The government finally pushed ahead with its promise to allow developers to apply for permission in principle (PiP) on small housing sites. The relevant statutory instrument - The Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) (Amendment) Order 2017 - was laid before Parliament on 21 December, allowing housebuilders to apply for the new designation on sites of fewer than ten homes from 1 June this year.

The move has been welcomed by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), which represents smaller builders and campaigned for the introduction of permissions in principle. It sees PiPs as a low-cost way of establishing the broad acceptability of developing sites for a particular use.

The idea is that granting a PiP will give a developer confidence that planning permission will be granted, before going to the expense of submitting a detailed application. PiPs will simply cover the land use, location, and amount of development envisaged, with the local authority specifying the minimum and maximum number of homes and charging a fee of £402 per 0.1 ha. Once the principle is established, full permission is sought via a second stage covering the development specifics, called technical details consent (TDC), which must happen within three years.

The explanatory memorandum published alongside the PiP order makes clear that this is not a planning shortcut. In fact, it estimates, an applicant will spend on average £800 more getting permission for a typical four-dwelling site through this route than via a conventional application. The point, rather, is that expenditure would be minimised, prior to the principle of development being established.

The government's roll-out of PiPs has until now been restricted to planning authorities designating sites by means of their own brownfield land registers. This policy allows developers to take the initiative.  This means the pressure for PiPs will start coming the other way, and LPAs will not be able to ignore it.

No one is expecting a flood of PiP applications in June. Awareness of the new route is still low - evidenced by the fact that the government, according to the order's explanatory memorandum, delayed implementation while an "active programme of continuous engagement" is undertaken with councils.

It  is unclear to what benefit the two-stage process will bring compared to entering into pre-application discussions prior to a full application. The question is whether this ends up being the only way to get a red-line type permission, or whether it'll remain quicker and cheaper to go the pre-app route.

Much of this detail will only be known once guidance is issued and planning authorities start processing both PiPs and TDCs. One key issue will be the appetite of planning authorities to grant PiPs, given the very limited amount of information applicants will provide.

The research, by think-tank Planning Futures, analysed capacity in planning departments across the country and found that the majority are struggling to provide an effective service.

The think-tank said that the findings show that "the majority of planning departments in England are in significant decline and struggling to provide an effective and robust planning service".

On average, council planning departments had lost 15 per cent of staff in a decade, it found, but 51 per cent of councils had experienced larger losses, according to a report of its findings.

Losses were greater in planning policy teams than development management, with average losses of 18 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

The survey found that some departments had coped better than others. While some departments reported that cuts of up to 20 per cent in their staff were "manageable", others reported times when their services were nearing the point of collapse, despite more modest cuts.

The report recommended that local authorities should be given autonomy to set their own planning fees so that they can recover the full costs of the development management process.

The draft plan proposes removing current London Plan residential density restrictions, allowing councils and developers to agree their own densities on a site-by-site basis.

The plan introduces targets for each borough for the delivery of housing on smaller sites, defined as those of 25 homes or fewer.

While any relaxation of green belt protection was never on the cards, the draft plan goes further than its predecessor in stating that dedesignation of green belt will not be supported.

Boroughs with opportunity areas are given some flexibility over the plan’s affordable housing threshold. The plan includes a specific policy promoting "purpose-built student accommodation".

Build to rent, a form of purpose-built private rented sector housing, is supported in a dedicated policy.

The draft plan goes further than its predecessor in its level of protection for office space.

Provision of affordable workspace is supported in the revised draft plan. 

The draft plan goes further than its predecessor in its level of protection for industrial land, commentators say.

So-called co-living schemes are supported.

Any schemes that involve the loss of social infrastructure should be refused.

The plan commits the mayor to working with councils in the wider South East.

The draft London Plan is much more detailed and prescriptive than the current version, commentators say.


Only 46 per cent of local authorities in England have a post-National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) adopted local plan in place, according to research by consultancy Savills.

The Housing White Paper published earlier this year said that the government would intervene where necessary to ensure local plans are in place.

Since then, 15 authorities have been threatened with central government intervention to ensure that they produce an up-to-date plan.

Savill's Research found that of those councils with adopted plans, 15 were at least five years old and would need updating to reflect proposed changes in the method of calculating housing need.

The 54 per cent of local authorities without an up-to-date post-NPPF plan were found to be at various stages of the plan-making process, with seven per cent yet to begin initial preparation of a post-NPPF plan.

planning and application feesThe draft regulations introducing the 20 per cent fee increase, as well as other changes to the planning fees regime, were debated and approved by the House of Lords’ grand committee in early December.

The Lords passed the proposals, which also introduce fees for planning permissions in principle, fees for applications necessary because a permitted development right has been removed, and a new fee for prior approval for a range of new permitted development rights.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said that, following the Lords’ approval, the fee increase would be debated in the Commons next Wednesday. The DCLG spokesman added that, subject to parliamentary scrutiny, it was anticipated that the fee increase would be introduced in January. The regulations automatically come into effect 28 days after they have been approved by both houses.


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