Planning permission in principle: Update 16 June 2016

Section 150 paves the way for "planning permission in principle" (PPIP) to give developers more certainty about consent for "housing-led" development, which could include an element of retail, community and commercial uses.

The government proposes that PPIP be granted in two ways. The first route would be via adoption of a qualifying document that allocates specified kinds of sites. The second route is via an application to the council. In either case, once PPIP is granted, technical details consent will be needed to implement it, but the local authority would not be able to revisit whether the use is acceptable in principle.

The government’s intention is that PPIP would only apply to housing or "housing-led" schemes, though this is not specified in the act, which states only that the winning and working of minerals cannot be pursued via this route. The government proposes that existing consultation arrangements for plans and applications respectively should apply to PPIPs.

PPIPs through qualifying documents

This route would allow planning authorities to grant permission through allocations in qualifying documents identified via a development order. Following amendments during the bill’s parliamentary passage parliamentary passage, qualifying documents are restricted to brownfield site registers prepared under section 151 of the act, development plan documents and neighbourhood development plans.

Under this procedure, PPIP would take effect when sites are allocated in new qualifying documents, and would not apply retrospectively. PPIP would survive expiry of a qualifying document. Councils would be able to state that PPIP does not apply to allocated sites until a specified day. A Department for Communities and Local Government technical consultation issued in February indicated that councils would be able to choose which sites to grant PPIP through qualifying documents, although the government’s expectation is that it would be used "in most cases".

The technical consultation stated that qualifying documents must indicate that particular allocated sites are covered by PPIP. It said site allocations would need to contain "prescribed particulars" establishing the core matters covered by the PPIP in sufficient detail to ensure that the parameters for the technical details consent stage are absolutely clear. PPIP allocations would need to include a red-lined site boundary drawn to scale and an indication of minimum and maximum levels of residential development by units or dwellings per hectare, although any quantum of non-residential development would not have to be specified.

The government has accepted that councils may elect to allocate sites with particular constraints and sensitivities without granting PPIP. For schemes above the environmental impact assessment (EIA) threshold, the consultation proposed that PPIP could only be granted where the planning authority determines that EIA is not required or where it has already carried out an EIA and measures needed to address any significant effects are in place. Similarly, the requirements of the habitats regulations would need to be met where applicable.

The consultation suggested that PPIPs granted through qualifying documents would have a maximum lifespan of five years. The government also sought views on whether there should be allowance for local variation to the duration, for example to allow for different start dates based on certain triggers.

PPIP by application

Developers would also be able to apply for PPIP via applications to local authorities. The DCLG consultation said its current intention is to limit this option to housing proposals of fewer than ten units, to help small builders. Councils would not be able to grant PPIP subject to conditions, which are viewed as inappropriate at the "in principle" stage.

The technical consultation confirmed that PPIP applications would need to be determined having regard to the development plan and any other material considerations, and that unsuccessful applicants would have a right to appeal. Under the proposals, PPIP applications for minor development would require submission of a nationally prescribed application form, a plan identifying the land and a fee set at a level consistent with similar types of applications.

The government consulted on two options for the duration of PPIP granted on application – three years, in line consistent with outline planning permissions, and one year, to encourage applicants to bring forward applications for technical details consent quickly. It also proposed a determination timescale of five weeks for minor applications.

Despite PPIP by application being targeted at smaller sites, the consultation suggested that this route could also help applicants for major development, saying: "Before making this route available, we want to ensure that it would provide a sufficiently distinct option from existing outline planning permission. We therefore propose to consider the case for this following a closer examination of the operation of outline permission."

Technical details consent
Once PPIP has been granted, an application for technical details consent (TDC) would be needed to achieve full permission, which could be subject to conditions. Councils would not be able to reopen or reconsider the principle of a proposal and could only refuse TDC on the basis of previously unconsidered technical matters. In cases where PPIP has existed for a prolonged period and circumstances have changed in the meantime, the council would not be bound by it in deciding the application for TDC.

The technical consultation confirmed that applicants would have a right of appeal where their proposal is refused. It also stated that TDC would be the stage at which planning obligations are negotiated and the Community Infrastructure Levy is applied. It said councils should have the option of whether to carry out further consultation at this stage, but the only mandatory item would be to notify landowners and agricultural tenants. Proposed determination periods for TDC would be five weeks for minor sites and ten weeks for major sites.

The consultation indicated that TDC applications would involve a nationally prescribed application form and ownership certificate, plans and drawings necessary showing details, a fee set at a level consistent with similar types of applications.

It quoted examples of technical details as including provision of infrastructure, fuller details of open space, affordable housing and matters of design, access, layout and landscaping. It suggested that extra information required alongside TDC applications should be limited to a design statement and an impact statement, including any further detailed assessments required.

Commencement: Sections 150(1) to (3) come into force on 12 July, but full implementation will require further regulations.

Comment: Many experts are positive about PPIP's possible benefits. But there are also concerns over the potential for the measure to increase the workload of hard-pressed planning policy teams. Richard Harwood QC of 39 Essex Chambers said it could increase environmental impact assessment (EIA) work on plans, since they would effectively constitute development consents under the EIA directive: "The documents will therefore need to contain sufficient detail to enable a decision to be taken as to whether EIA is required. This will involve consideration of the mitigation proposed, even though that will not be secured until the TDC stage." Harwood also suggested that consultation and publicity would need to be ramped up in the immediate locality of a proposed allocation and that neighbour notification and site notices would need to apply to proposed allocations. David Bainbridge, a partner at consultants Bidwells, said PPIP could reduce uncertainty and aid investment decisions: "However, there is potential for complexity and disagreement between communities and local authorities."

The DCLG technical consultation document is here

More on this topic:
Government resists attempt to restrict 'permission in principle' provision

Policy Briefing: Permission in principle