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  • Helen Winkler

Development Management and Design to Become More Prescriptive?

The ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper proposes that specific development standards would be set out at a national level within the National Planning Policy Framework and this would be the primary source of policies for development management. Local planning authorities should not reiterate these national policies.

Under the proposed new system, local planning authorities should provide design guides and codes to give greater certainty for developers and the community. These should reflect local character and preferences about the form and appearance of development and could be produced for the local authority area as a whole and/or for a smaller area or site. The aim of the new design guides or codes would be to ‘build and preserve beautiful communities’. These design guides or codes could be set out in Local Plans or Supplementary Planning Documents. Where no local design guide(s) are in place, the National Design Guide, National Model Design Code and Manual for Streets should guide decisions.

A new body is to be established to support the delivery of design codes and each local planning authority will need to have a chief officer for design and place-making.

‘The aim is to move to a position where all development management policies and code requirements, at national, local and neighbourhood level, are written in a machine-readable format so that wherever feasible, they can be used by digital services to automatically screen developments and help identify where they align with policies and/or codes.’

In growth areas detailed planning permission could be secured in one of three ways:

  • a ‘reformed reserved matters process’ for agreeing the issues which remain outstanding;

  • a Local Development Order which could be prepared in parallel with the Local Plan and be linked to a master plan and design codes; or

  • for exceptionally large sites such as a new town where there are often land assembly and planning challenges, a Development Consent Order under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime could be used as a route to secure consents.

The reform of planning powers for Development Corporations will also be assessed to reflect the new framework.

In renewal areas there would be a general presumption in favour of development established in legislation. Consent for development could be granted via three routes:

  • for pre-specified forms of development through a new permission route which gives an automatic consent if the scheme meets design and other prior approval requirements;

  • for other types of development, a faster planning application process where proposals would be determined in the context of the Local Plan site or development area description, and with reference to the National Planning Policy Framework; or

  • by a Local or Neighbourhood Development Order.

Following a pilot programme to test the concept, in renewal areas where development is considered suitable, the Government proposes use of ‘pattern-books’ to set out standard building types, options and associated rules (such as heights and set-backs). This would allow the pre-approval of popular and replicable designs through permitted development. This would be achieved by using a limited set of form-based development types that allow the redevelopment of existing residential buildings where the relevant conditions are satisfied – ‘enabling increased densities while maintaining visual harmony in a range of common development settings (such as semi-detached suburban development)’. Prior approval from the local planning authority would still be needed for aspects of the design as well as for other important planning considerations such as avoidance of flood risk and securing safe access. Local orders could be used by the local planning authorities or neighbourhood planning groups to modify how the standard types apply in their areas, ‘based on local evidence of what options are most popular with the wider public’.

As an exception, in both the growth and renewal areas it would still be possible for a proposal which is different to the plan to come forward but this would require a specific planning permission. This might be necessary when, for example, local circumstances have changed, or an unanticipated opportunity arisen.

In protected areas the current planning application system would remain in place (except where proposals are subject to permitted development rights or development orders), and judged against policies set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.

The Government also intend to consolidate other existing routes to permission, including simplified planning zones, enterprise zones and brownfield land registers.

The time limits of 8 or 13 weeks for determining an application from validation to decision will be changed so it is a fixed deadline rather than an aspiration. The planning fee will be automatically refunded for the application if local authorities fail to determine it within the time limit. Consideration is also being given by the Government to the possibility of some types of applications being deemed to have been granted planning permission if they were not determined within the specified timescales.

The amount of key information required as part of an application will be reduced and made machine-readable.

‘A national data standard for smaller applications should be created.’

For major development, in addition to relevant drawings and plans, there should only be one key standardised planning statement of no more than 50 pages to justify the development proposals in relation to the Local Plan and National Planning Policy Framework.

A digital template for planning notices will be created.

There will be greater standardisation of technical supporting information, such as, local highway impacts, flood risk and heritage matters.

Where site specific information is required to mitigate wider impacts, there should be clear national data standards and templates to use, developed in conjunction with statutory consultees.

Standard national conditions for permissions will be introduced to cover common issues.

Detailed planning decisions will be delegated to planning officers where the principle of development has already been established as detailed matters for consideration should be principally a matter for professional planning judgment.

The power will remain for the Secretary of State to call in decisions. It will also still be possible for applicants to appeal against a decision by a local planning authority. Once there are Local Plans under the new proposed system, it is anticipated that with greater certainty about the principle of development set out in Local Plans, there will be fewer appeals being considered by the Planning Inspectorate. The Inspectorate will be set up to be more digitally responsive and flexible which speed up the appeals process. Where appeals are successful, applicants should receive an automatic refund of the planning application fee.

Legislation would be introduced to widen and change the nature of permitted development, so that it ‘enables popular and replicable forms of development to be approved easily and quickly, helping to support ‘gentle intensification’ of our towns and cities, but in accordance with important design principles.’

Suitably experienced architectural specialists may be given some ‘autonomy’ from routine listed building consents rather than needing to submit an application.

Fast-Track Permission - A fast-track automatic permission in principle will be introduced for ‘beauty’ where proposals are for high-quality developments where they reflect local character and preferences, through changes to national policy and legislation.


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