New rules for compulsory purchase inquiries have come into force with effect from 29 January. These replace the various rules in force since the 1990s and update the language used. There are changed timetabling procedures which bring the process more in line with planning inquiries.
Under s77 of the Town and Country Planning Act, the Secretary of State can direct that planning applications of certain types should be referred to her for determination, and not by the local planning authority. Currently there are directions relating to some types of retail development, playing fields, development plans, green belt proposals and development in the flood plain.
In a survey carried out in 2006-2007, of the 786 applications which fell within the descriptions in the directions, only 36 were actually called-in.
The Secretary of State has published a consultation paper (closing date 31 March) which considers whether it is appropriate to reduce the number of applications which fall within the requirements for call-in, thereby reducing administration cost and delay. The proposals are to reduce the number of applications which have to be notified by the elimination of outmoded notification requirements, ensuring that thresholds for notifications are at a sufficiently high level and consolidating the directions to a single direction.
The new direction would deal with:
- Playing fields - referral of proposals which the local planning authority is minded to approve, but where there is an unresolved objection by Sport England. This could be because there would be a deficiency of playing field provision in the locality, or because the alternative provision proposed by the application is not of sufficient quality, quantity or accessibility.
- Green belt – referral of buildings with a floorspace of more than 1000 square metres and any other development with a significant impact on openness.
- Flooding – any major development in the flood plain to which there is an unresolved objection by the Environment Agency.
- Town centres – referral of proposals for more than 5000 square metre gross retail leisure office or mixed commercial floorspace. But only for sites in edge or out of centre locations and which do not accord with an up to date development plan document. Referral may also apply to smaller proposals where there is a cumulative effect with existing retail etc provision.
- Heritage – referral of significant development affecting World Heritage Sites where there is an unresolved objection by English Heritage.
Planning Policy Statements (PPS) on climate change
The Government has published a PPS as a supplement to PPS1. It sets out ways in which the planning regime can contribute to reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.
There is (at least) one controversial issue. The PPS gives local planning authorities considerable flexibility to decide whether the energy needs of a new development should be met by on-site/near-site renewable or low carbon energy sources. This appears to apply to all new development, whether residential or not.
This requirement is known as 'Merton-plus' and derives from the 'Merton Rule' introduced in 2003 by the London Borough of Merton:
'All new non-residential developments above a threshold of 1000 square metres will be expected to incorporate renewable energy production equipment to provide at least 10% of predicted energy requirements'
Local authorities must treat the PPS as a material consideration in determining planning applications. Developers may have a challenging time in meeting requirements such as this, when faced with a north facing site in a sheltered location, where solar panels and small scale wind turbines would be ineffective. These requirements may put some proposals beyond economic viability.