The Department for Communities and Local Government has begun its “Technical consultation on planning”. The consultation forms part of the Government’s pledge to prioritise planning reform and modify regulations deemed to be overly complicated, ineffective and expensive.

The Consultation concludes on 26 September 2014 and is accompanied by a 98 page consultation document that presents a wide range of proposals, split into six comprehensive sections. The sections cover Neighbourhood Planning; permitted development rights, change of use and use classes; planning conditions; Environmental Impact Assessment; and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning.

The proposals apply to England only, except proposals concerning development consent orders, which apply to both England and Wales.

The consultation document can be found here and an overview of the headline proposals in each section is set out below:

Section 1:  Neighbourhood Planning

  • A new 10 weeks statutory time limit for designating a Neighbourhood Area (and longer term objectives for automatic designation of a Neighbourhood Area where a local planning authority fails to make a decision within 10 weeks).
  • The removal of the current 6 weeks pre-submission consultation and publicity requirements for Neighbourhood Plans and Orders.  The introduction of a requirement to consult owners of sites affected by a Neighbourhood Plan and the introduction of a ‘basic condition’ test to regulate Neighbourhood Plan and Order consultation.
  • Requirement for information to be submitted within a Neighbourhood Plan to enable the Plan to be assessed against the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive.

Section 2:  Reducing planning regulations to support housing, high streets and growth (permitted development rights, change of use and use classes)

  • New permitted development rights for change of use from light industrial (B1(c)), storage and distribution (B8), and launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs (sui generis) to residential (C3).
  • A replacement, amended permitted development right for change of use from office B1(a) to residential (C3) and an extension of the time for completing development under the existing right to 30 May 2019.
  • The amalgamation of use classes A1 (shops, etc.) and A2 (financial and professional services including banks, etc.) to provide greater flexibility.  Betting and pay day loan shops will become the new use class A2.  There will also be wider rights to change to A1 use from other A use classes.
  • New permitted development rights to change from A1, A2 and certain sui generis uses (such as night clubs) to A3 (restaurants and cafes) and D2 (assembly and leisure) uses.
  • New permitted development rights for the construction of buildings and increases to loading bay capacities for home delivery and ‘click and collect’ facilities.
  • An alteration to permitted development rights for retail mezzanine floors to increase the limit from 200 square metres.  Views are sought on what the new threshold should be.
  • Views are sought on whether powers to set maximum car parking standards should be restricted.
  • A new permitted development right for the installation of solar panels of up to 1MW on commercial buildings.
  • Existing permitted development rights to extend retail, office and warehouse premises to be made permanent.
  • New permitted development rights for replacement plant, machinery and buildings at waste management facilities.
  • Prohibition on removing permitted development rights by an Article 4 direction where a prior approval has been given.

Section 3:  Improving the use of planning conditions

  • A new procedure for ‘deemed discharge’ of conditions that require further approvals, where no decision has been made within a 6 week period.
  • A reduction in the time limit for refunding the fee where no decision is made on an application to discharge a condition from 12 to 8 weeks.
  • A requirement for local planning authorities to share draft conditions with applicants for major developments and alternative proposals for how an authority should deal with subsequent amendments.
  • New requirements for local planning authorities to justify pre-commencement conditions and conditions restricting later stages of development.

Section 4:  Planning application process improvements (including the role of statutory consultees)

  • Various measures to change the thresholds for the involvement of Natural England, the Highways Agency and English Heritage in planning applications as statutory consultees with the overall aim of reducing consultation.
  • The removal of English Heritage’s power to direct London planning authorities to refuse planning permission.
  • The production of a new, consolidated Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order.

Section 5: Environmental Impact Assessment thresholds

  • Raised screening thresholds for the following two categories of project from 0.5 hectares to 5 hectares to avoid unnecessary screening:
    • industrial estate development projects; and
    • urban development projects (including housing and shopping centres).
  • Views are also sought on scope for further reforms to screening thresholds, both specifically for housing to become 1,000 units and more generally for other Schedule 2 development.

Section 6: Improving the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime

  • Changes to the process for making non-material changes to an existing development consent order to place responsibility for publicity and consultation on the applicant rather than the Secretary of State (with the objective of expediting the application), including obligations to:
    • publish in the local vicinity;
    • consult with persons or bodies directly affected by the change; and 
    • confirm publicity and consultation undertaken to the Secretary of State. 
    • Also, other minor changes relating to scale of maps for offshore projects and removal of the requirements to pay the Secretary of State’s costs for publicising the application.
  • Changes to simplify and speed-up the process for making material changes to existing development consent orders, including:
    • requiring the applicant to consult only persons directly affected by the change, rather than each person consulted about the original application;
    • removal of the requirement to prepare a statement of community consultation;
    • removal of the requirement for formal pre-submission publication of applications;
    • allowing the Secretary of State to decide not to hold an examination into an application for a change if he considers one is not necessary; and
    • reducing the statutory time periods to four months for the examination, two months for the examining authority to produce a report and recommendation and two months for the Secretary of State to reach a decision.  This reduces the overall period by four months.
  • The introduction of procedural guidance on material and non-material changes covering:
  • the assessment of whether changes are material or not;
  • practical details on submitting applications;
  • the pre-application process, including the role of statutory consultees;
  • examples of where an examination may not be held; and
  • examples of where the Secretary of State may decline to determine an application for a material change (under the measures being introduced by the Infrastructure Bill).
  • The choice for applicants to include ten more non-planning consents in a nationally significant infrastructure planning application, instead of requiring separate applications to be submitted to different consenting bodies. The consents include a European Protected Species licence and Flood Defence consents.