The Housing and Planning Bill, published in October 2015, sets out a wide-ranging series of reforms to the planning system as part of the Government’s commitment to build more homes. As scrutiny of the Bill by the House of Lords nears completion before being sent back to the House of Commons to agree amendments and receive Royal Assent, the Government is now considering how best to take forward changes to the planning system and is seeking views on its proposed approach to implementing the provisions set out in the Bill. 

The key planning reforms introduced in the Bill can be found here. The Government’s proposals for implementing the reforms include the following key areas: 

Changes to planning application fees and fast-track service. The Government is proposing that fees be increased in line with the rate of inflation since 2012 (when planning fees were last revised) and adjusted annually thereafter if required by inflation. Only authorities that are considered to be performing well in the speed and quality of decisions would be able to apply the fee increase. In addition, councils may be able to offer a fast-track planning applications service and applicants could be given the choice of submitting their plans to the local council, a competing council or another approved provider to process applications up to decision point.

Permission in principle. The Bill provides for planning ‘permission in principle’ to be granted either on allocation - for sites identified in a local qualifying document such as a future local plan, future neighbourhood plan or brownfield register (see more on this below) – or, currently just for minor development, on application to the local authority. In practice, it is proposed that:

  • the core matters (known as ‘prescribed particulars’) determining the suitability of a site for permission in principle are intended to be less than those for outline planning permission and will be limited to location, whether the proposal is housing-led and the amount (a minimum and maximum) of residential development proposed. All other matters such as infrastructure, open space and affordable housing will require ‘technical details consent’ before full planning permission can be granted. The prescribed particulars cannot be re-opened at technical details approval stage;
  • permission in principle will not remove the requirement to consider environmental impacts or habitats issues as required by the EIA Directive and the Habitats Directive;
  • conditions, planning obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy will be included at the technical details consent stage;
  • the time limit for determining an application for permission in principle will be 5 weeks with a further 5 or 10 weeks for determining the technical details consent for minor and major sites respectively. There will also be a right of appeal; and
  • permission in principle on allocation will last five years and permission on application will last either three years or one year depending on the outcome of this consultation. Technical details consent will last three years.

Brownfield register. Potential brownfield sites suitable for housing will be identified through an up-to-date Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), other relevant sources and a call for sites to be volunteered for inclusion on the register. Sites must be available, capable of supporting five or more dwellings or more than 0.25 hectares and capable of development. Any local authority that fails to meet the Government’s commitment that 90% of brownfield sites should have planning permission for housing by 2020 may be unable to claim the existence of an up-to-date five year housing land supply when considering applications for brownfield development and the presumption in favour of sustainable development would then apply. The consultation also sets out a number of proposals for the proposed content of the registers and requirements for publishing and updating the data at least once a year. 

Local plans. The Government has already made clear its intention to intervene where no local plan has been produced by 2017 (click here). It is proposed that those authorities where there is under delivery of housing in areas of high housing pressure, authorities without a local plan in place or where the policies in the local plan are not kept up-to-date will be high priorities for government intervention. Progress in plan-making will be published every six-months commencing June 2016. 

Section 106 dispute resolution process. Following an earlier consultation on how to speed up the negotiation of section 106 agreements (click here), further details are provided on how the recommendation to introduce a dispute resolution mechanism will work:

  • the dispute resolution process will be available for a broad range of planning applications, including smaller scale cases, although a size threshold and other criteria may be set later on;
  • either the applicant or the local authority can initiate the process at the end of the existing statutory timeframes (8 weeks for a minor application, 13 weeks for a major application and 16 weeks for an application accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment);
  • following a 2 week ‘cooling off’ period, the process would be undertaken by an independent body appointed on behalf of the Secretary of State;
  • the level of fees payable will be set by the Secretary of State but it is expected that the costs of the process will be shared evenly between the local authority and the applicant;
  • a report produced by the appointed body would set out the range of decisions that the local authority could take and if no section 106 agreement is completed within the prescribed period, permission would be refused. Where the application is appealed following dispute resolution, the Inspector must have regard to the report.

The consultation also sets out a range of proposals relating to the publication of a small sites register, speeding up the neighbourhood planning process and new thresholds for designating councils as poor performers (including the Sectary of State’s powers of intervention contained in the Bill). 

The consultation is open until 15 April 2016 and further details can be found here.