Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Reforming the use of planning conditions

One really good piece of news in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill is that ministerial guidance on the use of planning conditions, which has been so widely ignored by local planning authorities for many years, is at last to be given statutory force.

While the Bill is continuing on its passage through parliament (currently awaiting Second Reading in the House of Lords on 17 January, having already completed its passage through the Commons), the government is wasting no time in preparing the subordinate legislation that will be put in place as soon as possible after the Neighbourhood Planning Bill comes into force following Royal Assent, probably in the Spring. The government has consulted on these proposals and has published their response to the consultation with commendable speed.

The first major subject of the consultation is the issue of pre-commencement conditions. Whilst the government recognises the importance and value of certain pre-commencement conditions in ensuring that necessary safeguards are put in place for important matters, including heritage and the natural environment, they remain determined to ensure that the principles in their Planning Practice Guidance (formerly set out in Circular 11/95) are observed by LPAs, and this will include agreeing proposed conditions with an applicant before a decision is taken, and as early in the planning application process as possible.

The Government remains of the view set out in the consultation paper that it should be the responsibility of the LPA to choose the most appropriate time to seek agreement of the applicant to any pre-commencement conditions and where dialogue begins early, this requirement should not lengthen the process of determining a planning application. Nonetheless, the government agrees that there should be a default period to avoid undue delay in the process where there is no response from the applicant. They therefore propose a default period of 10 working days (although there will be an option for LPAs to agree a longer timescale with the applicant).

The intention is that the default period will commence once the LPA has given notice of its intention to impose a pre-commencement condition and has sought the agreement of the applicant. The default period would then elapse 10 working days (two weeks) later, unless a longer period had been agreed between the LPA and the applicant.

The alternative of introducing a dispute resolution procedure (such as a fast-track mechanism for appeals) would only add a further formal step to the process which would be likely to cause delays, and could actually discourage effective discussions between applicants and local authorities, who might simply wait to use the mediation route as an alternative to meaningful engagement early in the process.

The government expects that the new approach will reduce the workloads of authorities following the issue of a planning permission, by reducing the number of pre-commencement conditions that then have to be discharged.

The second main issue dealt with in the consultation document is the proposed prohibition of conditions that infringe the principles laid down in the ministerial guidance on the use of conditions. Planning officers predictably asserted in response to the consultation document that the guidance is already sufficient without further provision being made in legislation, but experience over many years has shown that in practice this guidance is widely ignored. The government believes (and I entirely agree) that it is necessary to ensure that conditions applied by local planning authorities meet the six policy tests in the NPPF. The government has therefore confirmed its intention to do this through secondary legislation, expressly prohibiting each of the following types of condition:

1: Conditions which unreasonably impact on the deliverability of a development - e.g. disproportionate financial burden;
2: Conditions which reserve outline application details [i.e. details that should have been specified as reserved matters at the outline permission stage];
3: Conditions which require the development to be carried out in its entirety;
4: Conditions which duplicate a requirement for compliance with other regulatory requirements - e.g. the Building Regulations;
5: Conditions requiring land to be given up; and
6: Positively worded conditions requiring payment of money or other consideration

The second of these prohibitions will not restrict the ability of local authorities to impose conditions on outline applications requiring the submission of details of reserved matters for approval at a later date. What it is aimed at is conditions attached to a full permission or to consent to details (i.e. the approval of matters that should have been reserved by an outline permission) which require the subsequent approval of further details. The latter type of condition should be entirely unnecessary.

However, what the government’s proposals do not appear to address is the unnecessary requirement in many conditions for certain details to be approved before the commencement of development, when the condition could simply require that certain matters be approved at a later stage in the development; it could indeed to be adequate that the approval of a few matters should simply be required “prior to the first occupation of any part [or of the relevant phase] of the development.

With regard to the prohibition of conditions requiring the completion of a development in its entirety, there is no reason why a developer should be under a legal obligation to carry out the whole of a development that has been approved. LPAs already have the ability to serve completion notices, to encourage the completion of partially-built development. The Government has therefore confirmed its intention to prohibit this type of condition.

As regards conditions that duplicate other regulatory requirements (in particular the Building Regulations), this is an issue on which many of us feel strongly. There is no excuse for trying to drag into the development management process matters that are properly the subject of compliance with the Building Regulations or other legislation. The government, however, does seem to have conceded (inadvisedly, in my view) that a condition might legitimately impose a requirement over and above the minimum standards stipulated by the Building Regulations. The answer, surely, if there are circumstances where a higher standard of construction is required, is to vary the Building Regulations themselves. There has been an unfortunate tendency in recent years to attempt to regulate through the planning system matters that should not properly feature in the development control process. The government really ought to set its face firmly against this trend.

Responses to the consultation exercise included a number of other conditions which it was suggested should be prohibited. These included:

- Conditions which duplicate or split conditions across different regulatory regimes;
- Conditions which restrict hours/methods of working on a building site;
- Conditions which require a completion date;
- Conditions which require material samples to be agreed up front before development can commence;
- Conditions which require pre-approved drawings to be duplicated and re-submitted for approval; and
- Conditions attached to temporary permissions, when the development has a short lifespan.

