Christmas / New Year Planning Update
Our Planning Consultant, Richard Ling, has prepared an update in the light of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. As usual, the devil is in the detail so Richard’s thorough coverage is well worth a read.
As the New Year beckons, what will 2014 have in store on the planning front? The Chancellor in his Autumn Statement set out a number of matters summarised as follows:-
• Measures to help the High Street both in terms of financial help and easing planning development control restrictions, enabling changes of use from retail to restaurant or leisure uses and other small changes relating to the installation of mezzanine floors without the need for planning consent.
• Signalling that the Government will be shortly consulting on a new threshold of ten dwellings planning applications for residential development where the Local Planning Authority (LPA) wishes to enter into a Section 106 Agreement for the proposal to include affordable housing.
• Promising to remove “unnecessary” statutory consultations.
• Flagging up several measures affecting LPAs including- making it a statutory requirement to put a Local Plan in place.
• New legislation to make planning conditions deemed approved if the LPA has failed to discharge a planning condition (attached to a planning consent) on time.
• Reviewing the role of local authorities in housing supply.
• Proposing that one of the triggers for assessing whether a Council is underperforming is if fewer than 40% of decisions on planning applications are made on time (currently the trigger is 30%).
The above indicates that the Coalition still has an appetite for further planning reforms and initiatives – the High Street measures announced will enable retail units or vacant units which had been in retailing to be more readily converted to other uses without going through the planning process with its expense and delays.
Vacancy rates in High Streets have been increasing since 2008 and measures to promote the reuse of such properties (or reduce restrictions on them) are to be welcomed.
Additional investment in Town Centres and maintained or increased customer numbers will have wider implications socially and economically for residents in towns and villages.
The measures also reflect the fact that we are not building enough houses of the right type in the right place, and this has been going on for at least the past twenty years.
The putting in place of a national threshold of 10 dwellings as the trigger for LPAs to require an element of housing proposals in planning applications to be for low-cost/affordable housing is also to be welcomed.
At present there is no unified standard and each LPA interprets the matter differently.
Unfortunately, because of recent budget and staff cuts, LPAs are not undertaking or commissioning local housing need surveys particularly in villages.
This in turn leads to problems for rural landowners and developers to obtain planning consent for residential development, including those for affordable housing in and adjacent to villages, even though this is acceptable in principle under the National Planning Policy Framework published by the Coalition in March 2012.
If you are encountering problems in securing planning consent for the use/redevelopment of rural buildings, give us a call to get expert advice and assistance.
The Government has still to tackle properly the root causes of LPAs not preparing Local Plans. The measure to make it a statutory requirement will be of some help but there needs to be some greater commitment on behalf of the Coalition to ensure that the work is done.
There is existing legislative provision for the Local Plans to be completed by other parties (other LPAs or consultants) if the LPA in question is deemed unfit to carry the work out (the cost of this work is then charged to the LPA).
The tightening of the criterion for development control decisions means that more LPAs will be put into special measures.
Blaby Council currently is the only East Midlands LPA to be in special measures, meaning that applicants for major development proposals in Blaby can elect to have the application determined by the Planning Inspectorate rather than the Council.
If you have had problems in getting planning applications registered and a decision made by the due date specified by the LPA, then complain about it, not just to the Council but to your MP and the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.
We have experience of an application that took 4 weeks to register (the planning application fee was banked by the LPA within 48 hours) and this is not good enough.
Under the Localism Act, local communities and others can request a local authority to determine that, for example a local pub or playing field are “community assets”.
There has been a case in London were a pub has been so defined where subsequent planning proposals to change the use of the property have foundered on the fact that it is a community asset – the LPA involved considered this designation to be a material consideration in their decision.
Other Councils faced with similar decisions have not necessarily taken the same view, but the designations have only been in existence for 12 months.
Whilst there are merits in defining community assets, there does need to be a rigorous examination of each proposal before it is accepted (current research indicates that very few of proposals are turned down which implies that there is no rigour in this process).
Richard Ling MRTPI Richard Ling & Associates