England: There have been a lot of headlines about reform to the planning system since the Budget last week and already clients have been asking when the Pure Town Planning briefing note will be available. I’m sorry to disappoint but there won’t be one this time. After plenty of speculation, the measures which were eventually outlined in the Government’s “Fixing the Foundations” policy paper on Friday are likely to be of limited interest to our clients and besides are little more than headline ideas without any detail.
Many of the proposals revolve around ideas for speeding up local authorities in both making local plans and determining applications. Very welcome of course if successful. But many previous attempts haven’t yielded much success with the basic issue of lack of local authority resourcing seeming to pull strongly in the opposite direction.
Perhaps the main headline grabber is what is billed as “automatic planning permission for brownfield land”. The reality of the idea is to create a kind of zonal system which will apply only to specially registered sites – that is brownfield sites which have already been identified as suitable for housing development by the local Council and placed on a register. It remains to be seen to what extent Council’s register such land – it would seem likely to only apply to the largest brownfield sites. As the document highlights it will still be “subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details”. So presumably another case of what some are calling “planning permission lite” – similar to prior approvals for permitted developments. And our experience of permitted development prior approvals, particularly for agricultural to residential conversions, shows that these can often be anything but “lite”!
One of the more curious ideas, which is being muted for London only, is that of upwards extensions without planning consent up to the height of neighbouring buildings. Like the present “larger rear house extensions” scheme, this would only apply where the neighbours don’t object. But that is all the detail we have. Sounds like a recipe for some ugly roof extensions!
Finally one of the most controversial measures is the effective abandonment of the zero carbon homes policy. This includes ditching completely the zero carbon allowable solutions scheme which already was only going to apply to developments larger than 10 units. The Government will also not proceed with the planned tightening of energy efficiency standards in 2016.
Notably omitted from this series of proposals was any extension to the office-to-residential permitted development right which many had been expecting. At present that permitted development right expires in May 2016 when all changes of use must be complete however consultation on extending it until 2019 took place a year ago. No decision has yet been made either way following that consultation. Obviously the omission doesn’t mean that this permitted development right isn’t going to be extended – perhaps the idea of potentially losing employment generating sites didn’t fit comfortably with the Government’s productivity theme in “Fixing the Foundations”.
Of course we will post any further updates on planning reform as we have them but in the meantime if you have any questions as to whether any of this affects you then contact one of the Pure Town Planning team.