Accelerating Planning: March Industry Update

Picture of Harry Quartermain

Harry Quartermain
April 9, 2024
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March saw a continued improvement in the general mood and optimism in the market - partially because the General Election is looming. Meanwhile the current government is continuing to consult on changes that they would like to make to the planning system. 

The government's ongoing consultations on planning system reforms over the last few years have created the background music for the twin crises of housing supply, and environmental improvement, which continue to affect the country. The latest proposal aims to introduce an Accelerated Planning System.  Below we’ll cover the four key areas you should be aware of.


Introduction of an Accelerated Planning Service

The proposed service aims to expedite major commercial applications, setting a decision time of 10 weeks with fee refunds for delays. Our research from last year on planning determination periods revealed that the average determination period for major planning applications often exceeded current targets. While the ambition is commendable, meeting a 10-week timeframe presents a significant challenge for local councils who currently struggle to meet the existing 13 or 16 week timeframes.


Changes to extensions of time

Under the proposed changes, extensions of time would be restricted, particularly for householder applications, with only one extension allowed for other developments. 

This shift aligns with a new performance measure for local planning authorities, emphasising speed of decision-making against statutory time limits. Our previous research also highlighted the extensive use of extensions to meet performance targets. While these changes may streamline the process, their impact on approval rates remains to be seen.


Expansion of simplified appeals process

The consultation also seeks to broaden the simplified appeals process for householder and minor commercial appeals. This initiative aims to alleviate the backlog of appeals at the Planning Inspectorate, a backlog exacerbated by underfunded councils' inability to make robust decisions. How these changes interact with alterations to the Extensions of Time process - and possible increase in early refusals that this may create - will be interesting.


Implementation of Section 73B

Introducing a new pathway to modify existing planning permissions, Section 73B, which  seeks to streamline the process for amending existing permissions, currently available through Section 96a and Section 73. Recent case law developments, notably the 'Hillside' judgement, have highlighted the need for clarity in modifying planning permissions. Section 73B offers a potential solution, providing sites with existing permissions greater flexibility to evolve over time.


Other consultations 

Alongside the Accelerated Planning System consultation, the Government is also proposing to update the NPPF again to ensure that ‘significant weight’ is given to the delivery of homes on brownfield land. 

This push towards brownfield sites from the Government is also being targeted at London, where the Secretary of State has commissioned a review of the London Plan that recommends that the Presumption in Favour apply automatically on brownfield sites.

The actual impact of these changes, if implemented, remains to be seen as the ‘Presumption in Favour’ under Para 11d of the NPPF already applies in many of the country’s main built-up areas. You can now see where the Presumption applies, and where it does not, within LandInsight’s LPA data layer.  

Finally, following a consultation at the end 2023, the Government’s changes to Permitted Development Rights have taken effect. The changes effectively remove some of the checks and balances for Class E to Residential permitted development - including the upper floor space limit - opening up larger commercial buildings as targets for conversion. You can use our Site Search tool to look for potential buildings that might now fall within the expanded remit of the Permitted Development Rights. 

As stakeholders in the property industry, it's imperative to stay informed and engaged with these proposed changes. While the aim is to accelerate planning processes and facilitate development, the practical implications require careful consideration. March's industry update underscores the evolving nature of the planning landscape, emphasising the need for adaptability and collaboration as we navigate these changes together.


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