‘Doubts Remain’ As New Planning Changes Come Into Force

Legal Expert Reacts As Rules Are Relaxed

31.05.2013

By Rob Dixon

The impact and effectiveness of new changes brought into force today and designed to relax and amend a number of planning rules can only be judged over the coming months, according to a planning specialist at Irwin Mitchell.

From May 30th, a series of changes have been introduced which have been designed to encourage building by both businesses and the general public.

Among the changes are amendments to permitted development rights which will allow empty commercial property to be converted into residential units without planning consent, as well as more flexible rules around changing the use of properties.

The move has been subject to much scrutiny over recent months and debate over the impact of the changes has continued recently, with the Local Government Association claiming that the new rules will leave many people without a say in relation to important changes made in their communities.

Councils which form the organisation also warned that the changes may have the opposite of the desired effect to ‘breathe life’ into empty buildings.

Commenting on the issue, Emily Williams, a planning specialist based at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office, said that while the removal of some red tape will be welcomed, it remains to be seen if it will be enough to stimulate the levels of development which are hoped for.

She outlined: “Where buildings are currently vacant or under-utilised, this change to the planning regime has to be seen as a positive step towards investment in those properties and those areas by permitting conversion to an alternative and potentially more marketable use. For the rural economy, the ability to diversify and attract investment is in line with the principles in the NPPF and should be welcomed. 

“However, the introduction of flexible uses and the changes of use for a wide range of properties is not going to be without challenges.  Even though there is no formal planning application process as such, the prior approval route to authorise this development still raises questions at a local level as to how much detail is required and how prior approval will be interpreted by local planning authorities. This may lead to inconsistency between authorities, but would be something that will become apparent as the new rules bed in.”

In terms of residential changes, Emily added: “For home owners an increase to the size threshold for extensions is introduced by the new legislation albeit that these previously controversial proposals will now be subject to a neighbour consultation process to address fears that unsightly development could spring up without any ability to object.

“In reality, unless there is an obvious impact on amenity, the new rules offer little comfort to concerned neighbours – if proposals conform to the new criteria they will be approved and consultation merely provides a forum for objections to be aired.

“For those wishing to take advantage of the new rules it’s important to realise the scope of the changes allowed, as not all development will fall within the authorised changes as some areas, certain London Boroughs, Manchester and others have already opted out of the new rules and have been granted limited exemptions from the new rights. 

“Where listed buildings are affected or where material alterations to buildings are required the new rules will not apply, so it is essential that professional advice is taken at an early stage of any proposal as it cannot be assumed that all existing planning controls have been relaxed by this legislation.

“Without a doubt the changes create opportunities for development but that in itself may not be enough to get Britain building at a time when the funds and financial incentives necessary to promote development are not always forthcoming.”

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