Shortcut or “white elephant” ?

On 1st June 2018, a new way of obtaining planning permission came into force. Applications for Permissions in Principle (PiP) can now be submitted to Local Authorities in England. (See Article 5T of the Town and Country Planning (Planning Permission in Principle) Order 2017).

As the name suggests, a PiP establishes the principle of developing land for residential use. The scope of PiPs are limited to minor residential developments of less than 10 dwelling units together with related non-residential development (under 10,000 sq m of commercial floorspace) on sites of less than 1 hectare. The fundamental principle is that the development must be residential-led. Specifically excluded however, are EIA development, habitats development, and householder development.

Once obtained, a PiP establishes the location of the development, an indication of the type of development and the amount of development. The amount of development is expressed as a range (ie maximum and minimum number of net number of dwellings). Where non-residential development is also included, the decision notice must specify the type of development (ie use class of the buildings/land) and the scale of the development.

Once a PiP is granted, a further application for technical details consent (TDC) is required.

So, what are the advantages of a PiP?

A PiP establishes the principle of residential development with minimum effort. Crucially, Council’s normal planning application validation requirements do not apply so that the only details a PiP application must contain are the completion of a short application form (including details of the maximum and minimum number of dwellings), a location plan and a planning fee.

Timescales for determination of PiPs are much shorter than planning applications. Councils must decide applications within 5 weeks of the receipt of a valid application. There is a planning fee based on site area, but it is considerably cheaper than a normal application fee.

So far, so good. But what are the potential issues/downsides?

A PiP will only establish the principle of residential development and a maximum and minimum number of residential units. Whether this will be of much benefit to developers when considering the feasibility of schemes or trying to secure funding is debatable. Whilst only very minimal information is required to support a PiP application, it is hard to see how decisions will be made on the range of dwelling numbers without supporting information being submitted. It is likely that applicants will continue to submit additional information such as indicative layout plans to assist the decision-making process. It is also likely that Councils will take a very cautious approach when deciding the amount of development (ie maximum number of units). The short 5 week decision period may initially appear very attractive, however Councils can still request extensions of time to deal with these applications which could significantly stretch timescales. Given Council’s current budget constraints and staff/resourcing issues, it is difficult to see how this shortened application process will work in practice.

The follow-up technical details consent application will be more akin to a detailed planning permission, but will give Councils more discretion than with traditional planning applications. Timescales for the TDC applications are 10 weeks for major applications and 5 weeks for others. EIA development is subject to a 16 week timescale. Again Councils can request extensions of time.

Clearly, whilst the aim of PiPs is to provide a simple, quick and cheap way of obtaining a green light for the principle of minor residential-led development, at this early stage and given the unknowns outlined above, it is unclear what the take-up will be and how Councils will receive these applications. No doubt time will tell.

For more information about PiPs and the services Paris Smith’s planning consultancy and legal team can provide please visit the Planning Consultancy and Legal Services page of our website.