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Decision making

The Government wants to make the decision making stage faster and more certain, with firm deadlines. Further, and to be welcomed, it sees technological innovation as a substantial part of the solution – with new software to speed the application process and improved access to better data sets. Huge innovation and investment will be required.

Delivering the Plan: The Government intend that the changes to the Local Plan process would provide more certainty to developers as follows:

  • Areas identified as “growth” would automatically be given outline planning permission – the principle of development is not revisited. Further detailed consents would focus on good design and site-specific technical issues, potentially via a reformed reserved matters or Local Development Order prepared alongside the Local Plan. A masterplan and site-specific design code could provide guidance on what “beauty” should look like.  For new towns, the Development Consent Order regime is being considered, alongside amended powers for Development Corporations.
  • For areas classed for “renewal”, there could be a statutory presumption in favour of development. Consent could be granted for pre-established development types through a new permission route (akin to permitted development?) giving automatic consent, if design and other prior approvals are met (so not very automatic). The aim is to have “pattern books” of popular and replicable forms of development, allowing gentle intensification in accordance with established design principles, to help SME developers enter the market and make greater use of modern methods of construction. A pilot programme will be developed. Alternatively, the Government moots a faster planning application process or use of Local or Neighbourhood Development Orders.
  • For both “growth” and “renewal” areas, a proposal could come forward outside the Local Plan via a planning application, but this should be the exception not the rule. In “protected” areas, planning applications would be required, save where permitted development rights or development orders apply, and would be judged against national policies.

Alternative approaches of the use of permission in principle are being considered. Decision making would be delegated to officers where the principle of development is established, which would be a positive step. The means to deal with neighbour concerns within the system are as yet to be considered.

Environment - Following our exit from the EU, the Government is looking at the creation of a simpler framework for assessing environmental impact and enhancement opportunities - more detailed consultation is expected in the autumn. Beyond protected areas, the Environment Bill will legislate for mandatory net gains for biodiversity. Local Nature Recovery Strategies will identify opportunities to secure enhancements. The NPPF will require new streets will be tree lined. The approach to flood risk will be reassessed. The aim is for net-zero buildings by 2050 and, from 2025, for new homes to produce 75-80% lower CO2 compared to current levels.

Design - Beauty features strongly, with more emphasis on placemaking and beauty to be worked into the NPPF and a “fast track” for beautiful buildings presumably incorporated in the routes set out above.

Heritage - The framework for listed buildings and conservation areas is considered to be working, but will be reviewed and updated to ensure significance is conserved, whilst allowing sympathetic change where appropriate to support continued use and address climate change. Easier ways of securing listed building consent for routine work will be considered.

Digitalization & standardisation - The new process will be assisted by greater digitalization, speeding up validation and facilitating digital assessment of compliance with rules. Standardisation is key – standardised applications, planning statements (of no more than 50 pages) and technical supporting information.

Process - Authorities will be incentivised to determine applications on time, including by automatic refund of the planning fee if they do not comply. The deemed granting of consents is under review.  The right of the Secretary of State to call in decisions and for applicants to appeal is to be retained, although fewer appeals are expected due to the increased certainty proposed through the system.  Application fees will be rebated if an appeal is successful. Enforcement powers and sanctions are to be strengthened.

Judicial review - The Government considers that the risk of judicial review should be substantially removed. It notes that most challenges are about imprecise and uncertain wording of policies or law, so simple and clear processes and plans should remove scope for ambiguity and challenge. We do not quite share this optimism!

Whilst there is much to be gained in a simpler, faster system, we note that the Government’s proposals continue to involve a multiplicity of different routes to obtaining planning permission. For larger outline schemes, at some stage, there needs to be a detailed appraisal of what infrastructure a particular development mix can viably support (bearing in mind the costs of local preference as to design), and when and how it will be secured.  Assumedly that appraisal would form part of the Local Plan process, which raises questions as to how streamlined the Local Plan system can actually be.

This article was written by Claire Fallows, for more information, please contact her at claire.fallows@crsblaw.com.

This article is part of a Planning Reforms: The Second Wave, click here for more information

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