Small but Mighty Changes in the Revised National Planning Policy Framework – Decision Making

12th September 2018

This section on Decision Making focuses very clearly on the importance of communication and consultation to achieve positive outcomes.

We are being encouraged to front-load the application process through Councils pre-application advice services, involving consultees at an earlier stage, discussing Section 106 Agreement requirements at an earlier stage and using Planning Performance Agreements where appropriate. We have also been finding that Councils are generally placing greater emphasis on early discussions and do not respond well if that offer is not taken up. Whilst it can feel like money for nothing, and sometimes is, in general seeking pre-application advice is becoming an essential part of the design evolution for proposals.

Validation checklists are now a part of everyday life. The revised NPPF has a new requirement for Councils to review their Validation Checklists every two years, rather than the previous vague requirement for a frequent review, which to date has been largely ignored by local planning authorities. If local authorities do not follow this, we can refer to this requirement to challenge their requests for information. The revised NPPF now also specifies that the requirements should be ‘kept to the minimum needed to make decisions’ rather than the previous direction to be ‘proportionate’. That is a very clear instruction, which reduces the obligation on applicants. However, we are always seeking to strike the right balance for our clients to minimise upfront costs whilst still putting our clients in the best position to gain a valuable and implementable planning permission.

Local Planning Authorities are encouraged to make decisions as quickly as possible. There is, however, an explicit allowance for agreeing a longer time period where necessary. This will be a useful tool to challenge those local planning authorities who refuse to agree to extensions of time even when a positive decision is close to being achieved. There is still a huge variation in the weight that Council’s give to achieving their determination targets and their flexibility in accepting amendments and negotiating during the course of the application process. This new wording should assist us in encouraging Councils to take a pragmatic approach.

Agreeing with the wording of conditions prior to issuing a decision is a new requirement that is noted as beneficial for all parties to speed up decision making, with pre-commencement conditions being discouraged unless they are clearly justified. This ties in with new regulations that we have previously reported on. (Click here to view).

A new paragraph has been added to address the use of viability arguments to justify a shortfall in Section 106 contributions made by developments. Regardless of whether the local policy allows for viability arguments to be made, this wording accepts that viability assessments are open to applicants to use. However, there is also an encouragement that all viability assessments should be made publicly available, which is unlikely to be a popular approach if adopted by local planning authorities, given the commercial sensitivity of the data. We will continue to argue that it is not appropriate for such information to be made public where possible, or to offer a redacted version for public consumption.

The encouragement to communicate and consult is fully in line with Bell Cornwell’s existing approach to working with Councils to achieve the best possible outcome for their clients. These changes in the revised NPPF are, therefore, generally welcomed and will be used to enhance our service to clients further.

To find out more or how this affects your planning applications, please contact us on 01256 766673.

Written by Partner, Rebekah Jubb.

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