All posts tagged changes

Pre-commencement conditions are routinely attached to planning permissions by local planning authorities. Such conditions prohibit work starting on the development until such a time as agreement has been reached between the developer and the local planning authority on certain matters, such as use of external materials. Typical wording, usually at the beginning of a condition, would include: “no development shall commence until”; “no development shall take place until”; “prior to the commencement of development”; or, “prior to the commencement of construction.” There have been concerns that local planning authorities have been over-zealous in their use of pre-commencement conditions and that this has caused delays in construction work starting. In many cases, rather than prohibiting work from starting, a condition could be worded to prevent occupation of a development or it being brought into use until certain matters were addressed. This would not delay works commencing and such conditions could be dealt with during the construction period. The Government has announced that it intends to amend secondary legislation so it can introduce an additional requirement for local authorities to justify the use of pre-commencement planning conditions, in the hope that local planning authorities will reduce their use of pre-commencement conditions. Unfortunately, no date has been given when these changes will be acted upon although it is likely that it will not be until after the general election.

There is a part of me that is looking forward to the day, which is not too far off, when I’m going to have lots more shelf space in the office. Out will go the 10ft length of Planning Policy Statements and the even older Planning Policy Guidance notes and in their place will come a slim volume, just ½ an inch thick (or 15mm for the converted amongst you). Some of the old PPG’s I doubt have ever been opened by the team – at least not since they were bound up to have as an essential reference tool for the practice. I’m sure we will manage without them.

The new guidance is causing major rifts to open up within the profession. The invitation to comment is being taken as an opportunity to lambast those within the profession who hold a different view. One national journalist, presumably writing with a certain amount of his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek, has accused the new guidance as leading inevitably to new bungalows being built upon the white cliffs of Dover. Others have talked about there still being so much short-termism, nimbyism and delay that not a lot will happen as a result.

Generally those supporting the new framework have been slightly more measured in their support than the opponents. The latter have likened the reforms to the debacle over student loans and sale of the forestry commission. One leading pundit has even gone so far as to write that “Planning will no longer serve the interests of the public or the environment!”

Personally I find these words and attitudes extreme and unhelpful. Trying to find words of comfort to assist an out of centre proposal one of my clients wishes to take forward, I struggled to find any seismic shift in core guidance. Others have pointed out that concepts such as Green Belts remain firmly untouched. On the whole, when studied carefully I don’t think that it represents the end of planning as we know it.

What it is trying to do is to change attitudes and approaches, particularly in planning offices up and down the country. Those who simply act as conduits for feedback on development proposals will have to apply their critical thinking they were trained for. They need try to problem solve and find solutions to issues–not to simply reject a proposal because they have received an adverse view.

Like it or not the country needs new development; people don’t live in allocations the last time I checked, they live in houses actually built. If they are not being built, something needs to be done. Perhaps the presumption in favour will help to address this. I do hope so.

What is clear is that over the last 5 years, under the guise of modernising and improving the system, we have ended up with a complex and burdensome approach. Our policies have become mired in complex and bewildering arays of documents of various stages of completion. Our planning applications require so many documents and investigations to underpin them, many of which simply to prove a negative, that good schemes aren’t coming forward because there is too much cost and risk involved. Those applications that do make it through the validation process seem to face universal claims for financial contributions as Councils attempt to fill depleted coffers and officers think that developers are still cash cows to be milked whenever the opportunity arises.

We do need to return to basics and Sir Peter Hall does well to remind us that all we are doing is to return to the system as it was set up in 1947. I do hope that opponents of the reforms will in the remaining time available, focus more on the adjustments required to get the new system to work. Its not free of errors and areas for improvement, but the danger we face is that the current focus on extreme interpretations will result in a lack of attention to detail and the guidance comes in without the final polish it could be given.

We’ve digested the proposed changes to the NPPF and brought you a run-down of a few points of interest and importance. The draft of the NPPF this information was taken from is subject to change as a result of the consultation process, but much of the content builds upon previous ministerial announcements and isn’t new.

Most developers will approve of the new ‘Golden Thread’ running through the guidance –the new presumption in favour of development. Once fully in place the default answer to an application being submitted will be ‘yes’ unless there is a good reason to say ‘no’! Such a seismic change in approach will not sit happily with all local authority planners!

This is one of the most fundamental reforms of the planning system and is being hotly contested by anti-development pressure groups who are mounting campaigns to force a ‘U’ turn similar to the one mounted over sale of forestry land. Those who find themselves in support of the new guidance will need to consider whether to make their support public to add a counterbalance to the objectors.

An increased emphasis has been put on the importance of meeting development needs through plans and doing so in as sustainable a manor as possible. Plan-making and development management is to be proactively driven by opportunities to deliver sustainable development, rather than constrained by barriers.

The local Government will further support the Government’s energy and climate change policy and zero emissions target by identifying suitable areas for low-carbon and renewable energy sources.

On the subject of zero carbon homes, the government are looking at ways to make the current assessment tools simpler. We have a range of tools covering energy measurement –Code for Sustainable Homes, BREEAM etc and they can seem quite daunting to work through. However there is no suggestion that the government are backing away from the 2016 carbon neutrality commitments set by the previous administration. In fact over the last few months there have been several key note speeches from ministers, reaffirming their commitment to pursuing the 2016 end date, despite the difficult economic climate. Those developers who took the idea of reforms to mean weakening of the Code seem likely to be profoundly disappointed.

There is proposed to be more support for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of green space. A new form of protection for local green space not already protected by National policy is proposed. This means local councils and communities can decide which areas of green infrastructure are important to them and put them forward for protection. It is however not intended to be a ‘nimbys’ charter and is clearly only intended to be used in special cases for special land.

On the local community subject; Local Councils are being asked to develop policies to protect community facilities and safeguard against unnecessary loss of facilities which are shown to be viable. The policies would not be limited to facilities in larger towns, but all facilities in rural areas as well.

It’s a lot about handing back the power to the local communities and Councils. Still on the agenda are Community Right to Build schemes relating to Green Belt sites to be permitted if backed by the local community as well as the continuing concept of neighbourhood plans supported by local referenda.

Also, it is proposed that the National Brownfield Target be removed and replaced by a system which allows local Councils to asses which land is most suitable for new housing developments based on local needs.

So that’s it, well almost all of it, in a rather large nut shell. If you have any questions or are wondering how this might affect you then send us an email and we will do our best to help!

In allowing two planning appeals a Planning Inspector has placed significant importance upon the Ministerial Statement of March 2011, ‘Planning for Growth’, which says that the planning system has a key role in ensuring that the sustainable development needed to support economic growth is able to proceed as easily as possible and that the promotion of sustainable economic growth and jobs has to be a top priority. Councils have been urged to have full regard of this statement in their consideration of planning applications.

We recently (20th June 2011) won appeals against two decisions by Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to refuse planning permission for the change of use of a vacant former shop premises within Redcar town centre to either a betting shop or a café restaurant. The Council was concerned that the loss of a shop premises within the “prime shopping area” of the town centre to a non-retail use would harm the vitality and viability of the town centre.

We successfully argued against the Council’s concerns, the Planning Inspector fully endorsing our arguments that neither of the proposed uses of the premises would materially erode the vitality or the retail character of the prime shopping area or the town centre as a whole.

More significantly, however, the Planning Inspector took full note of the Ministerial statement, ‘Planning for Growth’, and the Government’s clear expectation that the answer to development and growth should wherever possible be ‘yes’, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in national planning policy. The Inspector accepted our argument that the Ministerial Statement provided significant “in principle” support to the appeals and that they will meet the aim of promoting sustainable economic growth and jobs.