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Seven key changes to the planning permission process for property developments

July 29, 2020
Real Estate 01

The planning process is a key part of the property industry and property development, and as the UK moves forward from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has made a number of changes to the planning system. Some of the key planning law points for property developers to be aware about are:

  1. There is an expectation that planning authorities will be pragmatic. Specifically, guidance issued to planning officers asked local planning authorities to “take a sympathetic approach” in instances where development had stalled or was incomplete due to the impact of Covid-19
  2. Legal changes are being made. At the end of June, the Business and Planning Bill was presented to the House of Commons, with proposals for the extension of planning permissions and flexible construction hours. Specifically, the Bill aims to “ensure the planning system in England can continue to operate effectively and proactively support the planning and safe construction of new developments following the impact of Covid-19”.
  3. Deadlines are being automatically extended. The Bill introduces measures which will allow for the extension of certain unimplemented planning permissions, outline planning permissions (reserved matters and conditions for commencement of development) and listed building consents lapsed/lapsing between 23 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 to be extended.
  4. The position with full planning permissions is simpler than with outline permissions. It is proposed that where a full permission is due to expire it will automatically extend to 1 April 2021. However, in some instances a developer will need to apply for an extension and there could be additional environmental approval process.  The position with outline and reserved matters has additional factors.  It is likely to depend on the time line for the commencement of development, so care should be taken to confirm if an automatic extension will apply.
  5. There are changes to construction hours where they have been specified for a site. Government proposes changes to "help builders to quickly agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council for a temporary period". The intention is that there will be a direct application process, if a staggered or varied timetable is needed to safely open a site. However, it remains to be seen how this might work in practice.
  6. There are proposal in relation to the Community Infrastructure Levy regulations to allow some developers to apply for extensions to pay this levy. This is to defer and give more time in relation to already agreed payments that had been fixed before the outbreak, but which are no longer viable. However, it is likely to only apply to SME developers with a turnover up to £45m per year.
  7. There are relaxations to the permitted development rules. The Government has indicated upward extensions of an additional two storeys on existing blocks (with at least three present storeys) can be made without the need for planning permission. In addition, there are proposals to temporarily extend the length of time for which permitted development rights can be used, to allow anyone to use land for any purpose in a single year. So, from the beginning of July until the end of December 2020, the length of time that land can be used for any purpose is now 56 days for most purposes.  This could create opportunities for use of land in creative ways, to support economic bounce back.
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