Happy New Year from Planning Ventures. We hope your festive break was as restful, manic, joyous or rejuvenating as you might have anticipated!

To kick off 2018, we thought we’d take a quick look back over some of the key changes that took effect in the planning system over the past year, before musing on what we’re likely to encounter over the coming months.

Here’s what happened in 2017…

  • Back in May, we saw the introduction of some significant changes to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, notably in the adoption of a standardised set of screening requirements and a wider range of topic areas for scoping requirements. This now means more up-front design and assessment work for applicants, with equally onerous assessment responsibilities for Local Authorities, along with pressure to gear up to the tracking, enforcement and monitoring of mitigation measures.
  • Neighbourhood Plans became part of the Statutory Development Plan, which means they are now taken into account in determining planning applications. Not all areas will be covered by one, but if a Plan is in place then any proposals must respond to its policies. If a Plan is at draft stage, then there is an opportunity to be involved in the consultation process or seek to get sites allocated. If there’s no sign of one, then it’s just the current adopted Local Plan to focus on. Be mindful, however, that there doesn’t need to be an adopted Development Plan in place for a Neighbourhood Plan to be adopted.
  • Permission in Principle (PIP) and Technical Details (TD) consents both came into force (although to be honest we’re not too convinced about the point of them). As an alternative way of securing consent for small-scale residential development on brownfield sites, they operate much like the outline/reserved matters application processes by separating the principle of development from the technical details. The PIP only considers the location, land use and quantum of development and lasts for five years (or any other period determined by the LPA), within which the TD must be submitted and determined. This essentially acts as a full planning application. Minerals, EIA schemes and development prohibited by Habitats legislation are excluded from the PIPs process (although an EIA can still be requested at the technical stage).
    • The timescales for PIPS are unclear, but an application for TDs is subject to 5 or 10 weeks for minor and major applications respectively and 16 weeks if it’s EIA development.
      Both PIPs and TDs are CIL liable.
    • LPAs have now started allocating PIP sites through their Brownfield Land Registers (there can be multiple PIPS on one site), however, the development industry will have to wait for secondary legislation to be in place before they can submit PIPs through the Local Plan allocation process.
  • Finally, we said goodbye to the compulsory need to provide 20% Starter Homes provision as an alternative to affordable housing on sites of 10+ dwellings/0.5 hectares, and are unlikely to see its return. There may still be some requirement for LPAs to promote discretionary levels of starter homes as part of a mixed affordable ‘package’, but certainly not at the levels originally envisaged.

And moving on…

  • 2018 is likely to see Neighbourhood Plans and CIL start to take a firmer hold, whilst PIP’S and TDs are clearly on the horizon, however, we’re anticipating the first Consultation Draft of the revised NPPF early in the year. We’re not sure what changes are afoot (word on the street is the Heritage sections will remain intact) and it’s fair to assume that sustainability and economic development will remain core principles, however we could well expect a greater emphasis on house building and a standardised minimum affordable housing requirement on suitable housing sites, as has been previously mooted. Who knows, we may even see a more pragmatic approach to development in the Green Belt.
  • Planning Application Fees will rise by 20% above the current rates from the 17th January 2018, subject to Parliament’s imminent approval. In addition to the overall increase in fees, there will now be a charge for applications that are required as a result of the removal of permitted development rights in Article 4 areas or when they have been removed by condition and for prior approval applications for further permitted development rights introduced in April 2015 and 2017. Check out the new Planning Fees to see how they relate to your scheme.

  • Reducing Bureaucracy. Much has been lauded about the need to change the planning system to free up the housing construction industry and accelerate home building. We’re not convinced that any of the previous Government mechanisms (the various PD rights for change of use from offices, agricultural and industrial uses) have circumvented the planning process sufficiently to make a difference in terms of delivery, so watch this space for some more radical initiatives (fully resourced Planning Departments would be a great start!).

  • Reforms to the housing market. Finally, brace yourself for some innovative approaches to reforming the broken housing market – again. The Government has recently finished consulting on various housing-related issues, including calculating housing need; greater certainty over housing need for neighbourhood planning groups; cross-border working arrangements across multiple LPA’s; and simpler, quicker and more transparent viability assessments. We’ll be waiting with interest to see how these translate into policy and process.

So, plenty of change to digest, and plenty more afoot. We’ll keep you posted as another year in Planning unfolds…..