Introduction

While we wait for the UK general election in May to see which party (or parties) will be in Government and implement their planning reform agenda, it is worth recapping on some of the recent planning reforms which the current Government has driven through in its remaining months in power.

Permitted development rights

The biggest reform (one which we have not seen in 20 years) is the publication of the new Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015. This Order replaces the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 and consolidates all previous amendments to permitted development rights. The new Order came into force on 15 April 2015.

Changes of use

The Order introduces new permitted development rights for the following changes of use:

  • Class A1 (retail) or A2 (financial and professional services) to class A3 (restaurants and cafes) – limited to 150 sqm and subject to a prior approval process
  • Class A1 (retail) to class A2 (financial and professional services)
  • Class A1 (retail) or A2 (financial and professional services) to class D2 (assembly and leisure) – limited to 200 sqm and subject to a prior approval process
  • Use as a casino or amusement arcade to class C3 (dwellinghouse) – limited to 150 sqm and subject to a prior approval process
  • Class B8 (storage and distribution) to class C3 (dwellinghouse) – limited to 500 sqm and subject to a prior approval process and the property must have been in B8 use for 4 years

Betting offices and payday loan shops

Betting offices and payday loan shops have now been removed from use class A2 (financial and professional services) and are now considered to be sui generis (i.e. use classes of their own).

Drinking establishments (assets of community value)

From 6 April 2015, where a drinking establishment has been nominated as an asset of community value, permitted development rights are no longer available to change to an A1 (retail) use or to demolish the property.

This has recently seen a lot of developers and landowners taking practical steps to ensure that a retail use has commenced at their properties before this reform came into force.

Offices to residential

Permitted development rights for a change of use from offices (B1(a)) to residential (C3) are now contained in Class O of Part 3 of Schedule 2 of the new Order (formerly they were contained in Class J).

There are notably no provisions in the new Order which extend these permitted development rights past the current deadline of 30 May 2016, something which was hoped for by many developers. This means that it is now a race against time for developers to complete and begin the residential use of their office to residential conversion schemes pursuant to these rights.

Changes to planning conditions

There is a new Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order 2015 which also came into force on 15 April 2015.This Order replaces the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order 2010.

The most beneficial changes for developers under this Order relate to the use of planning conditions by local planning authorities (LPAs).

The Order provides that if the LPA fails to determine an application to discharge a planning condition within 6 weeks and the developer serves a notice on the LPA, then if a further period of 2 weeks elapses without a determination then the applicant can rely on a deemed discharge of the condition (unless it is an exempted condition).

The Order also provides that LPAs must now provide full reasons for imposing any planning conditions which require matters to be complied with prior to commencing development.

Section 106 contributions

Regulation 123(3) of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 (as amended) contains a restriction on LPAs imposing pooled financial contributions under

Section 106 agreements. This restriction came into force on 6 April 2015.

From this date, no more contributions may be collected in respect of a specific infrastructure project or a type of infrastructure through a section 106 agreement, if five or more obligations for that project or type of infrastructure have already been entered into since 6 April 2010, and it is a type of infrastructure that is capable of being funded by the Community Infrastructure Levy (for example education and highways infrastructure).

Careful consideration by developers should now be given to any proposed development where a LPA is seeking to impose such contributions, as to whether in fact the LPA is complying with the restriction in Regulation 123(3).

More reforms to come!

With an impending general election, we expect to see more planning reforms later this year, particularly if there is a change in Government.

Any future reforms will most likely relate to the familiar themes of speeding up the planning system and making it more flexible, but also improving its role in delivering housing development (including affordable housing) which is a focus for all parties in their election manifestos.