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Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2014

Volume 755: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, these regulations amend the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) Regulations 2012. The regulations have been approved in the other place and, if approved by the House, would come into effect at the end of this month. The regulations introduce a new level of fees payable for prior approval applications for permitted development for change of use and associated physical works.

The coalition Government are committed to reducing planning regulation and ensuring that the system for securing planning permission is proportionate to the potential impact of any development. We want to ensure that the best use can be made of existing buildings and that we deliver the homes we need without unnecessary regulation. To support these key aims, we are increasing national permitted development rights so that appropriate development can take place more quickly.

In the Budget document, we set out the three-tier planning system. A full planning application is appropriate for larger-scale developments with the greatest impact on neighbours, the wider community or the environment. Permitted development rights, on the other hand, remove the need for a planning application. They are appropriate for small-scale changes and some strategic development where the impact is less. Permitted development rights with prior approval provide an intermediary role between permitted development and a full planning application. This is a simpler and cheaper process where the principle of the development has been established but certain specific issues still require local consideration.

In April, an order came into force introducing further flexibility for owners to make better use of existing buildings and to help increase housing supply. These new permitted development rights include enabling shops and agricultural buildings to change use to homes. For the first time, they also allow the limited building works necessary to deliver the new homes.

These permitted development rights are subject to prior approval, providing applicants with a less complex and less costly process than a full planning application. Prior approval for change of use normally requires the local planning authority to consider matters such as the impact on transport and highways and contamination and flood risks. By allowing some physical works, as well as the change of use, the local planning authority will also have to consider the proposed design and external appearance of the building. For example, an existing shop front with a large plate glass window is unlikely to be appropriate for a home without some alterations. However, it is important that any resulting frontage is still in keeping with the area. It may be adjacent to other shops, and the local planning authority will have to ensure that the design does not have a detrimental impact on an area.

Prior approval for change of use requires the local planning authority to consider specific issues, and we introduced a fee of £80 last year for these applications. These regulations now provide that a fee of £172 is payable for prior applications where the local planning authority considers not only the specific impact of the change of use but the design and appearance of building works associated with that change of use. This recognises that these applications involve some additional work for the local planning authority compared to a straightforward change of use.

These regulations will apply to the flexibilities introduced in April allowing change of use from shops to homes and from agricultural buildings to homes together with associated building works. The fee of £172 for prior approval is a considerable saving to the applicant. If we had not introduced these permitted development rights, a farmer making a planning application to convert a barn to three new homes would have faced a fee of £1,155, which is calculated as three times the planning application for a dwelling-house. When we consulted on the package of increased flexibilities for change of use last summer, we set out our intention to introduce a £172 fee for prior approval applications where some physical works are also permitted.

It is important that we continue to take steps to simplify the planning system and make the application process proportionate to the impact of development. This modest fee for a prior approval application for both change of use and some building works is a saving for developers trying to make better use of their existing buildings and will help planning authorities in meeting the costs of these applications.

I commend the regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I again thank the Minister for explaining the regulations. As we have heard, they are focused on the very narrow point of the level of fee applicable to permitted development rights for change of use where prior approval is necessary and where limited building works are associated with the change of use. The fee is to be £172.

The Minister will be aware from the debate in another place on these regulations that we are not in agreement with the underlying policy involving this particular use of permitted development rights. As my honourable friend the shadow Planning Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods put it,

“we are not against allowing change of use, but we believe that it is best achieved through adherence to local plans”.—[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 8/7/14; col. 5]

The Government’s Greater Flexibilities for Change of Use consultation proposed five different circumstances but, as I understand it, only two are the subject of this order. The fee levels apply where the change of use can involve some building work: one is where the change of use is from shops or financial and professional services buildings to a dwelling-house, and connected building work is involved; the other is when existing buildings currently used for agricultural purposes are to be used as a dwelling-house, and building work connected with the change of use is involved. In each case, certain building work is permitted. Can the Minister say something about the parameters under which that is considered? When is it connected to the relevant provision and when does it go beyond that? There are obviously plenty of opportunities for abuse of these provisions. I would like to understand how that matter is to be approached. In the case of change of use of shops, it appears that prior approval will be required to cover design, transport and risks of flooding, as the Minister explained. For agricultural buildings, prior approval will focus on siting and design. As I understand it, the prior approval is not necessarily looking at the same thing in each case. It has to look at specific things. That, presumably, is tucked away somewhere in regulations. I hope that the Minister will enlighten me on that.

One of the other flexibilities not covered by this fee proposal relates to the change in building use from buildings for agricultural purposes to new state-funded schools. How many times has this flexibility been used to date? Has it been used to facilitate free schools? I reiterate that we have difficulties with the underlying policy but, subject to the points I have made, we will not oppose these regulations.

I again thank the noble Lord for taking part in this two-way debate. Our objective is basically to simplify the planning process, thereby making it easier and cheaper for developers who want to carry out small-scale works with a limited impact.

I was asked about the scope of a development. I understand it to be within the permitted development rights of the said dwelling. If it is anything other than that, I will let the noble Lord know. I hope I have responded to the point that he made but I take it to be within permitted development rights, which will, of course, be different for each dwelling.

Permitted development with prior approval provides developers with a less complex and less costly process than a full planning application. These regulations support that approach. As regards what building works would be allowed under this provision and what would not, work which is required to deliver a new use would be allowed and, I think, probably nothing beyond that. Therefore, in the case of a shop front, a smaller window as opposed to a large frontage would be allowed. If it was a barn, I am guessing that a suitable front door might be allowed but nothing beyond what would be required to change from the old use to the new use of dwelling. I think that addresses the point about not going beyond the original intention of the regulations.

I will have to write to the noble Lord about the point he made on schools. I have some experience of this issue in terms of free schools. I know that if local authorities have land or existing schools available, negotiations can be entered into but, as schools are not dwellings, I will have to write to him on that. Does that address the issue?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Her response touched on the key points. As regards the point about whether the provision is connected with the building works, change of use from, say, an office to a dwelling is one thing, but I guess that what would be permitted to facilitate the change of use of agricultural buildings could be more contentious. Did the noble Baroness say that these provisions were set down in detail in the regulations or in the permitted development rights themselves?

I understand that it is within the permitted development rights of those buildings, whatever those permitted development rights are. If that is not the case, I will write to the noble Lord. However, I will let him know whether or not the provisions are set down in the regulations.

I am grateful. Perhaps the noble Baroness can write to me on the issue of schools. I was prompted to inquire because the terminology now used is “new state funded schools”. I have a feeling that we had a bit of run around this because we originally saw a specific reference to free schools, so I was interested in finding out what the current situation was on that. I have, however, no further queries and I am grateful for the response.

I should clarify this because there is something in the recesses of my mind. Where local authorities have suitable buildings, and free schools are being set up, they should try to assist in making those public buildings available, but I will clarify that in a note.

Motion agreed.