Planning matters

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There are significant changes being made to development management in Wales that will shortly come into force. These however only form one component of a wider overhaul of the planning system including the Planning (Wales) Act 2015.The message from First Minister Carl Sergeant at the launch of the draft Bill was clear - “it is about ensuring that planning helps to deliver the growth and jobs that we need”. Whilst I wholeheartedly support this proposition, a key aspect that appears to be missing is that the growth that is sought needs to be delivered in a timely manner. This is a key issue, highlighted by the Planning Performance Framework issued by Welsh Government in February 2016. I am currently working on a proposed major urban extension for approximately 7,000 homes in Cardiff and it is disconcerting to know that the average time taken to determine major applications in Cardiff in 2015 was over 1 year.I can therefore appreciate and endorse the rationale behind the development management changes, but question whether the amendments will in fact deliver a more effective planning regime or simply serve to introduce additional delay to delivering much needed development. One of the key amendments concerning pre-application consultation comes into force on 16 March 2016, albeit only outline and full major applications submitted on or after 1 August 2016 would need to be in accordance with the new Regulations in order to be validated. Applicants, in addition to erecting site notices of their intention to seek planning permission, will need to notify adjoining owners and occupiers in advance of their proposals. Likewise, community and specialist consultees, which include the relevant statutory consultees, will need to be notified. A full copy of the application documents will have to be made available to the community and consultees for a minimum of 28 days and a pre-application consultation report must form part of the planning application, demonstrating that the pre-application consultation requirements have been met and that the issues raised have been addressed. The benefits of undertaking consultation prior to submission of a planning application are well-documented and formalising this procedure in Wales is not ground-breaking. To a certain degree, pre-application consultation is already carried out by many developers across Wales, in the form of informal discussions with statutory consultees in developing proposals, as well as through community exhibitions. The legal requirement to carry out pre-application consultation only after application documents have been completed would appear to be somewhat counter-productive – shouldn’t consultation with stakeholders at an early stage inform the evolution of a proposal?There are of course additional measures that are coming into force, to speed up the effectiveness of the pre-application consultation process. Statutory consultees will need to provide a substantive response within 21 days and their response during determination should not deviate from their original comments. This is clearly a very helpful tool in engaging with statutory consultees. But it does raise the question of whether developer engagement in informal pre-app discussions at the outset of projects will now be largely ignored, in order to focus the limited resources that do exist on this new statutory duty.All local planning authorities (LPAs) will need to provide a written pre-application advice service from 16 March onwards. There will be a national standardised fee schedule for this service and LPAs will need to respond within 21 days. For major applications (defined as 10 to 24 dwellings/ 1,000sq m - 1,999sq m) the requisite fee is to be £600, increasing to £1,000 for large, major applications (25 or more dwellings / 2,000sq m+). I for one welcome this particular change, in the light of pre-application responses that have failed to materialise despite the payment of significant fees. I do consider that the rules governing pre-application changes could have gone further though, and stipulated that the Officer’s Report at determination stage should be substantially in accordance with the LPA’s pre-application response.A welcome change is that Design and Access Statements (DAS) will only be necessary for major applications, except those involving mining operations, s73 applications and applications for a material change in use of land or buildings. DAS will also be required for development in conservation areas and World Heritage Sites for proposals involving one or more dwellings or floorspace of 100sq m or more.Also new is that in the event of a dispute regarding validation, LPAs will need to notify the applicant as to why their application is not considered valid. The applicant may appeal the non-validation to the Welsh Government with 2 weeks of receipt of the notice. The Welsh Government will then need to reach a determination within 21 days. If the appeal is allowed, the application is registered as valid.A further change will be the requirement for developers benefiting from planning permission for major development to notify the LPA that they intend to commence development. This will apply to decision notices issued after the 16 March 2016.Amendments to major applications post-submission will trigger an additional fee of £190 and for all applications, an extension of 4 weeks to the target determination period.Overall, NLP welcomes the principles of the new post-application rules in this round of development management changes, as it appears that once an application is in the system there are carrot and stick measures to reduce the time it will take to reach a determination. However, there are additional planning hurdles for developers proposed that lie outside of the formal determination period which are likely to result in additional delays. Overall, it remains to be seen whether or not the changes will deliver any real benefits to the growth agenda, and importantly whether they speed delivery. NLP will be preparing a series of blogs that cover the detail of some of the wide-ranging changes to development management in Wales, including the 2016 Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations.NLP is also giving a series of presentations on the above changes, tailored to focus on their implications for projects. If you would like us to present to you, or you simply wish to discuss the changes, then please do get in touch with Helen Ashby-Ridgway or me.  

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