Tuesday, 5 August 2014

More planning changes in the pipeline

With only nine months to go to next year’s General Election, the government’s appetite for messing about with the planning system seems to be unabated. De-CLoG has recently published a miscellaneous rag-bag of quite far-reaching proposals for further changes to the planning system aimed (they say) at furthering their objective of streamlining planning.

The government is proposing to tinker with the procedures for neighbourhood plans. They propose to introduce a 10-week time limit for LPAs to respond to applications for a neighbourhood area to be designated (or for a community right-to-build proposal), as well as modifying pre-submission, consultation and publicity requirements for neighbourhood plans. The requirement for a six-week consultation period on a proposal for a neighbourhood plan would be removed, but affected landowners would have to be consulted. The changes will also address the need to comply with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. The general aim is to speed up the Neighbourhood Plan-making process, and to reduce the ability of reluctant LPAs and opposing developers to disrupt or delay Neighbourhood Plans.

These proposals are most probably prompted by the limited take-up of neighbourhood plans so far, and the difficulties and delays that have been encountered by those who have embarked on the neighbourhood planning process. The government’s aim seems to be to beef up Neighbourhood Plans in an effort to demonstrate in their next election manifesto that they have put ‘localism’ into action, whereas these much-vaunted initiatives have proved up to now to be a rather damp squib, and are unlikely to counter the impression that the government effectively strangled localism at birth by imposing a requirement on LPAs to approve significantly more development in their areas, whether their councillors or voters like it or not.

This is the one area of change among those proposed in this consultation paper that would appear to require primary legislation. The government says that it intends to introduce new legislation to implement any changes at the earliest opportunity, subject to the parliamentary process. It may in practice prove difficult to introduce and pass such legislation in the time left in this parliament, in which case these ideas about neighbourhood plans could end up being no more than Tory manifesto commitments – a convenient fig-leaf to cover the nakedness of their originally much-trumpeted notions of Localism.

More changes to the General Permitted Development Order are proposed to enable further changes of use in addition to those previously introduced within the past two years. These will include the change of use of light industrial units (B1(c)), warehouses and storage units (B8) and some sui generis uses (launderettes, amusement arcades/centres, casinos and nightclubs) to residential use (C3), and changes of some sui generis uses to restaurants (C3) and leisure uses (D2).

In addition to these changes, the government is also considering making permanent those permitted development rights which currently expire in May 2016. This flies in the face of the growing opposition among some LPAs to office-to-residential conversions, so this proposal can be expected to cause quite an outcry.

First, the existing time limit for completing office-to-residential conversions that have obtained prior approval will be extended from 30 May 2016 to 30 May 2019. But a revised PD right for change of use from office to residential use is intended to be introduced from May 2016 (so it is entirely dependent on the rather doubtful prospect of the Tories securing a majority at the next General Election). It will replace the existing PD right, and the exemptions which apply to the current PD right will not be extended to apply to the new PD right. The amended Class J will still be subject to prior approval in relation to highways and transport, flooding and contamination risk, but in future (i.e. after May 2016) it will also be subject to a consideration of the potential impact of the significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation (although this criterion will be tightly defined).

The right to build larger domestic extensions (under Part 1), currently expiring in May 2016, is also to be made permanent. A single storey rear extension or conservatory that extends beyond the rear wall by between four metres and eight metres for a detached house, and by between three metres and six metres for any other type of house, will be PD, subject to neighbour consultation for these larger householder extensions, which will continue to require prior approval by the LPA.

The right to make alterations to commercial premises has not so far been extended to shops, and so it is now proposed that the GPDO should be extended to allow retailers to alter their premises. PD rights are also proposed to facilitate commercial filming, the installation of larger solar panels on commercial buildings, minor alterations within waste management facilities and for sewerage undertakers, and further extensions (in addition to those already allowed) to houses and business premises.

There is also a proposal to limit the compensation payable where an Article 4 Direction is made to remove permitted development rights. (Any planning lawyer’s hackles will rises at that.)

It is also proposed to amend the Fees Regulations for prior approval applications. Where the permitted development is for change of use only, and a prior approval is required, a fee of £80 will apply. Where the permitted development is for change of use and allows for some physical development and prior approval is required a fee of £172 will apply, including change of use from sui generi to residential. Where a prior approval is required to carry out physical development it is intended to introduce a fee of £80, including for the erection of a structure in a retail car park or the installation of solar panels on a non-domestic building.

While mucking about with the GPDO, the government has decided that it is high time to consolidate this much-amended Order. But consolidation is no more than window-dressing; what the GPDO really needs is thorough re-drafting, to remove the numerous anomalies and ambiguities that have plagued us all for far too long.

Turning to the Use Classes Order, contrary to the general trend, but unsurprisingly, there is a proposal to restrict Class A2, so that betting offices and pay-day loan shops (both currently falling within this Use Class) would become sui generis uses. Planning permission will be required in future for a change of use to either of those uses.

Other changes include the possible merger of Use Classes A1 and A2 (perhaps with other ‘town centre’ uses), so as to create a much more flexible range of uses in our High Streets. [Somebody in De-CLoG seems to have been reading old posts in this blog again!] This will be accompanied by a further amendment of the GPDO to allow change of use to the widened retail (A1) class from betting shops and pay day loan shops (A2), restaurants and cafés (A3), drinking establishments (A4), and hot food takeaways (A5). The existing PD right to allow the change of use from A1 and A2 to a flexible use for a period of two years will remain, as will the right to allow for up to two flats above, and the change of use to residential (C3). On the other hand, the Government proposes to remove the existing PD rights applying to the A2 use class, so as to allow LPAs to control these developments.

With effect from 10 May 2006, any internal increase in floorspace of 200 square metres or more (including the introduction of mezzanine floors) in a building in non-food retail use has been included within the definition of development under section 55, and requires planning permission. As previously announced, the government intends to increase the limit to allow retailers to build a mezzanine floor (but they have not yet settled on a maximum floorspace limit).

This is only part of the current consultation paper. I shall have to leave for another time proposals for improving the use of planning conditions, proposed changes to the planning application process and the adjustment of EIA thresholds.

NOTE: Many of the changes to the law canvassed here have been implemented since this blog post was published. For completely up-to-date and fully comprehensive coverage of this subject, we would strongly recommend readers to obtain a copy of the author’s new book - “A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PERMITTED CHANGES OF USE” published by Bath Publishing in October 2015. You can order your copy by clicking on the link on the left-hand sidebar of this page.



  1. "any internal increase in floorspace of 200 square metres or more (including the introduction of mezzanine floors) in a building in non-food retail use"

    I think you mean in retail use (other than for the sale of hot food). Otherwise Sainsbury's Tesco and Asda will be having a fieldday.

  2. Stephen Edgeller is quite right. I was guilty of over-simplifying the legislative provisions. They (currently) apply where the internal alterations have the effect of increasing the gross floorspace of the building by more than 200 square metres in a building that is used for the retail sale of goods other than hot food. So the provisions do apply to the likes of food retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury, as well as to non-food retail.