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Analysis: Planning reform consultation


Calls to streamline and speed up an over complex planning process have been a consistent refrain in the planning sector for many years. And the government’s most recent efforts to reinvigorate the housing market seem like yet another reiteration of a decidedly familiar theme.

However, in the context of the Coalition's Big Society ambitions and its Red Tape Challenge, the government is continuing to move forward with widespread reform of planning in England that aims to give more control to communities, while catalysing economic growth.

Having already committed to reducing the National Planning Policy Framework from 1,300 pages to 50, the DCLG’s Technical Consultation on Planning is a wide-ranging document covering changes to neighbourhood planning, use classes, permitted development rights and environmental impact assessments, which have the potential to have a large impact across a large part of the planning process.

Launching the consultation, planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “So we are proposing here practical improvements that build on earlier reforms, to help more people benefit and, overall, help us get the development and housing our future growth depends upon.”

Here's a breakdown of what the proposed reforms offer.

Neighbourhood plans

The government has been encouraged by the response to its reforms aimed at giving more power to communities to make decisions in their areas. More than 1,000 communities across England have applied for a neighbourhood planning area to be designated, with more than 900 designated by local planning authorities, it says.

Now the government is proposing to set a statutory time limit of 10 weeks (70 days) for local planning authorities to decide on neighbourhood designation applications. This will include removing the need for a six-week consultation period.

Permitted Development Rights

This third package of new permitted development rights brought forward by this government highlights its drive to reduce the number of developments needing a full application.

It is proposed to grant permitted development rights to allow change of use from light industrial units, warehouses, storage units, offices and some sui generis uses to residential use. It also outlines a wider retail use class allowing retailers to alter their premises easily, although it introduces a proposal to require a planning application for changes to a betting shop or pay day loan shop.

Planning Conditions

There have long been concerns that approval for discharge of planning conditions is not a priority for local planning authorities, with around half talking longer than six weeks to determine, the DCLG estimates, stalling building work and increasing costs unnecessarily.

Under the proposal, where a local planning authority fails to make a timely decision, certain planning conditions will be deemed to have been discharged, to avoid applicants having planning permission that is not in reality implementable.


The importance of the role that third parties, such as statutory consultees and other bodies, play in the planning process is acknowledged. However, consulting can add complexity to the process, especially where it is centrally mandated rather than left to local discretion, the DCLG says.

The technical document suggests reducing the need to consult for certain consultees on certain types of applications, to achieve a “more proportionate approach”, although better notification for railway infrastructure managers of applications near railways is proposed.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs)

The proposals here are partly motivated by a belief that a concern about the risk of legal challenge has led some local planning authorities to require environmental impact assessment for projects which are not likely to give rise to significant effects. Developers also appear to be carrying out increasingly large and over complex environmental assessments, the DCLG says.

The proposal is to raise the threshold for screening for EIAs for industrial and residential developments, avoiding unnecessary screening and EIAs for smaller schemes.

Nationally significant infrastructure

This involves making the Development Consent Orders process more flexible, creating clearer guidance on the definitions of material and non-material changes, and increasing the number of consents and licences that can be included in the orders.

Consultation on the proposals runs until September 26.

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Planning changes aim to cut red tape