Planning applications – Some basic principles

The first principle of development planning is that any construction or change of use in land that falls within the definitions of such under planning legislation should be “plan led”. In other words, prior to the development being permitted the regulatory authorities must ensure that there are in place clear policy parameters to identify where the development is to occur and the types of development that can be carried out within those identified areas be it commercial, industrial, residential or otherwise. Having those clear parameters in place gives a measure of certainty to those who wish to invest in or carry out development and helps to remove political or subjective views from the equation. The intended outcome is an integrated, sustainable working/living environment where homes, services and employment opportunities are in close proximity to each other. As a necessary part of this process, consultation with communities living adjacent to or within the areas to be zoned is a precondition so that future development is not perceived by those local communities as being imposed from above. Arising out of the formulation of planning policy for an identified area, the legislation requires that for certain specified developments or changes of use the applicants should go through a formal process to obtain permission from the relevant local planning authority (the “LPA”) which will allow an assessment by planning officers of the acceptability of the proposal tested against policy as well as consultation with local residents, other designated authorities and relevant utility undertakers (eg transport, power, waste authorities) prior to that permission being given. It is of course impractical to require that all proposed developments or changes of use go through this formal process. For smaller developments therefore (eg adding an extension to a house or minor structural changes or a change of use similar to that currently existing) there is a category known as “Permitted Development”. Essentially this allows the house-owner/developer to go ahead with the construction or change of use under an automatic or deemed permission as long as they stay within the parameters specified. The default position then is that any activity that does not fall within the “Permitted Development” categories will require a formal application to be made to the LPA for permission to proceed. As part of the current Government’s effort to speed up the planning process and increase the availability of homes, the boundaries of permitted development are being extended in a number of areas an example being easier change of use of office buildings to residential units. Where a planning application to the LPA is needed, completion of a standard application form by the applicant to cover the proposed type of development or change of use commences the process. Before, however, submitting that form there is with most LPAs an opportunity to have pre-application discussions between the applicant and planning officers to allow areas of uncertainty and/or technical matters to be clarified thus improving the prospects of a successful application. Once then the form is submitted, a case officer will be designated to process the application through the various assessment and consultation steps. It may be that if the application falls within specified criteria that it will go to the LPA’s Planning Committee for a decision. Otherwise, it will be dealt with by the planning officers under delegated powers. Having gone through all the required steps, there will come a point where a decision on the application for either approval or refusal will be made through issue of a written Decision Notice. Where the application is approved, specific requirements and restrictions will be attached as a list of conditions to the permission which will contribute towards its orderly implementation. This list of conditions would depend on what is needed specifically for that development and would be agreed between the planning case officer and the applicant before the permission is given. So that these do not unnecessarily obstruct smooth progress of the development work they are required to be very precisely drafted. Since new developments or changes of use can place increased pressure on existing services/infrastructure or lead to a need for new services/infrastructure there is built into the planning application process methods of mitigating such impacts as well as providing for Affordable Housing. As the mitigation/Affordable Housing aspects generally need to be kept separate from the requirements within the planning permission, historically in England and Wales such provisions were contained within a legal agreement (a S106 Agreement). Negotiating S106 Agreements can, however, take some time and with an aim of speeding up the process, the recently established Community Infrastructure Levy charging system is gradually being implemented by LPAs in respect of infrastructure provision whereby standard financial charges are calculated at the time of the planning application according to the type and size of the development. Affordable Housing provision will, however, continue to be secured through S106 Agreements. For further information on planning matters please contact Kevin Breslin at kbreslin@setfords.co.uk or by telephone on 0203 376 2700.