A recent Government consultation has sought to provide greater flexibility for developers, outlining proposals to allow them to extend time limits for the implementation of planning permissions and facilitate minor material changes to approved schemes.

Aimed at unimplemented planning permissions that may have slowed down due to the current economic situation, the ‘Greater Flexibility for Planning Permissions’ (June 2009) document sought to address additional problems caused by two elements of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The 2004 Act removed the ability to apply for an extension of time limits under Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the time limit for commencement of schemes was reduced from 5 years to 3 years. Developers have therefore been required to re-submit new planning applications with the associated risks, costs and delays resulting in further obstacles to those struggling in the current climate and a sharp drop-off in take up of permissions.

The Government proposes changes to the General Development Procedure Order 1995 with a new type of application that will allow developers to extend the time limits within which a development must be commenced. This proposal would allow local authorities to extend the period for implementation through a quick application process.

They also propose to smooth the path for minor material amendments to planning permissions by utilising existing legislation under Section 73 of the Act. At present, when a developer wants to make a small, but material, change to a scheme it is often necessary to submit a further full planning application. It is proposed to encourage developers and planning authorities to include a planning condition in consents listing all approved plans. Developers could then apply to vary that condition to accommodate minor changes to schemes.

These are the key elements of a further package of measures that are being pushed through hastily by the Government in order to streamline the planning system and remove barriers to developers in difficult times.