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.