Latest changes to the Business and Planning Bill announced
With the growing impact of Covid-19 on development, and after many months of lobbying by the development industry and landowners, some proposals for the short-term liberalisation of the planning regime have finally been published in the Business and Planning Bill, currently making its way through Parliament.
Part Three of the Bill contains the changes relevant to the planning system and this is a short summary of the key changes aimed at giving greater flexibility and efficiency to the planning application process that will help developers.
- The right to implement a planning permission or listed building consent is extended by keeping alive planning permissions for development which would lapse between 23 March – 31 December. They are subject to an extended deadline of 1 April 2021.
- The Bill effectively brings back to life planning permissions that have lapsed since 23 March – although this is subject to a process requiring the developer to get an “additional environmental approval” from the local planning authority. That is there to certify that there has been no change in the likely environmental impacts of the development in the interim period. It reflects the fact that, in law, the local planning authority has no locus from which to grant planning permission if environmental impact assessment and habitats requirements have not been met, so it is there to avoid legal challenge. The good news is that, as currently drafted, if the local planning authority does not issue a decision within a 28-day period there is a deemed approval. And, looked at from the local planning authority’s point of view, they only need to be reasonably satisfied that the environmental impact assessment or appropriate assessment dealt adequately with the mitigation and that the situation had not changed in the interim.
- Similarly, outline planning permissions have an extended time limit placed on them so that application for discharge may be made up to the magic date of 1 April 2021.
- Another provision intended to give greater flexibility is allowing fast-tracking of applications to vary working hours conditions on building sites (only up until 1 April 2021). That will allow developers to press on with viable projects unhindered. As above, there is a deeming of approval if the local planning authority does not determine such an application within a fixed time period (14 days this time) – but before that time the local planning authority can grant, refuse or grant subject to different conditions than were applied for. That measure is to be supplemented by draft planning guidance strongly encouraging granting of all such applications.
- There has been much discussion about the “new normal” and what it means for the hospitality industry. The Bill sets out a number of measures to make it easier for premises serving food and drink to seat and serve customers outdoors including
- capping the application fee
- setting out safeguarding enforcement and revocation powers in the interests of public safety/amenity
- introducing a 14 day determination period
There is also a suggestion (in draft guidance at present) that where a licence is granted or deemed valid, the applicant will also have a deemed planning permission to use the land for anything done pursuant to that licence while the licence is valid. That suggests a bypassing of the planning system and reliance on licensing only, for a limited period. Expect more debate about that requirement.
- There is also drafting modifying the Licensing Act 2003 which if enacted would automatically extend the terms of any premises licensed for sale of alcohol on the premises only. This would allow the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises also. Clearly that would greatly assist pubs and bars for example.
- On the planning appeals front, the bill includes measures to allow planning inspectors to use hybrid means of deciding appeals. So the planning Inspectorate could hold a local inquiry or hearing of shorter duration than normal and supplement it with use of the “written representations” procedure. That should give greater flexibility in the substantial backlog they are dealing with.
There have been no problems getting all this through the House of Commons. Things may not be as straightforward as the Bill goes to the House of Lords and it will be interesting to see what shape the legislation emerges in, though the Government’s new slogan, “Build Build Build” suggests that opposition may have a difficult time challenging or modifying any of the central measures.