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Planning Simplification Measures

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

Today I am announcing additional measures to support the delivery of sustainable development by making the planning system simpler and more effective.

The national planning policy framework and the Localism Act provide the basis for a radically improved planning system and there is clear evidence that they, and the earlier written ministerial statement on planning for growth, are already delivering results: we are seeing the rate of local plan adoptions rise—37 plans have been adopted in the last 12 months, compared with less than 60 adopted in the six years before the 2010 general election, and high levels of approval rates for planning applications.

The proposals I am announcing today will help streamline the process of applying for planning permission, ensure that planning is properly resourced and create greater engagement and accountability in the process.

Over 100 local planning authorities are working with front-runner communities on neighbourhood planning. To help those communities with their neighbourhood plans, we will be providing further funding to the four organisations currently offering support on neighbourhood planning: the Royal Town Planning Institute (Planning Aid); the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community; the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, working with the National Association of Local Councils; and Locality (the Building Communities Consortium). The further funding will enable the four support providers to offer practical and bespoke advice and assistance to those leading communities with their neighbourhood plans.

In line with commitments set out in the growth review and autumn statement, we have identified a number of potential changes to the use classes order and associated permitted development rights. If agreed, they would provide new opportunities for development and sustainable economic growth through the reuse of existing buildings, without the need to apply formally for planning permission. These include temporary or so called “meanwhile” use of empty commercial premises as recommended in the Portas review. A consultation paper is being published alongside this statement.

The national planning policy framework has successfully distilled over 1,000 pages of policy into around 50, with clear benefits for every user of the system. The next challenge is to do the same with planning guidance—some 6,000 pages of it. Practitioners will have an important role to play in ensuring we establish clear, usable guidance that supports effective planning and I will shortly announce more details on the approach we propose to take.

There is also scope to make the information requirements for planning applications clearer, simpler and more proportionate. This can be achieved without undermining the ability of local planning authorities to make well-informed decisions, or the ability of the public fully to understand what is being proposed. I am publishing detailed proposals for consultation alongside this statement.

We also intend to speed up the process for determining planning appeals, which I know can be a source of frustration for applicants and communities alike. We will consult on proposals to both shorten and streamline the process for all parties later this year.

It is important that local authorities, communities and planning inspectors can rely on the information contained in applications. To reinforce this point I will amend the declaration on the standard application form so that applicants are asked to confirm that the information provided is, to the best of their knowledge, truthful and accurate.

We are also proposing to make technical amendments to regulations to clarify and improve the operation of the community infrastructure levy. We intend to introduce these regulations in the autumn.

Providing planning departments with the resources that are required to turn round planning applications efficiently and effectively is important. The planning application fee is a relatively small component of the costs of any development, but delays by planning departments in the processing of applications can lead to substantial costs for residents and professional developers. Fees are currently set by Government and have not been increased since 2008. Most councils are experiencing a shortfall in fee income which is failing to meet the costs of deciding planning applications which, in turn, has to be subsidised by ordinary council taxpayers, who end up subsidising the planning process. The Government therefore propose a one-off adjustment to uprate fees in line with inflation, amounting to around 15% since 2008. We intend to introduce new fee regulations that would make this change come into force in the autumn.

Appropriate resources must be matched by improved performance. The growth review announced the Government’s intention to introduce a “planning guarantee” that it should take no longer than 12 months to determine any planning application, including any appeal. The guarantee places an equal expectation on local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate that they deal with cases in no more than 26 weeks. The guarantee is aimed at the minority of decisions that take a significant amount of time beyond the statutory time frames of eight and 13 weeks (for minor and major applications respectively) to determine. Later in the year we will publish a consultation paper on proposals to underpin the guarantee, together with a report on existing performance against it by planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate.

We are also taking a number of steps to improve the performance of statutory consultees such as the Highways Agency, Natural England and the Health and Safety Executive. Alongside the requirement for key consultees to produce improvement plans, announced in the autumn statement, we intend to take forward our commitment to ensure that there is a more effective mechanism for applicants to obtain an award of costs, if there has been an appeal against refusal of planning permission where a statutory consultee has acted unreasonably. I have today published a consultation paper setting out these proposals. The suggested changes to the award of costs circular also make it clear that appellants may be at risk of having costs awarded against them if the evidence on which they have based their appeal is found to be manifestly untrue.

Taken together, the measures that I am announcing will make a further important contribution to our task of making planning simpler, more accessible and better able to support sustainable development.

The consultation documents being published as part of today’s announcements will be available on the Department’s website.