Some of these suggested prohibitions fall within the conditions that the government intends to prohibit in regulations, including conditions added upon the approval of reserved matters, conditions that duplicate other regimes and conditions requiring a completion date, all of which are covered by the government’s proposed prohibitions mentioned above.

There is perhaps just one other type of condition that requires specific prohibition. This relates to conditions attached to a prior approval under a relevant part of the Second Schedule to the GPDO (particularly Part 3) if it purports to deal with issues that go outside the scope of the specific matters requiring approval under the relevant Class of permitted development. Section 100ZA (which will be added to the 1990 Act by the Neighbourhood Planning Bill) makes it clear that the permissions referred to include development permitted by a development order, and so this provision will include conditions imposed on prior approvals under the Second Schedule to the GPDO. Section 60 will be amended accordingly. However, the subordinate legislation ought specifically to prohibit such conditions, in order to reinforce the provision in paragraph W(13) in the GPDO that the conditions must be “reasonably related to the subject matter of the prior approval”.



  1. Allowing LPA,s to impose conditions exceeding minimum building regs was prohibited by Eric Pickles, and the building regs amended to include optional requirements where desirable. Will the Govt's proposed response reverse this and allow LPA's to call for compliance with other energy standards?

  2. I agree with Chris P (21 December). What is proposed is both unnecessary and undesirable. For the reason he has explained, there is no need for conditions to duplicate or overlap building control under the Building Regulations, even to the limited extent that the government seems to have been persuaded to accept.

  3. The intention to prohibit *conditions* duplicated by other regulatory requirements is welcome. Will this mean that LPAs will be required to remove/rewrite policies that provide this duplication, or will applicants simply be able to (in effect) ignore those policies until after the planning phases of the project?

  4. In response to "Passer-by", I think we shall have to await the subordinate legislation (presumably an amendment to the DMPO) before we can see the precise legal effect of the new rules. If they prohibit this type of condition, then local plan policies to the contrary would no longer have effect, and any such policies would have to be removed from the plan the next time it is reviewed.

    The other point that will have to be established by the new statutory provisions is whether a prohibited condition will be void ab initio and can simply be ignored, or whether it will have to be challenged either in the High Court or on appeal, in which case it would arguably be effective until or unless challenged. The latter would, in my view, be unsatisfactory, and I hope that it will be made clear by the revised subordinate legislation that a condition that infringes the prohibitions in that legislation will be entirely unenforceable. However, this may require an amendment to the rules governing the service and effect of Breach of Condition Notices.

  5. On a related note, I think it's time the government simply put a stop to the likes of Westminster, RBKC, and Camden (the worst offenders) requesting endless supplementary information in order to assess development for 'planning application' purposes - when it could and should in my view be provided as a condition, or overseen by Building Control - like it was in the good old days. Failing that, it should at the very least be standardized (within reason). Westminster's City Plan, which contains a list of things you might also need when preparing your planning application, presently runs to some 250 pages. Stop. Enough.

  6. I notice that a condition of my neighbours outline planning permission (1980), "that the dwelling hereby permitted shall not exceed one storey in height", has been completely ignored by the planning officer (2016) as permission has been granted to extend into a three storey house.
    If this volte face is permissible, what is the point of the council stipulating any conditions in 1980. For how long are these conditions valied ?

  7. The condition to which Guy Paremain refers was imposed on a planning permission which was granted over 35 years ago. No doubt it was considered appropriate at that time. However, the recently granted planning permission will no doubt have been determined completely afresh in the light of current circumstances. Whilst it cannot automatically be assumed that a 35-year old planning condition is of no relevance at all, it would be unsurprising if little or no weight were now to be given to it.

  8. Sorry; mounting my hobby horse again...

    To recap, this is what one London local authority presently says that they require for a subterranean extension application, and without which they 'cannot consider your application'.

    Regardless of the validity of that claim, in the end it's invariably easier to comply rather than argue why various items might not in fact be required.

    Either way, in my view, it's all unnecessary additional time and expense, at a time when the project is at risk of refusal for a number of reasons:

    - Full planning permission application form
    - Correct fee
    - Location Plan (many Local Authorities now substitute with their own plans anyway, but require these nonetheless)
    - Site Plan
    - Existing and proposed plans, sections, and elevations, including demolitions
    - Design and access statement
    - Planning statement
    - Construction method statement
    - Construction Traffic Management Plan
    - Noise, vibration and dust mitigation measures
    - CIL Form and Calculator
    - Tree report/survey
    - Flood Risk Assessment
    - Demonstration of SUDS compliance

    I'm tired even before I begin, which I suppose is the point.

  9. We still have a long way to go in respect of both spurious planning conditions and validation requirements.

    One recent condition on a basement development reasons that a landscaping scheme be provided in order 'to protect the appearance and amenity of the area and to accord with policies of the development plan'. The reasoning goes on to to suggest it 'is necessary for the condition to be on the basis that “No development shall commence until” as compliance with the requirements of the condition at a later time would result in unacceptable harm'.

    It's not worth the fight, obviously, but common sense would suggest both points to be ridiculous to the point of dishonesty.