The several proposals in the Consultation Paper on the Implementation of Planning Changes have produced a mixed response from NORA members. This Response is the
result of a considerable exchange of views between members in markedly different environments, yet their views on the different proposals are surprisingly similar.
The general view is that hackneyed phrase 'If it works, why fix it?', and it stems from the understanding that Local Planning Authorities are obliged to
produce a Local Plan with planning consents for housing for at least the next five years. Why is there a need to change the planning regime for more consents?
The current planning regime starts from the NPPF and the Local Plan, which defines where housing can take place. The developer need only apply for Full Planning
Consent for land that is already scheduled for housing. The developer can apply for Outline Consent, which adds to the cost and time, but it is certainly not an
essential part of the process. Pre-application discussions with the LPA may facilitate the approval process, which would then be susceptible to criticism from the community and from property owners when the developer does not own the relevant land.
The introduction of another regime involving 'permission in principle' and 'technical applications' seems superfluous. Is this regime an optional
or a mandatory programme? Is it to run parallel with existing regime or is it to replace it? Is it only to apply to applications for housing developments or is
it to include all developments? Why is the facility for interested parties to criticise the 'technical application' subject to the discretion of the LPA? There is the
impression that the proposals are designed to reduce the involvement of the community and elected councillors in the planning process and to increase the control
by the local bureaucracy.
These concerns are aired in the Response to the Questionnaire.
RESPONSES to QUESTIONNAIRE
Question 1.1: Do you agree with our proposal to adjust planning fees in line with inflation, but only in areas where the local planning authority is performing
well? If not what alternative would you suggest?
Yes to the adjustment of fees in line with inflation. Planning fees should be standard across the country.
No to the denial to LPAs regarded as not performing well. The proposals in Chapter 7 for underperforming LPAs are criticized. Denying them the rise due to
inflation does not improve the service, but could lead to loss of posts and a worsening service.
It is more sensible to find the reasons for the suspected poor performance and correct it rather than penalize the LPA, which can only make it worse.
Question 1.2: Do you agree that national fee changes should not apply where a local planning authority is designated as under-performing, or would you propose an
alternative means of linking fees to performance? And should there be a delay before any change of this type is applied?
Planning fees should not be related to performance. If performance is below par, the LPA needs guidance not penalties.
Question 1.3: Do you agree that additional flexibility over planning application fees should be allowed through deals, in return for higher standards of service
or radical proposals for reform?
Obtaining preferential treatment by bribery is a good step to corruption.
Question 1.4: Do you have a view on how any fast-track services could best operate, or on other options for radical service improvement?
Jumping queues is not a remedy for inadequate services.
Question 1.5: Do you have any other comments on these proposals, including the impact on business and other users of the system?
Instead of penalties and bribes, better staffing and training should be the preferred option to improve services. Measuring performance just by the percentage of
decisions within a specific time omits assessment of the quality of decisions. The proportion of appeals that are upheld could be a better guide to performance,
but if, for example, a LPA granted every planning application regardless of merit no appeals would be made and none lost. It would give a false impression of the
Question 2.1: Do you agree that the following should be qualifying documents capable of granting permission in principle?
a) future local plans;
b) future neighbourhood plans
c) brownfield registers.
If the planning regime is to change from 'outline consent' to 'permission in principle' then both present and future plans need to be qualifying documents.
Question 2.2: Do you agree that permission in principle on application should be available to minor development?
Minor development should be dealt with a full planning application.
Question 2.3: Do you agree that location, uses and amount of residential development should constitute 'in principle matters' that must be included in a
permission in principle? Do you think any other matter should be included?
The proportion of Affordable housing and the square metrage of useable floor space in dwellings need to be stated.
Question 2.4: Do you have views on how best to ensure that the parameters of the technical details that need to be agreed are described at the permission in
Question 2.5: Do you have views on our suggested approach to a) Environmental Impact Assessment, b) Habitats Directive or c) other sensitive sites?
Question 2.6: Do you agree with our proposals for community and other involvement?
It would be unwise to deny residents and other interested parties the right to examine the 'technical details' and make relevant representations. Leaving
the decision entirely to planning officers would be both undemocratic and liable to corruption, and hand over the planning process to the bureaucracy. The details
that may make a development undesirable to or worthy of improvement by interested parties may not be present in 'permission in principle' applications,
just as 'outline consents', supposedly with more information, do not justify the denial of representation when the full planning application is registered.
Question 2.7: Do you agree with our proposals for information requirements?
Of course, it all depends on the scope of the prescribed application form.
Question 2.8: Do you have any views about the fee that should be set for a) a permission in principle application and b) a technical details consent application?
Fees need to be proportionate to the time taken in the planning process from registration of the planning applications to decision-taking.
