Aldershot Garrison

    More planning reforms on the cards

    More changes to the planning system in England are on the way. Broadly, the proposals seek to streamline the approvals process further and simplify the Government’s planning guidance.

    The Government is currently testing slimmed down national planning practice guidance (NPPG) as a new online resource. The intention is to make planning guidance more accessible and easier to up-date.  However, none of the current planning practice guidance will be cancelled until the final online guidance is in place and live later in the autumn.

    This intended major culling of old Circulars and other policy documents, advocated earlier in the year by the Taylor Review, has also provided an opportunity for proposing possible policy changes too. Of particular interest, in a section on establishing housing need, the new guidance moots a new ‘affordability test ‘. In effect, if a District’s housing affordability position worsens against long term trends, the Council is to be expected to make an upward adjustment to planned housing numbers, rather than just relying upon numbers based on household projections alone.

    Alongside this, with the aim of improving planning processes, a number of new measures are proposed, with the aim of them taking effect in the Autumn. These include:

    • Faster planning appeals:  A new Commercial Appeals Service, closely modelled on the Householder Appeals Service, will introduce an expedited procedure for some minor commercial appeals, allowing decisions to be made in eight weeks.
    • Underperforming authorities: The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 allows applications for major development to be made direct to the Planning Inspectorate, in those few cases where a local planning authority is designated as under-performing. The Government expects to make the first designations by the end of October.
    • Fee Refunds: Amendments to the fees regulations will require a refund of the planning application fee if a planning application has not been decided within 26 weeks, unless otherwise agreed. This is in line with the Government’s ‘Planning Guarantee’.

    Following the measures introduced in May, which enable offices to be changed to residential use, there has been a consultation on introducing greater flexibility for other changes of use. This further consultation seeks views on 5 proposals for permitted development rights to allow:

    • shops and financial and professional services to change use to a dwelling house
    • existing buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 150 square metres to change to residential use
    • retail uses to change to banks and building societies
    • premises used as offices, hotels, residential and non-residential institutions, and leisure and assembly to be able to change use to nurseries providing childcare
    • a building used for agricultural purposes of up to 500 square metres to be used as a new state funded school or a nursery providing childcare

    All proposals also include permission to carry out building work connected with the change of use.

    Finally, it is also worth noting that the Ministry of Justice has begun consulting on further changes to the judicial review system, following the reforms introduced in July. In addition to the shorter six week time limit for bringing a claim (reduced from the previous three months), no right to an oral renewal for any claim that is clearly without merit, and higher fees, the new ideas include creating  a specialist planning chamber  with its own expert judges to speed up the process.

     
     

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