UK: Government Plans To Allow More Development Without Planning Permission

Last Updated: 29 September 2014
Article by Kathryn Hampton

Summary and implications

On 31 July 2014 the Government published its "Technical Consultation on Planning", setting out its proposals to improve the planning system by increasing efficiency and promoting growth and development.

The Government wants to boost housing supply, revitalise the high street and make better use of existing buildings. The consultation builds on the Government's proposed three-tier planning system in which development is split into:

  1. that which requires planning permission;
  2. permitted development where prior approval is needed for certain issues; and
  3. development which may go ahead without prior approval of the local planning authority (LPA).

Expanding permitted development rights and improving the use of planning conditions so that development can start more quickly once planning permission has been granted are two ways that the Government plans to improve growth. It also proposes amendments to the EIA screening thresholds so that more development can go ahead without an EIA, reducing costs and delay to development. This article focuses on these three proposals.

If the consultation responses are positive, the Government intends to introduce the necessary legislation to implement the changes as soon as possible. The consultation period ends on 26 September 2014. We intend to submit a response and welcome any contributions from those interested.

We pick out some of the key points from the consultation below:

A: Happy housing

The Government wants to boost housing supply by:

  • allowing light industrial buildings, storage and distribution buildings and some high-street uses (such as casinos and nightclubs) to change to residential use without planning permission;
  • making the temporary permitted development right to change from office to residential permanent ( click here to see our previous article). The exemptions which currently apply will not apply to the new permitted development right and the prior approval process will be extended to require consideration of the potential impact of the significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation; and
  • making it easier and cheaper for homeowners to improve their homes (including extensions) by making temporary permitted development rights permanent.

The suggested new rights are subject to various exclusions (such as the development of listed buildings) and will require prior approval in relation to certain issues such as transport and flooding.

B: Helping the high street

The Government suggests the following reforms to revitalise the high street:

  • widening the scope of the retail use class to include financial and professional services;
  • introducing new permitted development rights to allow a range of uses (including restaurants and cafes, pubs and takeaways) to change to retail without planning permission;
  • allowing retail buildings and some high-street uses (such as casinos and nightclubs) to change to restaurants and cafés or to leisure uses without the need for planning permission;
  • supporting the increase in online shopping and the development of "click and collect" shopping by making it easier for retailers to alter their premises to meet the growing demand for these services; and
  • increasing the size of mezzanine floorspace allowed without planning permission (the Government invites views on what size might be appropriate).

As above, these proposed permitted development rights will have certain limitations and will require the LPA's prior approval in respect of issues such as transport and noise.

In addition to the above, the Government wants to tighten up planning controls on betting shops and pay-day loan shops, which the Government feels are distinct from other retail uses, and it therefore proposes to now require planning permission for a change of use to a betting shop or pay-day loan shop.

C: Cutting conditions

The Government is concerned about the number of overly restrictive and unnecessary conditions imposed on planning permissions and LPAs' failure to prioritise the discharge of conditions which require the approval of details. Both of these issues add cost and delays to development so the Government is looking to make the process for handling conditions more efficient and to give applicants more certainty.

The proposals include:

  • introducing "deemed discharge" of certain planning conditions where an LPA has not made a decision within a reasonable time period. The proposed deemed discharge will not be automatic but will be activated by the applicant serving a notice on the LPA that it intends to treat a condition as discharged unless the LPA responds within a defined period (not less than two weeks). The Government recognises that deemed discharge may not be appropriate for all types of conditions and proposes exemptions for conditions dealing with key issues such as flooding;
  • returning the discharge application fee if the LPA has not made its decision within eight weeks (previously 12 weeks);
  • requiring LPAs to share draft conditions with applicants before a decision is made on a planning application for major development; and 
  • ensuring that LPAs provide written justification when imposing a pre-commencement condition. This requirement will be in addition to the existing requirement to give reasons for imposing conditions.

D: Easier EIA

The EIA directive requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out before development consent is granted for any projects which are likely to have significant effects on the environment.

The Government's view is that this requirement is being overused by LPAs and developers, who are taking an overly cautious approach due to concern for the risk of legal challenge. It also believes that the current screening thresholds are too low, meaning that many EIAs are carried out unnecessarily, adding significant cost and delay to the planning process.

The proposals include raising the EIA screening threshold for:

  • industrial estate developments (e.g. manufacturing, trading, distribution and transport projects) from the current 0.5 hectare to 5 hectares;
  • urban development projects (such as shopping centres, car parks, and leisure centres) from the current threshold of 0.5 hectare to 5 hectares; and
  • the development of dwelling houses of up to 5 hectares, including where there is up to one hectare of non-residential urban development – the Government estimates this would equate to housing schemes of approximately 150 units. Longer term, the Government wants to bring the threshold closer to 30 hectares (around 1,000 dwelling units) but it wants to be certain that such a move would be consistent with the requirements under the EIA directive first.

Those projects which fall below these new thresholds (and are outside sensitive areas) will avoid the need to be screened, but they will still be subject to the environmental protection provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework and other relevant environmental legislation.


It is good to see that the Government is taking steps to address issues in the current planning regime. We agree that there is an urgent need to improve efficiency and enable development (once permitted) to start quickly with less red tape.

It will be interesting to see how the market responses to the Government's proposed changes and whether the proposals are "watered down" when the legislation bringing them into effect is introduced. If the proposed measures are well received by the industry, it may encourage the Government to take further (and possibly more drastic) steps to shake up the planning system. We wait in anticipation to see what other plans are hatched in the lead-up to the election.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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