Question 2.9: Do you agree with our proposals for the expiry of on permission in principle on allocation and application? Do you have any views about whether
we should allow for local variation to the duration of permission in principle?
Option B is preferred.
Question 2.10: Do you agree with our proposals for the maximum determination periods for a) permission in principle minor applications, and b) technical details
consent for minor and major sites?
We do not think 'permission in principle' should apply to minor applications, and so 'technical details' would also not occur.
Question 3.1: Do you agree with our proposals for identifying potential sites? Are there other sources of information that we should highlight?
Yes to the first question.
Question 3.2: Do you agree with our proposed criteria for assessing suitable sites? Are there other factors which you think should be considered?
Question 3.3: Do you have any views on our suggested approach for addressing the requirements of Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Directives?
No comments on Questions 3.4 - 3.10; 4.1 - 4.4; 5.1 - 5.10; 6.1 - 6.6.
Question 7.1: Do you agree that the threshold for designations involving applications for non-major development should be set initially at between 60-70% of
decisions made on time, and between 10-20% of decisions overturned at appeal? If so what specific thresholds would you suggest?
To rely on just two parameters for designating underperforming LPAs is unfair. Both parameters are subject to manipulation to give a false impression of adequate
performance. There is no assessment of the quality of decisions that grant planning consent. LPAs with inadequate staffing or responsible for decisions on
greater numbers of contentious planning applications and in an area comprising much protected land may be unfairly designated as poor performers when their
quality of decisions may be first-class.
The percentage of decisions made in a specific time may relate to the efficiency of the paperwork of the LPA, and the percentage of lost appeals may indicate bad
decision-taking, but they do not necessarily assess the quality of the decision-taking. The fear of being labelled as poor performers using just these two
parameters is more likely to encourage the rapid granting of planning applications without the high quality of assessment that makes the UK planning regime
admired by so many other countries. We have seen so many proposals unacceptable to the community approved by LPAs, who fear losing appeals and not meeting the
time deadlines. It is so easy to avoid problems by just granting controversial planning applications.
It would be more appropriate to study the reasons for the slow determination of applications and a higher than average loss of appeals by LPAs. If the LPA is
short-staffed or the relevant area of planning control has many problems with access, design, availability of sites, a large area of protected land, all make
decision-taking a slow and difficult process if it is to be done to high professional standards.
If the problems are understood, then the problems may be rectifiable. Penalising the LPA does not improve its performance, and may worsen it if the reduction in
fees leads to staff reduction. Hence our general objection to the sole use of the percentages in lost appeals or speed of decision-taking in designating poor
performing LPAs. Any suspicion of poor performance, however, is relevant to both major and non-major planning applications, so the logic for having different
assessments and for changes to them is unconvincing.
Question 7.2: Do you agree that the threshold for designations based on the quality of decisions on applications for major development should be reduced to 10%
of decisions overturned at appeal?
Question 7.3: Do you agree with our proposed approach to designation and de-designation, and in particular
(a) that the general approach should be the same for applications involving major and non-major development?
(b) performance in handling applications for major and non-major development should be assessed separately?
(c) in considering exceptional circumstances, we should take into account the extent to which any appeals involve decisions which authorities considered to be in
line with an up-to-date plan, prior to confirming any designations based on the quality of decisions?
Question 7.4: Do you agree that the option to apply directly to the Secretary of State should not apply to applications for householder developments?
Question 8.1: Who should be able to compete for the processing of planning applications and which applications could they compete for?
We would be concerned if commercial architects, surveyors or planners were eligible, because there could be hidden financial and professional ties to developers.
Competition between adjacent LPAs would be less subject to outside loyalties.
Question 8.2: How should fee setting in competition test areas operate?
Fees should not be relevant provided they were standard across the country. If the competing concern were quicker or more effective and with high standards, such
assessment would be relevant.
No comments on Questions 8.3 - 8.6; 9.1 - 9.2; 10.1 - 10.14;
Question 11.1: Do you have any views on our proposals to extend permitted development rights for state-funded schools, or whether other changes should be made?
For example, should changes be made to the thresholds within which school buildings can be extended?
We do not think that Permitted Development Rights (PDR) should be extended for state-funded schools beyond the existing rights. The siting of state-funded
schools can be in a sensitive area in terms of traffic, parking, commercial activity and protected areas, so planning consent should be required.
Question 11.2: Do you consider that the existing prior approval provisions are adequate? Do you consider that other local impacts arise which should be considered
in designing the right?
Since we are opposed to extending the PDR, the need for prior approval is not relevant. It is because there are other important local impacts, that we consider
that the PDR should not be extended.
No comments on Questions 12.1 - 12.2; 13.1 - 13.2
Alan B Shrank - NORA chairman