Thursday, 24 January 2013
Streamlining the planning application process
Goaded by the cries of agony from planning professionals throughout the country, the government has been slowly and cautiously feeling its way towards a relaxation of the bureaucratic rules that currently beset the planning application process. Now at last they have published a consultation paper containing concrete proposals for amendments to the Development Management Procedure Order aimed at lifting a large part of the bureaucratic burden under which we have all been labouring [pun not entirely unintended].
In this and two further posts, I will briefly outline the current proposals, starting with the requirement for Design and Access Statements [‘DAS’]. These were introduced by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 with the intention that applicants should be required to explain how their design is a suitable response to the site and its setting, and to demonstrate that the scheme can be adequately accessed by prospective users. From August 2006, all planning applications and listed building consent applications were required to provide a DAS, apart from those for material change of use, engineering/mining operations or householder development (although they were still required in the last case in conservation areas and similar designated areas).
Quite frankly, a DAS rarely adds anything to an application, and they are simply an unnecessary burden on applicants. It is doubtful in many cases whether planning officers even bother to read them. So the government now proposes significantly to relax the requirement for a DAS and to reduce their specified content. In future a DAS will be required only for ‘major’ development (defined as mineral or waste development, residential development for more than 10 houses or on a site of at least 0.5 ha, and any other development that either creates at least 1,000 sq m of floorspace or is on a site of 1 ha or more). These proposals would, however, exclude certain major developments such as mining operations or waste development where the form of particular schemes will largely be dictated by their function.
I feel that the 10-unit threshold for residential development is too low but, apart from this, these proposals are very welcome.
On the other hand, the government proposes to apply lower size thresholds for a DAS in conservation areas and World Heritage Sites. Similarly, applications for listed building consent will still require a DAS. However, the rules are intended to be framed so that the majority of small developments in a conservation area or a World Heritage Site will not require a DAS. They suggest (quite correctly, in my view) that development plan policies on design and heritage will in any event ensure proper consideration of these matters for small developments. In these areas, a DAS will still be required for the extension of an existing building by the addition of more than 100 sq m of floorspace, or for the erection of a building with a cubic content of more than 100 cu m.
So far as content is concerned, the government proposes to remove some of the rigid statutory prescription in the DMPO and Listed Buildings Regulations. The changes proposed include removing the requirement to explain the specific design principles and concepts that have been applied to “amount”, “layout”, “scale”, “landscaping” and “appearance” and removing the requirement to give details of maintenance in respect of access.
So two cheers for a long awaited injection of commonsense into the planning application process.
In future posts, I will discuss the proposals intended to put an end to the current nonsenses we so frequently encounter over the validation of applications, and related proposals to reintroduce a means of challenging unreasonable information requests. In the near future the jobsworths who so enjoy holding up the validation of planning applications are going to have to change their tune.
© MARTIN H GOODALL