The need for speed in planning

Apex Planning process

The latest consultation looks at speeding up the planning process and making it more flexible, but will the proposed moves make much of a difference?

It’s all change (again!) for the planning process, but is this a good or bad thing? Following on from the white paper that we have considered over the past few blogs, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) has recently announced a new consultation on the further expansion of permitted development rights.

Change of Use

The main focus of the consultation is on allowing the change of use from the new Class E (shops, restaurants/cafes, day nurseries, offices, light industry, gyms/leisure centres, medical or health services) to Class C3 (residential) in a bid to provide the homes that are needed, and that the government promised.

It also allows for public buildings such as schools and prisons to expand their floorspace by 25 per cent through permitted development, again without having to apply for full planning permission. This move aims to help the government provide the schools and hospitals it promised in its manifesto.

All of these changes apply only to England.

Permitted Development Rights

Earlier in the year, we wrote about how the permitted development rights laws were being relaxed. These changes allowed for homeowners to extend their properties upwards, and for commercial properties to be rebuilt without developers having to go through the full lengthy and costly process of obtaining full planning permission.

This latest move looks at a further extension to these permitted development rights. But will they make much of a difference? In our experience the light-touch application process for these permitted changes of use – the Prior Approval application – frequently turns out to be as long, complex, and subjective as the full planning application process.

For example, if you want to make a change of use from Class E to Class C3, which is subject to a Prior Approval application, the local planning authority will have to assess whether the proposal would be ‘undesirable’ in respect to its impact on the ‘adequate provision of services’ and maintaining the ‘sustainability of that shopping area’.

The problem is that these are not black-and-white assessments; they require proper consideration by a qualified planning officer; however, the assessment remains subjective. For that reason, we are not convinced that this proposed permitted development right, subject to a Prior Approval application, would provide certainty for a developer/applicant, nor would it necessarily speed up the process.

In fact, what we think would happen is that applicants would have to weigh up this issue themselves prior to submitting the application, and then seek to justify their proposal as appropriate.

Looking at it from this point of view, it seems there is little or no difference here than there is when one is weighing up a proposal against the basic tenet of current retail protectionist planning policies.

This blog was produced before the venerable #Zack Simons of produced his own viewpoint, and we are pleased to note that he has observations that echo, if not expand on, our own. To this end we can recommend his regular blog to you all.

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