Proposed Changes to the Planning System

At present the world of planning and development is at the forefront of government reforms. There is an ongoing consultation into many changes within the planning system. This consultation seeks input into proposed changes to the planning system, including: changes to the standard method for assessing local housing needs, securing of first homes through developer contributions, temporarily lifting the small sites threshold and extending the current Permission in Principle to major development. In the coming months, it is likely that major changes will be considered and that many of these will be implemented.

To prepare for these changes, it is useful to understand why they are necessary.

Why Are Changes Being Proposed?

Firstly, the planning system that we follow today was put in place in 1947. This means that our guidelines were put in place only 2 years after the Second World War. Since then, many changes have happened externally, and although it has been reformed many times, the basic system has not, in the government’s view, been updated to reflect the years of development.

Secondly, the system now works best for large investors and companies, and is often impenetrable for those without the resources to manage a costly process. To implement a simpler framework would allow for a better support system and a more fair and competitive market. With a greater diversity of developers, England is likely to house a stronger foundation for the planning communities.

Since 2010 the government has introduced planning reforms to improve the outdated system. In 2010 only 17% of local authorities had local plans in place and now 91% of local authorities have plans. These changes have helped to shape the consultation that is currently ongoing and the viewpoint of many individuals and developers countrywide.

What Are the Proposed Changes?

Currently, planning decisions are discretionary rather than rules-based. Almost all decisions to grant planning permission are decided on a case-by-case basis. Given the number of applications that are being received daily in 2020, compared to the number in 1947, it is evident that this process needs to change. It is being proposed that a clear set of rules would be much more suitable for this process.

Secondly, it has been proposed to extend the current Permission in Principle to major development so that landowners and developers have a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without having to work up detailed plans first. This aims to speed up the planning process, encourage building and development during these uncertain times, as well as into the future, and to create a fairer system.

Furthermore, one of the most prominent proposals is the simplification of Local Plans, to focus on identifying land under three categories. These three areas are: ‘Growth’ areas suitable for substantial development, ‘Renewal’ areas suitable for some development and ‘Protected’ areas where development is restricted. The main aim of this proposal is to reduce the time it takes to secure planning permission. By having a simplified process in place, with an easier application process, it will be much less time consuming, for both the applicant and the local authority.

Subsequently, the plans refer to the local planning authorities being given greater responsibilities in terms of identifying sub-areas in their ‘Growth’ areas for self- and custom-build homes, so that more people can build their own homes.

As well as the above, temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, will ensure adequate affordable homes are being built across the country.

What Changes Are Soon to Come into Force?

In the meantime, there is a lot of talk surrounding the planning sector at current and one of the main upcoming changes centres around how the planning system will work for commercial premises. From 1 September 2020 there will be a new Class E group, which will replace the following classes:

  • Class A1 - shops;
  • Class A2 - financial and professional services;
  • Class A3 - restaurants and cafes; and
  • Class B1 - business.

This will mean that planning permission will not be required for a change of use of premises within this new use class.

Given the current climate and the changes that have come about due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, many businesses and premises will perhaps become redundant and undesirable. Amending the rules in relation to planning consents is a first step to tackling the challenges that many commercial premises owners, and others, will face.

Help and advice

If you would like any guidance or advice on matters relating to any of the above, or otherwise, please do not hesitate to contact our property and planning departments at Lanyon Bowdler for more information.