In a written statement to Parliament on 5 March 2015 Brandon Lewis MP outlined further updates to the planning system being addressed by the Coalition Government.

Three of the main issues noted in the written statement were the release of two Government responses to consultation and the announcement of a new consultation on changes to permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration.

(1) Improving the use of planning conditions

Back in the hazy days of July 2014 the Government published its consultation paper “Technical Consultation on Planning”.  Since then a number of Government responses have been issued to various sections of the consultation and this is the latest of those. A link to the Technical Consultation on Planning webpage is provided below:

Section 3 of the Consultation Paper looked at proposals to improve the use of planning conditions as the Government felt that there, firstly, was a tendency of LPAs to impose too many conditions at the decision making stage and, secondly, was a delay in LPAs discharging conditions.  In order to resolve the second issue, the Government proposed a system of deemed discharge of planning conditions.  The response to feedback on that issue was published in November 2014 and legislative changes have been introduced in the Infrastructure Act 2015 as previously reported on in this blog.  This latest Government response document looks at:

  • Reducing the time limit for return of fees on applications to discharge conditions

The Government notes that there was no “……overall support for reducing the time limit for the fee refund from 12 weeks to 8 weeks“.  However,  it has decided to take forward the proposal but also to introduce some flexibility to enable applicants and local authorities to agree an alternative timescale in writing.

  • Requiring that draft conditions are shared with applicants for major development before planning permission is granted

The consultation feedback showed broad support for sharing draft conditions but the Government notes that regulation in this area has the potential to reduce flexibility for applicants and local authorities and slow down decision making.  In light of this, further discussions are to be held with key stakeholders and so the proposal will not be taken forward at this stage.

  • Adding a further requirement for local authorities to justify the use of pre-commencement conditions

The Government does intend to introduce secondary legislation to require local authorities to provide additional justification of all pre-commencement conditions.  The measure will be kept under review and consideration will then be given to requiring additional justification (above the existing statutory requirement) for all conditions.

(2) Streamlining the consenting process for nationally significant infrastructure planning (NSIP)

Following the 2013/2014 Review of the NSIP regime, the Technical Consultation on Planning took place from 31 July 2014 to 26 September 2014.  One aspect of the consultation was the issue of the regime providing a “one-stop-shop” for authorising large infrastructure projects thereby removing the need for developers to submit multiple applications for consent to multiple bodies should they wish to take advantage of that.  Under the NSIP regime section 150 of the Planning Act 2008 states that in respect of certain consents, the consenting body must agree to the consent being included in the Development Consent Order (DCO).  The relevant lists of consents this applies to are set out in the Infrastructure Planning (Miscellaneous Prescribed Provisions) Regulations 2010 (as amended).

The Government’s response to consultation document sets out in summary some detailed feedback received in relation to the proposal for further streamlining.  In conclusion, the Government considers that further streamlining is appropriate and has concluded that over the course of the next couple of years the ten consents consulted on will be removed from the section 150 list in England.  The first three relating to discharge for works purposes and trade effluent will be removed from the section 150 list in this Parliament. A table is set out on pages 9 and 10 of the consultation feedback document specifying the relevant consent and when it is proposed that it will be removed from the section 150 list.  Consent in relation to European Protected Species licences will be removed “….early in the next Parliament once a suitable legislative vehicle is identified.”  The remaining six consents will be “streamlined between 2015 and 2017″.

(3) Amendment to permitted development rights for drilling boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration

This is a new technical consultation launched by DCLG on 5 March 2015 and which is to run for 6 weeks to 16 April 2015. The consultation seeks views on the Government’s proposal to amend Part 22 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended) (the GPDO 1995) to allow the drilling of boreholes for groundwater monitoring in relation to petroleum exploration.

Part 22 of the GPDO 1995 already permits development on any land for the purpose of mineral exploration of:

  1. the drilling of boreholes;
  2. the carrying out of seismic surveys; or
  3. the making of other excavations.

The provision or assembly of any structure required in connection with the above operations is also permitted. The permitted development right, however, currently excludes drilling of boreholes for petroleum exploration.  As with all rights under the GPDO 1995 there are further restrictions and a number of conditions on its use.

The proposals being consulted on would amend the GPDO 1995 to enable development consisting of the drilling of boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration to take place as permitted development under either Class A or B of Part 22.  The proposals also consider that the height of permitted structures should be increased from 12m to 15m to reflect the height of modern drilling rigs for all development permitted under Part 22. Restrictions would apply to the use of the PD right and conditions would be imposed, the same ones as currently apply in Part 22 are proposed.

Four consultation questions are raised in Part 3 of the consultation document. A link to the consultation document is set out below:

In the written statement from Brandon Lewis he states that the changes to the permitted development right would enable “limited works to be carried out to establish baseline information on the groundwater environment in advance of, or in parallel to, any planning application or applications coming forward for such development.”