Happily, last week’s blog post, on the the scope for remote planning committee meetings, was superseded by regulation 5 of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 although of course there will be some practical challenges for authorities now to grapple with.
This post focuses on another specific, urgent, issue. I assume that there is a large measure of consensus that deadlines for commencement of development under planning permissions (and equivalent deadlines other related consents) should be “on pause” for at least the duration of this present lockdown and its eventual gradual unwinding. Otherwise either applicants are going to need to embark on expensive lengthy and time-consuming (for everyone) applications for a fresh planning permission in due course (with a further hiatus on any construction in the meantime) or contractors are going to be out there doing unnecessary implementation works just to keep the existing planning permission alive.
(Some of you at this point will take the opportunity to have a swipe at applicants who have left it until near the deadline before implementing a permission or before submitting applications reserved matters approval, but these are old arguments which I have addressed before).
The current law
My 16 July blog post Unpacking UseItOrLoseIt considered the law on time limited planning permissions and the amendment that was made to section 73 by way of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so as to prevent section 73 being used to extend the life of planning permissions.
In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, a procedure was allowed for, by way of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Amendment No. 3) (England) Order 2009, which sidestepped section 73 and provided for a simplified procedure for grant of a “replacement planning permission” for planning applications made for a planning permission to replace an extant permission, granted on or before 1st October 2009, for development which has not yet begun, with a new planning permission subject to a new time limit. For such applications, the requirement to provide a design and access statement was disapplied, consultation requirements were modified and plans and drawings did not have to be provided. Guidance was provided in the Government’s Greater Flexibility for Planning Permissions document.
As explained in the explanatory memorandum to the subsequent Development Management Procedure Order 2010:
“7.6 In 2009, the Department became aware of a reduction in the implementation rate of major schemes that already have planning permission. If large numbers of permissions are not implemented and subsequently lapse, this could delay economic recovery. Developers would have to make new planning applications for those schemes, which could lead to delay and additional costs. Furthermore, local planning authorities could find themselves dealing with a sudden upsurge in applications as the economy moves out of recession.
7.7 Following calls from the Local Government Association, the Confederation of British Industry and the British Property Federation, SI 2009/2261 amended the GDPO to introduce a new power to allow the time limits for implementation of existing planning permissions to be extended. The amendment enabled existing planning permissions to be replaced before expiring, in order to allow a longer period for implementation (although the previous planning permission is not revoked, rather a new permission granted subject to a new time limit). For this new kind of application, the requirement for design and access statements was removed, and the requirements for consultation were modified. SI 2009/2262 made associated amendments to the Listed Buildings Regulations to allow the provisions to apply to linked applications for listed building and conservation area consents.”
The legislative options
It seems to me that there are two basic approaches which might be taken:
The “automatic” extension option
The Government could look to achieve an automatic extension, for a defined period in relation to all planning permissions – in relation to the deadline for implementation and possibly also any deadline for submission of reserved matters applications in relation to outline planning permissions – with the extension potentially only available where the deadline is going to expire within a defined period of time.
Surely, such a change would require primary legislation, to amend the operation of sections 91 and 92 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The Coronavirus Act would have been a useful vehicle but possibly moved too quickly through its legislative changes for this potential measure to jump aboard in the way that was achieved with the provisions enabling local authorities to hold meetings remotely.
Such an approach has in fact been taken in Scotland, as explained in the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner letter dated 3 April 2020:
“Some planning permissions will be due to expire over the coming weeks and months and, for various reasons caused by current restrictions, there will be difficulties in commencing development or carrying out necessary processes, such as the submission of applications for approval of matters specified in conditions, before deadlines pass.
The duration of planning permission is set out in primary legislation. Recognising that activity is likely to slow considerably over coming months, we included provisions in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill which will extend the duration of all planning permissions which are due to expire during an ‘emergency period’ of 6 months, so that the relevant permission or time limit shall not lapse for a period of 12 months from the date those provisions come into force.”
