CONSULTATION: Latest series of planning regulation reforms

The Government has published its latest set of proposed technical changes to planning law and regulations and is asking for responses to the proposals as part of a consultation process. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on Friday 26 September 2014.

The proposals are largely technical in nature and the consultation survey asks a total of 76 questions, but some of the proposals may have a significant impact on communities and their ability to influence development, both positive and negative.

Broadly the proposed changes come under six headings: Neighbourhood Planning, Permitted Development Rights, Planning Conditions, Planning Applications, Environmental Impact Assessments, and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

On Neighbourhood Planning, the Government proposes to relax some of the existing rules in light of lessons learned by communities that have already undertaken a Neighbourhood Plan. Proposals include relaxing the requirement for a minimum consultation period. The Government says that the changes will make it easier for communities to develop their own Neighbourhood Plan.

Proposals to relax permitted development rights would mean that more changes of use, such as from warehouses to housing or from shops to restaurants, will be permitted without planning permission, meaning that communities will no longer have a say on the changing nature of their high streets. The Government says that this will reduce red tape for businesses and is keen to point out that changes of use to betting shops and pay day loan premises would still require planning permission.

The proposals will relax the conditions that are currently often attached to a development when planning permission is granted, requiring councils to share draft conditions with applicants before permission is granted, and introducing an assumption that conditions have been met after a certain time period unless a council can show otherwise. Again, the Government claims that this will reduce costs for businesses, but will this be at the cost of local communities having a say?

On the planning process in general, there are proposed changes to reduce the requirement for all planning applications to be commented on by statutory consultees such as English Heritage and the Highways Authority. Again, the Government claims that this will reduce red tape and make the planning process more efficient.

The proposals will substantially reduce the requirement for development planning applications to include an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Currently industrial developments over 0.5 hectares must include an EIA - the proposals increase this threshold to 5 hectares. Similarly, urban developments such as housing estates will only have to include an EIA if they are over 5 hectares in size (which equates to around 150 houses), and this is part of a stated Government preference to increase this threshold so that only developments of over 1,000 houses will have to include an EIA.

Finally, the proposals suggest small changes to streamline the process by which nationally siginificant projects such as motorways and power plants, which the Government has already largely taken out of local planning control, are agreed.

While this is a highly technical set of proposals, it has the potential to amount to some quite significant changes to planning policy and we urge those affected, particularly local authorities, to visit the consultation website and submit a response. The Local Government Information Unit has produced an extremely useful briefing about the consultation which you can download using the link below.

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File Technical Planning Consultation LGIU Policy Briefing Aug 2014.pdf304.01 KB