On 18 June 2009 the Department for Communities and Local Government issued a consultation paper called:
Greater flexibility for planning permissions - consultation
The consultation considers two issues:
- Extension of time limits for existing planning permissions; and
- Minor material amendments to existing planning permissions.
Interestingly the issue regarding time limits has arisen because the recent legislation cut the time limit for implementation from 5 to 3 years. Now faced with an uncertain economic climate developers are not rushing to implement permissions and the 3 year limit means that applying for permission without any certainty that a development could be let/sold in the short term is unappealing. This means that planning authorities are likely to be deluged with planning applications.
Bearing in mind Gordon Brown's favourite phrase during his tenure as Chancellor: "Goodbye to Boom and Bust", it is not surprising that the implementation was lowered. Why allow five years for implementation time as surely once permission is given a developer will jump at the chance to develop.
So, yet another climb-down for the Labour Government from its previous policies is proposed. Although it does not propose a complete climbdown (or really a climbdown at all). The measure proposed would be temporary and only apply to major developments. Further an extension application would be considered a new application in terms of the need to obtain an Environmental Impact Assessment and result in supplemental planning agreements (at least in the form of a confirmatory deed). Whether or not the local planning authority decides to consult on the application is intended to be discretionary.
I can't see these proposals being greeted that warmly by the developer community.
As for the proposal for minor material amendments, well, the legal community are likely to be rubbing their hands together with glee - I can feel the warmth generated by BLP's planning department already. The interim proposals are that LPAs could approve a minor material amendment "if its scale and nature results in a development which is not substantially different from the one that has been approved". If that is not a proposal for dispute and litigation then I do not know what is.
One question I have is once you have made a minor material amendment can you then make another one? If so, is the reference point the unamended permission or the amended permission? If the amended permission then it is possible to envisage a situation whereby a permission, through minor material amendments, results in a development which is substantally different from the one that has been approved - I am assuming the legislation would not be that carelessly drafted!