“The coronavirus outbreak will affect the ability of both planning authorities and applicants to deal with planning permissions which are due to expire. Planning permissions can broadly be separated into two categories: full planning permission and planning permission in principle.
When planning permission is granted applicants have a period of 3 years to commence development (authorities can provide for a longer period). If development is not commenced then that permission lapses and a new planning application is required. Planning permission in principle also requires the approval of conditions before development can proceed.
It is expected that the current restrictions on movement and potential continuation of social distancing and self-isolation will mean that applicants may be unable to satisfy the conditions attached to their planning permission or to commence development due to the shutdown of non- essential construction.
The aim is to ensure that where a full planning permission or planning permission in principle would expire then that permission should not lapse for a period of 12 months from the date on which the provisions come into force, irrespective of that development having not been commenced. The permission would only lapse if development has not commenced before the end of the 12-month period.
In relation to applications for approval of conditions, if the last date for making an application for an approval is within the emergency period then the time limit for making such an application is to the end of the 12-month period.
Necessity and urgency
It is important that when the current restrictions on movement are relaxed, developers are able to pick up where they left off, continuing with construction and having a pipeline of sites ready to move onto once current sites are completed. It is also important to reduce the burden on planning authorities who may otherwise be inundated with new applications to obtain a new permission.
The expiry of planning permission is an issue which has been raised by industry representatives who had expressed concerns about the ability of applicants to submit required information, apply to amend a condition to in effect get a new permission or commence development. Engagement at official level has also been undertaken with Heads of Planning, Scotland, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Those consulted understood and appreciated the reasons for taking this action and were supportive of this intervention being time restricted.
No alternative to primary legislation is possible, and no powers exist which would allow these changes to be made in this way.”
I can only think of one way of achieving an automatic extension without primary legislation. What about creating a new permitted development right to carry out development within x months of the expiry of planning permission for development, subject to the expiry being before a specified date? There may be issues in relation to EIA development but is this a runner? Standard conditions applicable to any such PD right would need to secure the continued effect of any conditions attached to the original planning permission and somehow ensure that any existing section 106 planning obligations continue to apply.
The “enabling individual extensions” option
The alternative approach that the Government could take would be to find a way of enabling individual applications to be made that can be dealt with by authorities more simply than a fresh application for planning permission (which for a major application is a six or even seven figure sum investment, appalling as that figure is). In my view that would be less helpful than the Scotland-style automatic extension – this is not like the 2008 global economic crisis – all development is currently affected. A “pause” on time limits across the board is surely cleaner and would avoid a mass of individual applications. However, the “enabling individual extensions” option may be a quicker fix.
The “enabling individual extensions” options might include:
⁃ reintroducing the “replacement planning permissions” route exactly as per the 2009 statutory instrument, backed by appropriate guidance
⁃ (I appreciate this may jar but bear with me, we need to be creative) use of section 96A, given that there is no express prohibition (as there is with section 73) on the use of the non-material amendments procedure to vary time limits on planning permissions. Plainly, in normal circumstances, the extension of a time limit on a planning permission would be material, but could the Government, with proper justification, issue guidance that in the current exceptional circumstances, subject to consideration by the relevant local planning authority of individual circumstances when an application is made, it considers that in principle an extension of time for a period not exceeding, say, the current lockdown period, could be regarded as “non material”? I have re-read R (Fulford Parish Council) v City of York Council (Court of Appeal, 30 July 2019) and don’t immediately see that such an approach would be inconsistent with the approach that the Court of Appeal took to section 96A in that case.
⁃ (More cumbersome but surely legally achievable) the use of local planning authorities’ powers in section 97 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to modify planning permissions where they consider it expedient.
What have I missed? I’m hoping that, like its predecessor, this blog post will very soon be past its sell by date.
Simon Ricketts, 4 April 2020
Personal views, etc cetera