a fragmented shopping centre, which could potentially have a harmful effect on the centre.

The proposed changes will no doubt get a different reaction from the business community than from local authorities and it will be interesting to see if all these proposals come into effect come the spring.  If they do it will be good news for businesses but will require a culture change from Councils.  Watch this space!

Mike Gibson, Chair of the Property & Construction Committee and Director of Connectivity Associates Ltd.

http://www.connectivityassociates.com/

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