How planning is set to become speedier and more flexible

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted on Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Town and country planning is facing a major shake-up almost as revolutionary as the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 and the New Towns Act of 1946 which gave rise to the birth of urban planning as we know it today, and saw the development of major new conurbations like Harlow.

The 1947 Act had a profound impact on land use and meant that landowners had to seek formal permission from the newly-appointed Local Planning Authorities to build and develop their land. Implicit in this legislation was the presumption that as far as possible, development was to be encouraged and permitted.

Fast forward to 2015, and the new measures being introduced by the government look set to give a similar boost to property development and new infrastructure projects.


200,000 new homes needed

Housing was a major Conservative manifesto promise, and the government has pledged to build 200,000 new homes. New powers introduced in the Devolution Bill will see development corporations delivering higher-density housing around key commuter hubs, and unneeded commercial land released to meet residential needs.

The mainstays of the planned urban revolution are the deployment of brownfield sites, funding for infrastructure, and the removal of time-consuming obstacles in the planning process. New moves already announced include the relaxation of the rules governing planning permission for home extensions, the right to convert shops to houses , and the freedom to build up to the level of a neighbour’s property in the capital. The encouragement to ‘build up’ will, the government believes, reduce the need to ‘build out’, helping to provide homes while protecting the countryside.


A speedier planning process

Local authorities have been placed at the forefront of deciding how to meet the need for housing through their local plans. They are now tasked with putting into place plans that deliver the homes and jobs that local people need. The government is setting deadlines and publishing league tables in an effort to ensure that local authorities deliver on these new responsibilities.


Developers get the green light

The fortunes of the construction industry are never far from the media headlines and remain a key government focus. Many commentators have described the slow, expensive and uncertain planning process as a major disincentive to landowners, builders and developers to come forward with new building schemes. This is set to change in several ways. A fast-track certificate process will be introduced to establish the principle of development for smaller applications. The planning guarantee will be tightened, with the government’s policy being that no application should spend more than a year with decision-makers, including any appeal.

The government will bring forward legislation to create statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing development in England, and the automatic granting of planning permission in principle for sites on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. In addition, there are measures to make compulsory purchase a clearer, faster and fairer process for all parties, whilst retaining the Secretary of State’s final sign-off on compulsory purchase orders


Submitting a planning application

So what should developers do to ensure they present their proposals in the best possible light? Before submitting an application, it pays to consider which issues the planning authority will be concerned about when it determines the outcome. These are usually called ‘material planning considerations’ and can include local planning policies, case law, amenity, highway and environmental issues.

This is where working with experienced planning lawyers really pays. They can assist you in the presentation of your application and can help highlight the benefits of your plans and also advise on any concerns that could be raised. Experience shows that working co-operatively with planning officers from the outset makes for a smoother process; discussing the application in outline at an early stage can resolve any potential difficulties and provide the opportunity for further evidence to be put forward to support your case.


Planning Obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy

Planning obligations are used to ensure planning permissions are acceptable in planning terms. This can take various forms and could include allocating a portion of a new residential development to affordable housing, contributing to local infrastructure such as highway improvements, or including recreational facilities or local amenities as part of the scheme. If you are to submit a Section 106 planning obligation to the local planning authority, it’s very important to take specialist legal advice with regard to the proposed terms and wording, as anything you sign up to under this section of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 shows up on local searches and binds not only you, but subsequent owners of the land.

The Community Infrastructure Levy or planning gain supplement, as introduced by the Planning Act 2008, runs alongside planning obligations as a way of providing pots of money for infrastructure, to support development in an area, rather than making planning permissions acceptable in planning terms. This should see a decline in the submission of planning obligations but obligations will nevertheless play an important part in the provision of infrastructure where CIL does not prove to be the right mechanism for the collection of infrastructure payments.


Making an Appeal

If the Local Planning Authority rejects a planning application, the next stage is to mount an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. At this stage it’s useful to get good legal advice from a planning lawyer who can advise on the merits of your case, help you make your Appeal and represent your case to the local planning authority or Planning Inspectorate. This could require a written submission, an Informal Hearing or a full Public Enquiry.


What the future may hold

The government is intent on pressing forward with measures designed to speed up the planning process and give construction and property development a much-needed shot in the arm. Chancellor George Osborne recently announced that planning permissions granted and housing starts made are at a seven-year high. This is encouraging news for landowners, developers and ultimately for local communities who will see their growing housing and infrastructure needs met.


Planning changes at a glance

  • A new ‘zonal’ system which will give automatic planning permission on brownfield sites, removing delays and promoting redevelopment
  • Where local authorities fail to produce local housing need plans, the government now has the power to intervene
  • Penalties for local authorities that make 50% or fewer planning decisions on time
  • Stronger compulsory purchase powers to release more brownfield land for development
  • Fast-tracking of major infrastructure projects through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime
  • Devolution of planning powers, including powers over land, to the mayors of London and Manchester
  • Proposals to end the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of storeys to the height of neighbouring building in London.

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