Thursday, 20 November 2014

Further planning changes to go ahead


When does Autumn end, and Winter begin? I would have thought that it must be rather more than three weeks before the Winter Solstice, but the Treasury seems to think that Autumn continues at least until the 3rd December. That is the date (round about the same time as last year) on which the Chancellor will deliver his Autumn Statement.

I have pointed out in previous years that ‘Gorgeous George’ loves to upstage DeCLoG’s Uncle Eric, and it appears that this year will be no exception. De-CLoG Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain, told a conference yesterday that we can expect further planning changes to be announced in this Autumn Statement, just as they have been in almost every Budget and every Autumn Statement in recent years.

The likely content of the announcements is no mystery, as the government published a consultation paper on their further proposals for planning ‘reform’ (“Technical Consultation on Planning”) at the end of July. The consultation period ended several weeks ago, and no doubt the government (having duly ignored any responses that it received to this consultation exercise) is now preparing the necessary statutory instruments by which effect will be given to these proposals. Whether these can be laid before parliament before the Christmas recess depends on how efficient De-CLoG lawyers have been in getting on with the drafting. In any event, it would appear that they will not come into effect until some time in the New Year. It seems to have become the practice to bring new subordinate legislation into force on 6th April or 1st October, but with the General Election due on the 7th May, the government may wish to put the amendment orders to the Use Classes Order and to the General Permitted Development Order into effect rather sooner than early April.

George Osborne will no doubt announce these further planning changes with a flourish, like a conjurer producing a rabbit out of a top hat, in the hope (probably justified, so far as most journalists are concerned) that everyone will have forgotten that all these proposals had already been announced four months ago. As I have said before, politicians love announcing things twice, even three times in some cases, simply in order to grab a passing headline.

The changes to the GPDO will enable further changes of use in addition to those previously introduced within the past two years. These are expected to 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).

It is probable that the government will also go ahead with its intention to make permanent those permitted development rights which currently expire in May 2016. In the case of office-to-residential conversions, the existing time limit for completing those conversions 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 with effect from May 2016, although whether this will actually survive the General Election may be dependent on who is actually in power after next May. If the government does go ahead with this, it will replace the existing PD right, and the government has said that the exemptions which apply to the current PD right will not be extended to apply to the new PD right. So expect some very unhappy local planning authorities if the government does persist with this proposal.

However, as a sop to the critics, the amended Class J will be subject in future (i.e. after May 2016) 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), in addition to the impact on highways and transport, flooding and contamination risk.

The right to build larger domestic extensions (under Part 1), currently expiring in May 2016, is also likely 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 the GPDO will be extended to allow retailers to alter their premises. PD rights are also expected 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.

Whether the government has got enough time to go ahead with a complete consolidation of the GPDO remains to be seen, but we have certainly not been led to expect any more thorough re-drafting, so as to remove the numerous anomalies and ambiguities that it contains.

Turning to the Use Classes Order, contrary to the general trend, but unsurprisingly, it is expected that the scope of Class A2 will be restricted, so that betting offices and pay-day loan shops (both currently falling within this Use Class) will become sui generis uses.

In fact it is quite likely that Use Classes A1 and A2 will be merged in a single new ‘town centre’ use class, so as to create a much more flexible range of uses in our High Streets. This is expected to 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 caf├ęs (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 is expected to remove the existing PD rights applying to the existing 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 retail use has been included within the definition of development under section 55, and requires planning permission. This floorspace limit will be increased, so as to allow retailers to build a mezzanine floor (although I don’t recall that a maximum threshold figure for this has been mentioned yet).

Some changes are also expected to the Development Management Procedure Order, including a requirement for a written justification from the LPA as to why it is necessary for a particular matter to be dealt with by a pre-commencement condition. This requirement will be in addition to the general justification that local planning authorities are already required to provide for using conditions. I have already expressed my scepticism as to the effectiveness of such a requirement in dissuading LPAs from imposing unnecessary pre-commencement conditions, but time will tell. (As regards the government’s proposals with regard to the discharge of conditions, this is dependent on the passage of the Deregulation Bill – currently at committee stage in the House of Lords.)

Some further tinkering with the DMPO can be expected, including the involvement of statutory consultees in the planning process (e.g. a requirement to notify railway infrastructure managers of planning applications for development near railways).

It is possible that there might also be a consolidation of the DMPO, as well as devising some means by which the time taken in the various stages of the planning process could be separately measured, rather than the present measurement of the total time from making an application to its determination.

Finally, we have been promised an adjustment of EIA thresholds, whereby the requirement for an EIA will affect fewer development schemes in future.

Not all of these proposals are guaranteed to come forward, but the Autumn Statement can be expected to cover most of the items listed above, to be followed with the necessary subordinate legislation, as outlined above.

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.

© MARTIN H GOODALL

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