UK: Implementation Of The New Planning Legislation - Householder Developments

Last Updated: 25 February 2009
Article by Murray Shaw


The implementation of the new planning legislation in Scotland has been a prolonged affair. The white paper appeared in late 2004 while the new legislation received the Royal assent at the end of 2006. It will be well into 2009 until these significant changes taken substantive effect.

One of the critical changes – possibly the most critical – is the intention to categorise developments as either national, major or local and apply resources within the planning system accordingly.

There will only be a handful of developments which will be truly national in scale and funded and processed accordingly. Significant developments which will have material impact for Scotland (or parts of Scotland) both in economic and social terms will be "major" developments. Underlying the reforms is an intention to ensure that adequate resources are made available to permit planning authorities to process these efficiently and effectively (with at least the future possibility of being subject to sanction if they fail to do so).

Reducing the Number of Planning Applications

One means (possibly the most important means) of making such resources available was the decision to seek to take a large number of applications out of the planning system completely. At the moment any application within the system is subject to the same procedures and, at least in theory, the same timescales. In order to ensure that applications in respect of "major" developments will be processed in an appropriate manner, not only are these to be subject to different procedures going forward (at least once the legislation is fully implemented) but resources are specifically to be made available to handle these applications. On the basis that the resources in the planning system are not to be increased in overall terms in order to achieve the stated aim, the Scottish Government made clear that it intended to take a number of minor applications out of the planning system completely.

In fact, due to the current economic down turn the number of planning applications being made in Scotland has reduced significantly – in some areas the drop is almost 50% in numerical terms. To some extent this should mean that there are additional resources available for those applications which are made and additional resources available to deal with the implementation of the new system including the handling of "major" applications. The corollary of a reduced number of applications, however, is reduced planning fee income for local authorities and there is certainly some suggestion that Councils may be looking to make planners redundant or at least redeploy them – a course of action that most users of the planning system would consider counter-productive.

There were concerns that if the new system was implemented without taking a number of minor applications out of the system the aspirations of the Government in relation to major applications simply would not be achieved.

Extended Permitted Development Rights

Somewhat belatedly we have now received the discussion paper in relation to extended permitted development rights for householders - the primary means of taking a number of minor applications out of the system. While it is unlikely that this will be implemented before the other changes are made, at least it should come along closely behind, thereby assisting to meet the original aspirations of the Scottish Government.

Putting it another way, the delay in implementing the significant changes referred to above has allowed this aspect of the modernisation of the planning system to catch up.

The discussion paper in relation to permitted development rights for householders appeared in early December. A number of significant changes are made including the following:

(a) increasing the physical limit on the amount of development within the curtilage of a house which can be effected without planning permission;

(b) increasing the extent to which the internal floor area of a house can be increased without the need for planning permission;

(c) relaxing restrictions on roof alternations and dormer extensions;

(d) providing increased permitted development rights in relation to deckings, porches and other alterations such as chimneys.

The discussion papers suggests that potentially some 38% of householder applications can be taken out of the planning application process entirely which in effect would mean a reduction of some 10,000 or so in the number of applications made (based upon the figures for 2006 and 2007). The changes proposed in the discussion paper are intended to achieve that reduction.

As with all permitted development rights each of the new classes is subject to certain restrictions intended to mitigate the more serious effects.

Making these changes is not without risk or difficulty. Often many individuals only interface with the planning system when a neighbour carries out work to their house. Quite often minor changes can have a disproportionate effect (for example the building of an extension which results in views being blocked and increased shadowing in garden areas). Given that one of the changes which the review of the planning system sought was increased confidence in the system overall there is some risk in that objective if individuals find that changes which they think ought to be controlled are not.

In addition to these changes the Scottish Government previously brought out proposals to increase permitted development rights in relation to domestic micro regeneration and other renewable energy sources.

Without changes such as these it is unlikely that the desire to ensure that adequate resources are made available to deal with major applications in a timely manner could be met – certainly in a normal economic climate. While the impact of these changes may be limited at least so far as achieving the economic objectives of the Government is concerned (which the planning system is intended to assist), their significance lies in the number of applications which will in fact be taken out of the planning system and the benefits which will result from that in relation to the other changes proposed.

What is more critical however, and of greatly more significance, is the need to get on proactively with the implementation of the new planning legislation.

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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