In R (on the Application of Fulford Parish Council) v City of York Council  EWCA Civ 1359 the Court of Appeal has generously confirmed that the statutory power conferred by section 96A of the Town and Country Planning Act ("the Act") to make non-material changes to a planning permission includes the power to make non-material changes to conditional approvals of reserved matters.
Persimmon Homes' outline planning permission was granted for approximately 700 dwellings subject to a large number of conditions. A conditional approval of a reserved matters application was granted by York City Council that included the requirement to submit for approval a detailed Bat Mitigation Strategy prior to any development taking place. York City Council then approved an application for a non-material amendment that permitted changes to the bat house types and layouts, and changes to the strategy. In response, Fulford Parish Council brought a judicial review on the basis that section 96A's statutory power is limited to making non-material amendments to "planning permissions", and the approval of reserved matters did not constitute a "planning permission".
Referring to the primary source of the power to grant planning permission (s.70(1) of the Act), the court decided that the grant of outline planning permission is the grant of planning permission defined by the Act and since the grant is "subject to" conditions, the conditions must be seen as an intrinsic part of the grant; therefore the conditional approval of a reserved matters application is itself a condition to which the planning permission has been granted.
In the court's judgment:
- the "planning permission" referred to in s.96A refers to a package consisting of the grant of planning permission itself, together with any conditions to which it is subject, whether the conditions are imposed at the time of the grant or subsequently; and
- the application for an amendment to an approval (or conditional approval) of reserved matters is an application for the alteration of an existing condition, which is expressly permitted by s.96A(3)(b).
Importantly, the court stressed that the power under s.96A is restricted to non-material changes otherwise the need for public participation will again be required and the change will be outside of the powers of s.96A.
Whilst this judgment will be welcomed by developers, a word of caution – as the term "non-material change" is not defined by the Act it will be important for both developers and local planning authorities to consider sensibly whether proposed scheme amendments can rightly be classified as "non-material changes" especially in those situations where there is organised local opposition to a proposal. One possible, and ironic, outcome of the case is that authorities become even more cautious about what they will accept as non material amendments.
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