News & insight

A year of radical changes to the Planning System

Owen Pike / 21 Dec, 20

There have been significant changes introduced to the planning system throughout 2020.  Even prior to Covid-19, the Government signalled its intention to reform the planning system (simplify and remove the red tape!…other people can be the judge of this) and the pandemic simply brought about some more immediate changes to assist for the interim period.

Temporary Measures

Announced at the beginning of the pandemic under The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020  (SI 2020/330) pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways at any point from 24 March 2020 to 23 March 2021.

Measures to Assist New Ways of Working

The Business and Planning Act 2020 subsequently included a range of measures to help businesses adjust to new ways of working.  In respect of planning, these include:

  • Pavement licences: a new streamlined procedure enabling businesses serving food and drink to apply for a temporary pavement licence;
  • Construction hours: a fast track application process for the temporary variation of planning conditions relating to construction site working hours;
  • Time extensions: provision to allow the commencement period for certain unimplemented planning permissions and listed building consents to be extended. This is to ensure relevant permissions and consents are still extant, enabling development to commence following delays caused by Covid-19; and,
  • Remote meetings: amendment to the Coronavirus Act 2020 which provides that regulations can make provision relating to requirements for local authorities to hold meetings, the timing and frequency of such meetings, the places at which such meetings must be held, and the way in which people may attend, speak and vote.

Use Classes

The Use Classes Order has been significantly altered such that several new use classes have been introduced, namely: Class E (Commercial, business and service); Class F.1 (Learning and non-residential institutions); and, F.2 (Local community).  Class E subsumes previous use classes A1 (Shops), A2 (Financial and professional services), A3 (Restaurants and cafes) and B1 (Business) whilst Classes F.1 and F.2 subsume some of the previous uses classes which were specified as Class D1 (Non-residential institutions) and Class D2 (Assembly and leisure).

Given these changes apply to any location be it town centres, suburban shopping parades, out-of-town retail parks and villages, amongst other locations, I consider it will have long-term impacts on communities.  But I think it has been a positive measure because it often takes a long time for planning policies set out in Local Plans to catch up with trends and market changes.  For instance, given the rise in internet shopping and the fact retailers with shop premises have to compete with online only competitors who do not pay business rates, amongst other things, most landlords of retail assets and shopping centre now welcome restaurants and other leisure operators to shopping destinations but many planning policies have restrictions on the amount of non-retail uses that can occur and this can frustrate or preclude developments which assist to enhance the vitality and viability of centres.  This obstacle has now been removed for some developments as well as potential new recreational uses that are developed in the future (so long as they fall into Class E…).

The White Paper

The Government’s White Paper Planning for the Future, which was published for consultation at the end of August, outlined several ideas which if implemented fully would fundamentally change the planning system, particularly the plan-making process.  In this regard, it suggests land across England will fall into 1 of 3 categories, they are: Growth Areas; Renewal Areas; or, Protection Areas.  Designation as a growth area will in effect grant outline planning permission.  Renewal areas will receive in principle – and benefit from – some form of Development Order or applicants will submit a planning application.  Protection areas will require submission of planning applications, as now.  This sounds great but I think it is ultimately too simplistic.  For example, assuming all Green Belt land is designated as an Area of Protection, it is presumed inappropriate developments will still be possible if ‘very special circumstances’ exist and any harm is clearly outweighed by other considerations (long-established national policy).  In which case, there would be no logic to categorising some land as ‘Protection Area’, unless the Government is intending that Green Belt should not automatically be protected, which I very much doubt.  The White Paper proposes several other changes however since its publication and given more pressing nationally issues, such as the state of the economy and Brexit, Government ministers have subsequently come out and stated the reforms will be delayed.

Upward Extensions

Several new Permitted Development Rights (PDR) have come into force including:

  • New Class AA Part 1 – upward extensions to individual homes;
  • New Class AA Part 20 – construction of flats on top of detached buildings in commercial or mixed use
  • New Class AB Part 20 – construction of flats on top of terrace buildings (including semi-detached) in commercial or mixed (including residential) use;
  • New Class AC Part 20 – construction of flats on top of terrace houses (including semi-detached); and,
  • New Class AD Part 20 – construction of flats on top of detached houses.

All of the new PDR contain limitations and conditions on how they will operate and are subject to prior approval.

Demolition and Rebuild

Additionally, New Class ZA now allows the demolition of buildings and construction of new dwelling houses in their place (see separate article for details).  As above, the PDR is subject to prior approval and the buildings must have been vacant for at least six months prior to the date of the application for prior approval.

I have been reluctant to write on these new PDR given they (and the changes to the Use Classes Order) were the subject to a Judicial Review.  However, the attempt by Rights Community Action (RCA – a campaign group) to overturn all of these changes was dismissed at the High Court on 17 November 2020.  I therefore expect the uptake from applicants to promote developments under the new classes of PDR to significantly increase.  However, I finish with a word of warning; given the issues to be considered under prior approval are extensive (and some are new in that they are not considerations under other more established prior approval regimes), this increases the likelihood applicants will face resistance from local planning authorities.  I predict a high proportion of initial applications will be refused prior approval because I think many schemes will face opposition from nearby residents.  Although the success-rate will likely increase as it becomes a more familiar and well-known tool.

If you have any questions about the changes and how they may impact you and your property assets, then please get in touch with Owen Pike on 07889 701 547 or owen.pike@sw.co.uk .

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