In the good old days, if you were building your new house and wanted to move your bathroom window a couple of feet from where it was shown on the approved plans, you simply wrote to the planners, politely requested a change to the plans and a few days later got a letter back telling you to go ahead, it was being treated as a minor amendment.
Since such straightforward times, case law has radically overturned such a relaxed approach and has triggered the need for the submission of revised applications for a host of trivial and non-contentious amendments to plans that had already been approved. The current approach is clumsy, time consuming and expensive, with fees for revised applications being the same as the original application fee. Small wonder that respondents to the recent ‘Killian Pretty review’ cited this area of planning as one of the most frustrating subjects, leading the review to conclude that urgent action was needed in this area.
At long last changes are going to take place to allow minor modifications to take place. However, as always, its not quite so straightforward as it might be and the government are currently consulting on how the necessary changes are going to work.
Firstly the Government are drawing a distinction between non-material amendments and minor material amendments with different routes being proposed under each heading.
A non-material amendment is a new option, introduced under Section 96A of the 1990 Planning Act. It won’t be a planning application in the conventional sense so won’t require extensive consultation statutory consultees although interested parties look like getting 14 days to comment. There isn’t going to be a definition of what is encompassed by the meaning of ‘non-material’ –each council will have to form its own view on this point. (Hurrah -I hear the lawyers cry!) The current approach looks like giving the LPA’s 28 days to turn around requests and a suggested flat rate fee of £170. The fee might be reduced to £25 for householders. However, it is likely that the new provisions will come into effect in October of this year but the ability to charge for them won’t be in place until sometime after this date. During this period, all applications will be free!
A minor material amendment is likely to be one whose scale and nature results in a development which is not substantially different from the one which has been approved. At present the government seem to think that this area will be deal with by means of an application under S73 of the Planning Act –the same facility we currently use to try and modify a condition on a plan. In this case, the condition we will be trying to modify is the condition which either lists the approved plans or which requires compliance with the approved plans. Its not yet clear what additional information might form the basis of an application and the government are going to be carrying out further consultations over the summer on this particular point. At present we are reminded that an application under Section 73 results in a new permission being granted so consultees are entitled to view and comment in the normal way. This seems to suggest that not a lots going to change!
Its not likely that the last option will result in a fast track route to fine tuning an existing permission although it will be relatively cheap at £170 a go. Its also helpful to have clarified that this route is open to practitioners as there has been some doubt in the minds of a few LPA’s. Of course, if the LPA in question haven’t helpfully recited all of the approved plans in a condition in the first place, this approach isn’t going to be of any particular use. We can therefore expect all LPA’s to start to list all of the approved plans forming the basis of their decision from here on in. If they don’t, you need to challenge them to do so !
From a practitioners viewpoint, it seems as if the minor material route is likely to be the one we need to use most frequently and its clearly going to be a cumbersome beast taking around 8 weeks a time to deal with. Still, on the up side its clearly going to be helpful to have something that we don’t currently have in place.
It’s not immediately apparent that it’s going to save a great deal of paperwork either as it will be applied for on the national forms with seemingly all of the normal application requirements. Cynics might still suspect that an application to move a bathroom window will still need to have a bat survey to validate the application! The days of the letter requesting a minor amendment seem to have firmly vanished with no immediate prospect of return!