Developers will welcome with open arms the Government’s latest consultation on changes to the planning application process. The aim is to streamline the process making it less burdensome, more proportionate and save costs. The proposals affect design and access statements, the validation stage and decision notices.
Design and Access Statements
Originally introduced in 2004, their purpose is to explain the suitability of a design to its surroundings and evidence adequate access for prospective users. However, the concern is that they are burdensome and do not always improve design.
It is being proposed that the requirement to provide such a statement be limited only to major developments (as defined in Article 2 of the Development Management Procedure Order), listed building consents and consents regarding conservation areas or World Heritage Sites where an extension’s floor space exceeds 100 square meters or where the building to be erected is more than 100 cubic meters.
Exempt applicants would of course be free to explain and justify its design decisions, taking into account local considerations and site-specific issues, but it wouldn’t be a requirement.
Proposals also reduce the complexity, length, disproportionality and repetitiveness of statements. No longer will applicants need to explain specific concepts and principles applied to amount, layout, scale, landscaping and appearance. Nor will applicants be required to provide details of maintenance of access routes.
The concern here is that local authorities use a “tick box” approach to validate applications, using local lists for all applications without considering the necessity of the information in the circumstances or the cost to the applicant of acquiring certain information. Additionally, there is no ability to challenge a request for further information other than judicial review.
Although local lists are useful, to prevent authorities from taking a blanket approach, proposals will require the authority to question whether a piece of information is relevant, necessary and material and local authorities will have to revisit their local lists every two years. This will involve considering the nature and scale of the development and matters material to the application.
A form of redress will also be introduced as a last resort, which will be easier than obtaining judicial review. Initially, the applicant will have to write to the local authority explaining why the information is unnecessary. The local authority will need to reply within a specific time period. If the authority still refuses to validate the application then an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate can be launched.
Currently, a decision notice must provide a summary of reasons, policies and proposals which are relevant to the decision to grant the permission. This has led to a string of court cases where third parties have challenged the inadequacy of the reasons given. The summary is often a restatement of issues mentioned in officer’s report to the planning committee and minutes of the meeting which are now available online or via the Freedom of Information Act. The concern is that a continuing requirement for a summary no longer increases transparency in the ‘information age’, but rather only serves to duplicate work of local authorities.
The proposals remove the requirement to provide a summary where planning permission is granted (not for refusals), albeit that any conditions still need to be fully explained.
To respond to the consultation and for more information visit https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/streamlining-the-planning-application-process and respond by 4 March 2013.