Planning guidance for the housing market
With the issue of new guidance by the Government, with a view to restarting the housing market, developers should also be aware of the recommendations and changes to the planning process and payments due under CIL and planning agreements.
In the current public health crisis local planning authorities have had to quickly adapt as there is pressure to keep the planning process moving, due to the role of planning in terms of long term economic development. With cancelled physical planning committees and most planning officers working from home the guidance, which came in to force on 14 May 2020, has brought forward several practical measures to assist They include:
- Applications – recommending that applications, with all relevant documentation, are submitted online. Paper applications can still be submitted but as this requires staff to be in the Council offices there may be a delay in processing.
- Determination – the statutory time periods for determining applications have not changed but it has been acknowledged that those time frames may not be achievable during lock down. The option to appeal against non-determination remains but the guidance encourages the parties agreeing time extensions.
- Consultation – as part of the planning application process the planning authority has consultation obligations. As some elements can’t be discharged i.e. neighbour notifications, site and newspaper notices the guidance advises that steps should be taken to notify those who are likely to have an interest by way of social media or some other form of electronic communications, explaining the availability of further information online. This is an important step to keep the planning process moving and the indication is that more guidance will be issued to clarify the practical implementation of the steps.
- Decision making – the recommendation is to hold virtual planning committees, which follows on from the guidance that was issued in April. Certainly, a number of Councils are taking that forward, but many are still trying to iron out the specific details and practicalities. In addition, the recommendation is for emergency powers, contained in Council constitutions, to be used and to delegate further powers to designated officers.
In it not just the practicalities of the process the guidance has considered but also, where there are additional financial pressures, the deferment of existing obligations. In areas where the Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL applies the guidance recognises that developers may be struggling to make the payments. To assist the proposal is to make changes to the CIL regulations, giving Councils the ability to defer payments for small and medium sized developers, without facing penalties and interest. In terms of enforcement the proposal is that Councils will have additional discretionary powers, where there are financial pressures on developers and the indication is that this will be used for developers who have an annual turnover of less than £45million. The changes are pending formal approval, by way of legislation, but in the meantime, authorities are being recommended to consider using its discretion and provide flexibility. How that is interpreted, in the short term, may depend on each authority’s own financial position.
The same principle is being encouraged in connection with financial payments due under s106 planning agreements. Authorities are being asked to consider whether it is appropriate to defer the payment, during the current health crisis, taking a pragmatic approach to try and minimise disruption on the delivery of sites.
Overall, the proposals are a positive step to keep the housing market moving forward, but interpretation will depend on each local authority.