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Planning consultation: proposed changes to neighbourhood plan and application processes

30 September 2014

In July of this year, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched a wide-ranging technical consultation on planning. A number of changes to neighbourhood plan and application processes are proposed, with the aim of speeding up the planning system.

Neighbourhood Plans

In May we commented on the importance of neighbourhood plans and why developers should not ignore them. More changes to the neighbourhood plan process are now proposed, including:

  • a time limit of 10 weeks (subject to conditions) for authorities to decide whether an area should be designated as a neighbourhood area, which will then allow the forum or relevant parish council for that area to bring forward a neighbourhood plan
  • controversially, removing the minimum 6 week consultation period for draft neighbourhood plans, but requiring the consultation undertaken to be tested when the plan undergoes independent examination
  • regulations requiring proposed neighbourhood plans to be accompanied by a screening opinion or an environmental report (or an explanation why neither are required) to ensure compliance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, and
  • requiring landowners (and other parties with an interest in land) to be consulted if the neighbourhood plan proposes to allocate their land for development. 

Planning conditions

In June we commented on proposed changes set out in the Infrastructure Bill, which would allow planning conditions that require further details to be approved, to be deemed discharged if the authority does not respond within a specified time. 

The consultation is seeking views on proposed exemptions to the deemed discharge provisions. The proposed exemptions include conditions relating to development that is subject to an environmental impact assessment, development in an area of high flood risk or approval of reserved matters under an outline permission.

The consultation proposes that before a condition can be deemed discharged, a six week period must have expired - the applicant can then serve notice on the authority. The authority would then have a further two weeks (or any longer period specified by the applicant) to determine the application, otherwise the condition is deemed to be discharged. 

The consultation also proposes that draft conditions are shared with applicants on all major developments and that authorities should be required to justify the use of pre-commencement planning conditions and other conditions that require the applicant to undertake further action before an aspect of the development can go ahead. 


Amendments are proposed to the current consultation requirements for planning applications, reducing the circumstances in which statutory consultees must be consulted. It is hoped the proposals will result in fewer applications being referred to Natural England, the Highways Agency, English Heritage and the Secretary of State. 

It is proposed however, to extend the consultation requirements for development near to a railway, requiring railway infrastructure managers (eg National Rail and Transport for London) to be notified of all such applications.

Environmental Impact Assessments

The consultation proposes to increase the thresholds for requiring a screening opinion under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (other than for development in sensitive areas, eg SSSIs, national parks). 

In particular, the current screening threshold for urban development projects is 0.5 hectares. For residential development, this is proposed to be raised to 5 hectares (anticipated to be equivalent to around 150 houses), including up to 1 hectare of non-residential development.

The government are open to considering a higher threshold.

Final Thoughts

Whilst some of the above proposals are welcome, there are potential pitfalls. The removal of the minimum consultation period for neighbourhood plans will concern developers and landowners seeking to ensure their proposals receive thorough consideration and testing. 

The detailed proposals in respect of discharge of conditions would limit the usefulness of the new measure - there is a risk that many authorities would simply refuse permission after receiving notice to avoid deemed consent.

On the other hand, a more flexible approach to the need for time consuming and expensive environmental impact assessment on smaller residential development schemes will be extremely welcome to housebuilders.

This article was written by Claire Fallows.

For more information please contact Claire on +44 (0)20 7427 1046 or claire.fallows@crsblaw.com