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Permissions in Principle: a brave new planning world?

06 April 2017

As if the thought of chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner was not exciting enough, Easter weekend 2017 is also going to be notable for the coming into force of regulations relating to brownfield land registers and permissions in principle. What are these and what effect might they have on the funding of residential development schemes?

On 16th April, The Town and Country Planning (Brownfield Land Register) Regulations 2017 will come into force. These regulations provide that by the end of the year each local planning authority must have made and published a register of previously developed land in its area which:

has an area of at least 0.25 hectares or is capable of supporting at least 5 dwellings;
is suitable for residential development; 
is available for residential development; and 
on which (in the opinion of the planning authority) residential development is achievable within the following 15 years.  

Such registers must then be maintained and reviewed at least every year. 

The registers will be in two parts – part 2 being land which not only meets the criteria set out above but which the authority also allocates for development. On being included in part 2 of such a register (and in certain other scenarios), land will automatically be granted "permission in principle", establishing the suitability of the land for housing-led development for the number of dwellings to be set out in the register. The related Town and Country Planning (Permission in Principle) Order 2017 will have come into effect the previous day, 15 April 2017. An application for approval of technical details - akin to a reserved matters application following a more traditional outline consent - can then be made within a 5 year period. 

Looking at the criteria for including land within a brownfield land register, the meaning of 'available' is set out within the Regulations and requires the landowner to have expressed an intention to sell or develop the land.  Whilst that 'availability' test could in itself cause confusion and narrow the playing field, it is the 'suitability' test that might cause the most head-scratching. 

To fall within this criteria, the land must either be allocated or already benefit from planning permission for residential development or, in the opinion of the planning authority, be appropriate for residential development having regard to any adverse impact on the natural environment or the local built environment (including on heritage assets); any adverse impact on the local amenity which such development might cause for intended occupiers of the development or for occupiers of neighbouring properties; and any relevant representations received. 

For sites that are not already allocated or benefit from consent, it is hard to see how a planning authority could sensibly form a view on whether land is suitable for residential development in the absence of some fairly significant consultation and environmental studies being carried out. Indeed, if the residential development would normally attract the need for an environmental statement, the authority cannot enter it into part 2 of the register without having seen at least enough information to provide an EIA screening opinion. 

With this is mind, is it likely that sites will be added to part 2 of a register if they are not already 'in the system' and some way through the outline planning application process? It was hoped that the permission in principle regime would level the playing field and help with the funding of sites at an advanced stage of the planning process, by giving some certainty that consent would be forthcoming. However with all things considered will there be many sites for which a permission in principle is of real value? We'd love to hear from you if you have a site which you think might benefit from these new provisions. 

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