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18 Sep
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Planning Conditions: Why the health of your permission could soon be improving

Planning conditions are often raised as a bug bear by clients as a thorn in the side of the development industry.

Securing planning consent is not ‘job done’ and post approval, we often find ourselves having to attend to an ever expanding list of planning conditions.  This can often mean that the elation (and relief) of securing planning consent can quickly subside when the decision notice lands in our laps, as the extent and reach of the conditions is known.

In this guide, we'll look at how planning conditions work and offer some good news as to why they might not necessarily be such a hindrance to development in the near future.

How do Planning Conditions Work?

From a planner’s perspective, appropriately worded conditions are a necessary evil to ensure development is of the correct standard and that specifics that cannot be fully bottomed out prior to permission being granted are controlled.

The planning system must be fit for purpose, fostering economic growth and leading the drive for the highest quality of our built environment. Our earlier blog on dreary design emphasises a key issue and outcome of the process - a failure at times to secure that quality.

However, there can certainly be a case of overkill on the part of the council at times leading to post-consent programming and cost issues for developers. A statement echoed in The National Infrastructure Plan 2013 identified that “delays associated with the discharge of planning conditions can hinder the effective delivery of development”.

The content of conditions, the number of conditions imposed, the mechanism for dealing with conditions and the process to be followed in discharging conditions can all cause problems to those wanting to get development off the ground.

This can, unfortunately, be overlooked by council officers.

Time is Money

Project management specialist WYG looked at how long it takes to discharge conditions and in 2008, it reported over half were awaiting sign off from the council after six weeks.  For what should largely be an administrative exercise, this is unacceptable. In all likelihood, this could have increased further since then, with significant staffing cuts gripping council planning departments across the country.

We follow strict procedures through the planning process to limit unwanted surprises. This includes engaging with case officers early and providing information that will nullify a requirement for a planning condition. However, there can be instances where this safeguarding can fall foul when a council becomes pressed for time.

In the case of one major planning permission, which attracted no fewer than 47 planning conditions, the opening gambit of the case officer was “this is our planning permission not yours”. I reminded them that a client who had paid close to £45,000 of planning application fee to the council for its planning services, may see that very differently.

Budgetary cuts have led to staffing issues and dealing with conditions on an already-consented scheme is not a priority. Officers would much rather concentrate on their next application than the loose ends of an old application.

The Future's Bright

In this context, we welcome any move to stimulate greater accountability and pressure councils to make the right decisions on conditions and deal with their discharge expeditiously.

The DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) is currently consulting upon its latest Technical Consultation – July 2014, within which the government asks for views regarding planning conditions including:

  • At what point prior to determining an application should conditions be shared with an applicant?
  • Is there a tendency for Councils to impose too many conditions?
  • Use of pre-commencement conditions
  • The ever growing problem of delays in discharging planning conditions.

The introduction of the “deemed discharge” tool amongst these measures could prove to save many a headache. The consultation on planning proposes an optional mechanism for applicants, where a planning authority has not responded within a "reasonable time" to an application to discharge certain types of planning condition. 

Where the authority has not notified the applicant of its decision within six weeks of submission of details for approval, the applicant would be able to regard that matter as having the authority's approval or consent.

This "deemed discharge" would then need to be activated by the applicant serving a notice that would come into effect after a further two weeks. The DCLG considers that the notice procedure would provide a helpful audit trail for both the applicant and the planning authority but would leave the decision as to whether a deemed discharge is desirable, in the circumstances of the application, with the applicant.

The process:

                                                    Conditions Image

The consultation also proposes that, where an authority fails to determine an application to discharge a particular condition, the period within which applicants can seek a refund of fees paid should be reduced from 12 weeks to eight weeks. This would match the overall time period for the deemed discharge and notice procedure.

We have issued a call to arms to our clients to air their views on this latest Technical Consultation as we look to ensure that the development industry stops losing out to unnecessary and unacceptable delays and losses. With the consultation ending on 26th September 2014, those not yet engaged with this or wishing to ensure that their views are known, get in touch and we can explain more about these latest measures.

And if you've had any experiences – positive or negative – with conditions affecting your planning application or simply want to share your views directly, be sure to leave us a comment below or fire us a tweet.

Image used courtesy of alamadatechnology.com

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