With the urgent pressure for housing delivery, yet increasingly onerous planning application requirements and convoluted prior approval processes, we’re often now approached by clients wanting to find a swifter means of securing permission for residential development. Whether its simply to establish Class C3 principles on a small urban site or just to obtain certainty for funding, its useful to know there are other tools out there which avoid the timescales and plethora of information associated with the regular application routes.
Permission in Principle (PIP) is one such tool that represents an alternative to the outline/reserved matters route. Relatively underused (possibly because limited in scope), it might just offer an appropriate light-touch option for your site and circumstances. If so, here’s a few key pointers about the process that could prove useful:

Mechanism – the PIP route is an alternative way of obtaining planning permission specifically for housing-led development which separates the consideration of matters of principle from the technical detail of the development (similar to outline and reserved matters). The first stage (PIP) establishes whether a site is suitable in-principle and the second (‘technical details consent’) stage is when the detailed development proposals are assessed.

Scope – non-residential development may also be given PIP providing housing occupies the majority of the floorspace of the overall scheme. Non-housing development should be compatible with the proposed residential development, and may include, for example, a small proportion of retail, office space or community uses.

Two Routes – Local planning authorities can grant PIP via two routes – either n receipt of a valid application, or by entering a site in Part 2 of its brownfield land register which will trigger a grant of PIP for that land providing the statutory requirements set out in Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 (as amended) and the Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 are met.

Technical Details – following a grant of PIP, a site must receive a grant of technical details consent before development can proceed. The granting of technical details consent has the effect of granting planning permission for the development. Other statutory requirements may apply at this stage such as those relating to protected species or listed buildings.

Exclusions – depending on the route, certain types of development are excluded from a grant of PIP. Basically, you can use the application route to secure a PIP for development on non PDL land, but you can’t use it for householder, major, EIA or habitats development, or development which involves the winning and working of minerals. You can also only use the Brownfield register route for major developments. If an LPA identifies at the technical details stage that the development should be subject to EIA Assessment (having screened out the site at PIP stage), then the grant of PIP remains valid, but the specific requirements of the EIA regs/other EIA legislation must be met before technical details consent can be granted.

Partial use – PIP may be sought on part of a larger site where the proposal is not major development or one of the other excluded developments, although LPA’s should consider whether the cumulative environmental impact of 2 or more adjoining PIP sites would amount to EIA or Habitats development.

Register Obligations – LPA’s should regularly review the suitability of all relevant sites on their brownfield land registers for a grant of PIP, taking into account relevant development plan policies and other material considerations. There may be sites which already have an extant planning permission for residential development or where other routes to planning permission (eg outline) are more appropriate.

Decision-making – a decision on whether to grant PIP following a valid application or by entering it on Part 2 of a brownfield land register must be made in accordance with relevant policies in the development plan unless material considerations, such as the NPPF and national guidance, indicate otherwise. The scope of the decision is limited to the location, land use and amount of development and only issues related to these ‘in principle’ matters should be considered at the PIP stage. All other matters should be considered at the technical details consent stage.

Any application for technical details consent must then be decided in accordance with the terms of the PIP, and also against the relevant development plan. Separate technical details applications for different phases of development (under the same PIP) cannot be made.

Lifespan – where PIP is granted by the application route, the default duration of that permission is 3 years, however where granted through allocation on a brownfield land register, the default duration is 5. The LPA has the discretion to shorten/extend these periods, but this must be clearly justified and indicated on the decision notice. Applications for technical details consent must be determined within the duration of the permission granted.

Determination – the statutory time limit for determination of a PIP application is 5 weeks, unless a longer time period has been agreed with the applicant. The statutory time limit for considering Technical details are 10 weeks for major development and 5 weeks for all other forms of development (unless subject to an EIA, in which case a 16 week limit applies).

PIP Application Requirements – the submission of a valid application for PIP only requires a completed application form, a plan which identifies the land to which the application relates, and the correct application fee. LPA’s cannot list the information they require for applications for PIP’s in the same way they can for applications for planning permission, but additional information can be submitted by the applicant to support decision-making (eg to give more certainty about how many dwellings the site is capable of supporting and whether mitigation of likely impacts that may result from development is possible). PIP application fees are based on site area.

Technical Consents – a proportionate approach – the requirements for a valid technical details consent application are the same as those for a full planning application, but LPA’s must take a proportionate approach to any information requested, and are encouraged to consider whether this could be achieved within a single concise statement. For fee purposes, technical consent applications are treated as applications for full planning permission.

Consultation and publicity – LPA’s must effectively consult any statutory body over a PIP or technical consents application that they would have been required to consult in relation to an application for planning permission. They must also publicise the proposals with a site notice and an online notice, and have the discretion to take further steps to inform communities and other interested parties beyond these, if the consider necessary.

Decision notice details – if PIP is granted by an application, LPA’s must specify the location of the site, the type of development and provide an indication of the amount of development the site has PIP for. The amount of residential development must be expressed as a range (min and max number of dwellings permitted). Where non-residential development is involved, LPA’s must provide a description of the type (eg use class) and scale of development permitted. Where PIP is granted by entry on Part 2 of a brownfield land register, all the same details should be included on the register. Planning conditions, planning obligations and CIL cannot be attached/agreed at the PIP stage (these are all dealt with at the Technical details stage).

Appeals and Amendments – if PIP is refused via the valid application route, there is a right of appeal. Similarly, an application for technical details consent may be appealed on grounds of non-determination, refusal or against any condition imposed (usual appeal formats/timescales apply). However, there is no right of appeal where a LPA decides not to enture a site in Part 2 of a brownfield land register and trigger the PIP. Applications for a non-material amendment to a PIP can also be made, with the usual 28 day decision timeframe, and finally,

Revocation – in the same way that local planning authorities can use their powers to modify or revoke a grant of planning permission, and the Secretary of State has powers to call in applications, the same goes for PIP applications and technical details consents. However the removal of a site from a brownfield land register does not revoke PIP previously granted to that land, and there are no call-in powers for adding them to registers either.

To sum up: how to use Permissions in Principle

PIP’s offer a quicker (theoretically!), simplified route to establishing the principle and quantum of residential development on a site (and potentially a small element of other uses). They are not without limitations or restrictions (check carefully that your site is eligible) and the follow-up technical consent may well be heavy on detail. But they should enable you to achieve some initial certainty on your site whilst avoiding the onerous requirements and timescales of an outline or full application. We welcome any mechanisms that lead to more effective housing delivery and are keen to explore how PIP’s could play more of a role in bringing residential sites on-stream – we’re keen to hear your experiences and tips for successful applications, do share your PIP stories with us.