UK: Sands Of Time - Planning Changes

Last Updated: 29 October 2015
Article by Jay Das

The pace of change to planning legislation continues unabated and the marked difference in the approaches adopted by various local authorities is a landscape that no government can change or fully control to deliver a uniform planning system. As a consequence there will be losers as well as the winners among those who can keep abreast of the changes and take advantage of them. Some major changes which have been introduced over the past few years and which are still in a state of flux and worth watching out for are set out further below.

Change of Use

The prior approval regime introduced to allow the conversion from offices to residential has received much publicity over the last few years. The initial period permitting those changes due to expire in March 2016 will be extended and made permanent. Those who already have permission will have 3 years in which to complete the change of use and will have additional rights to be able to demolish the office buildings and create new buildings for residential use and similar use rights will be extended to light industrial buildings and launderettes.

Article 4 Directions

One consequence of the change from office to residential uses is the action taken by local authorities to restrict those benefits by adopting Article 4 directions (which can remove the ability to make such changes without making a formal planning application). Compensation can be payable in the event that such rights are removed without 12 months' notice. Local authorities which are strapped for cash will not easily countenance the payment of compensation and as such will usually give 12 months' notice. In light of the change of use from offices to residential being made permanent, new Article 4 directions are likely to be introduced by local authorities who feel that their office stock is under threat. The 12 month period is likely to provide an opportunity for those who wish to take advantage of the conversion rights and are able to do so quickly.

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)

The time-limit for councils to introduce CILs and to stop the use of section 106 agreements in relation to the grant of planning permissions (save in relation to affordable housing) expired this year. Unsurprisingly many councils still do not have a CIL in place and perhaps more surprisingly the use of section 106 agreements continues in various forms. Many applicants and developers have found that the costs of compliance with CIL (for example in certain locations in Wandsworth) are significantly higher than the costs payable under the section 106 regime and many are therefore looking at ways to circumvent the CIL requirements where possible. In the meantime, there are opportunities in those local authority areas where CILs are not in place for applicants and developers to try and circumvent and reduce the contributions which would otherwise be payable either under a section 106 agreement or under the CIL regime. Time is a key factor, as in time all councils will have brought their policies in line with government policy and adopted CILs. Meanwhile, opportunities are available for those who can take advantage in the intervening period.

Section 106 Agreements and Viability Reviews

Few appear to have been aware of the legislative changes which allowed applicants and developers to reduce or remove section 106 affordable housing requirements where those schemes are no longer viable. There appear only to have been a handful of such applications before the Planning Inspectorate. The time-limit for making these applications is due to expire in April 2016 and anyone wanting an independent review should take advice soonest, before this time-limit expires. It appears likely that this deadline will be extended.

Affordable Housing

The government's proposed changes to increase the housing supply by allowing affordable housing tenants to acquire from their affordable housing provider should result in a significant change in the affordable housing landscape. The Prime Minister has also suggested a complete rewrite of affordable housing requirements by including starter homes and discounted homes as being affordable, potentially replacing any rented social housing requirements. It is likely that many historic agreements should or will need to be reviewed to reflect the changing landscape. It is not uncommon that in times of uncertainty more benefits can be realised before any legislation is finalised and those who might benefit from such reviews should take early advice.

Permitted Development Rights

Numerous changes to permitted development rights which landowners and applicants can take advantage of, such as the change from agricultural and storage buildings to residential uses have been recently introduced. The pace of change to planning policy and legislation is so unprecedented it is anyone's guess how long these rights will remain available. Those considering taking advantage of these options should be mindful of likely future reversals and pursue their options while they are still available. 

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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