1. Extension of planning permission deadlines…
Planning permission and listed building consent expiry dates will be extended for all permissions due to expire between 23 March and 31 December 2020.
The extension will be automatic and permission will be extended until 1 April 2021. There will be transitional provisions in place for permissions which expire during this time before the extension takes effect which are likely to require an ‘Additional Environmental Approval’ to be obtained – further details are awaited.
The full details of the extension have not been published yet so there are still some unanswered questions as to whether:
- there will be any exceptions;
- new conditions can be imposed;
- how the extension will apply in relation to reserved matters approvals under outline permissions; and
- what information will be required to obtain an ‘Additional Environmental Approval’.
…but no change to timescales for getting a decision!
There are currently no plans to change the determination timescales for planning applications but the government has acknowledged that timescales may not be met in all cases.
Developers are encouraged to agree extensions of time where necessary, and retaining the timescales means there is still the option to appeal to the Secretary of State on the grounds of non-determination (be careful here though, there are a few pitfalls especially if an extension has been agreed).
2. Flexible construction site working hours
A new temporary change is due to come into effect to allow developers to agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local planning authority. This is to facilitate safe working where social distancing causes delays to working practices, or where there is a need to reduce pressure on public transport and amend working hours.
Councils will have 14 days to determine applications for more flexible hours and deemed consent will be granted if no response is received within 14 days. This procedure will also be in place until 1 April 2020 but will not apply to individual houses.
The government has recognised that an application will not be necessary in every circumstance and has reminded Councils that enforcement action is discretionary, and they should consider the reason for the condition before considering enforcement action.
3. Changes to planning appeals process to speed appeals up
Planning appeal are currently determined by one of three routes:
- written representations;
- a hearing; or
- a public inquiry.
The government has announced a permanent change which will allow more than one procedure to be used to determine an appeal i.e. part could be determined by way of written representations and parts meriting cross-examination can be determined at inquiry.
The changes are aimed at speeding up the appeal process and have been shown in a pilot conducted last year to more than halve the time for appeal inquiries. A pilot conducted last year showed that this approach more than halved the time taken for inquiries from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.
As an aside, the government has stopped publishing figures information on average timescales for planning appeals since lockdown, ostensibly because average timescales are not meaningful at present, but it is widely known that the Planning Inspectorate found itself very much on the back foot when it came to adapting to virtual processes and so there are currently long delays in the appeal system.
Watch this space for…
Changes to the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations (again)
SME developers with a turnover of less than £45mn are set to benefit from changes to the CIL Regulations which will allow charging authorities to:
- defer payments
- temporarily disapply late payment interest; and
- provide discretion to return interest already charged where considered appropriate (drafting eagerly awaited on this point…)
Until the law is changed, “collecting authorities are encouraged to use their discretion in considering what, if any, enforcement action is appropriate in respect of unpaid CIL liabilities”.
NB the only true area of discretion at the moment is the imposition of CIL surcharges so if a client does receive a demand notice with surcharges and none of the appeal routes are available, they could point to the guidance and ask the Council to waive the surcharges.
“Re-think planning from first principles”
The government had promised a Planning White Paper shortly before lockdown which has been put on hold. Current areas of planning reform which are being discussed are:
- introduction of zoning for certain types of development within defined zones with relaxed planning rules – this is much more complicated than it appears at first blush so I do not expect this to happen quickly;
- increasing the importance of economic regeneration in planning decision-making (hardly surprising, given the current economic climate);
- extension of Permitted Development Rights for high street/town centre uses (has been talked about for at least 5-7 years, and as a way of helping to solve the housing crisis is fraught with difficulties);
- reform to environmental law to increase monitoring of impacts after completion of development (not unexpected, given the introduction of the Environment Bill before Parliament last year); and
- incentives for greater use of government backed development corporations (not new news as such, originally outlined in the Autumn 2018 Budget. Aimed at large-scaled housing delivery).