There have been a number of minor legislative changes recently, which we felt cumulatively merited a new post.

Planning Fees

These must now be refunded if applications have not been determined within 26 weeks (including the time taken to complete any s106 agreement!) unless a longer time period is specifically agreed. This applies to all planning applications validated on or after 1 October.

Planning Guidance

The government is piloting a new website which will contain the comprehensive collection of planning advice and will replace the familiar circulars. Its launch was inauspicious as glitches prevented access for the first few days. Go to https://www.planningportal.gov.uk if you want to take part in the testing of the site but until the end of the year all existing guidance will remain relevant.

Abolition of Conservation Area Consent

The demolition of unlisted buildings in conservation areas which previously required conservation area consent will now require planning permission and not conservation area consent.

Planning Appeals

Several reforms have been introduced with the aim of speeding up the process. They require rather more input at an early stage, including a full statement of case and statement of common ground with the appeal forms themselves. Time limits have been changed to require earlier dates for inquiries and hearings and the Secretary of State has further powers to award costs at planning appeals and to recover his own costs where a planned inquiry or hearing doesn’t proceed.

Special Measures

Underperforming local planning authorities will be designated for special measures and certain applications within their areas can be made directly to the secretary of state.

Judicial Review

We should also mention the recent consultation on judicial review reforms which closes on 1 November. The shorter 6 week time limit for planning cases was introduced in July together with a fast track process for planning cases designed to identify planning cases at an early stage and ensure they are referred to expert judges. The Ministry of Justice is now proposing the creation of a Specialist Planning Chamber with specialist judges in the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to deal with planning judicial reviews and statutory challenges, with the introduction of a permission filter to screen unmeritorious cases, and reviewing who can make an application for JR. They also propose time limits for the determination of cases, are reconsidering the availability of Protective Costs Orders, and, importantly for developers, propose clarifying the costs rules for third parties intervening in a JR.

The idea behind the JR changes was to bring an end to unmerited JR challenges that blocked development by NIMBYs even though the very real delays occur once the JR application has got to court.