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The Long Term Plan for Housing: Let the consultations begin!

Hot on the heels of yesterday's "Long Term Plan for Housing", DLUHC has published not one, but two, of its promised consultations:

  1. A consultation on changes to PD rights and a call for evidence on  nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects and diversification which closes on 25 September 2023; and
  2. The plan making reforms consultation on implementation which closes on 18 October 2023

Both sets of consultations are pretty hefty but I have done my best to summarise the proposals below.

PD rights, nature based solutions and all things agricultural

The PD rights consultation proposes the following:

Changes to Conversion to Residential PD Rights

  • A proposal to replace prior approvals for design or external appearance in existing permitted development rights  with replaced a consideration of whether the pd schemes meets the requirements of the relevant design codes where they are in place locally.
  • Doubling the 1,500 square metres floorspace restriction for Class E to Residential PD rights (Class MA of Part 3) to 3,000 square metres.
  • Removing  the requirement that the premises must be vacant for at least three continuous months immediately prior to the date of the application for prior approval from the Class E to Residental PD Right.
  • Questioning whether the current prior approval for conservation areas is working well
  • Proposing a new PD Right allowing conversions from Hotels (and other C1 Uses) to Residential
  • Doubling the floorspace limits for rights allowing the conversion of Betting offices and pay day loan shops etc. to dwellinghouses (Class M of Part 3) and arcades etc. to dwellinghouses (Class N of Part 3) from 150 square metres to 300 square metres
  • Removing laundrettes from scope and widening the eligibility criteria of other rights to extend to newer buildings
  • Extending or doubling the areas of floorspace that can be converted or numbers of flats that can be created across a wide range of pd rights - including Class Q Barn Conversions
  • Granting limited PD Rights to buildings being turned into dwellings under Class Q
  •  Extending Class Q rights to a much wider range of buildings and allowing a greater range of enabling works, including making changes to highways access requirements.
  • Extending various rights allowing conversion to residential to other (unspecified) types of Article 2(3) Land from which it is currently excluded.

Changes to Agricultural PD Rights

The consultation also proposes

  • Widening the types of non-residential uses agricultural buildings can be converted into - so that they now cover sports & recreation etc
  • allowing buildings to change use to general industrial, limited to only allow the processing of raw goods produced on the site and which are to be sold on the site.
  • Increasing the floorspace limits for buildings that can be converted into other uses and allowing mixed uses for the first time; and
  • Broadening and simplifying the process for a wide range of 'pure' agricultural PD rights on existing holdings 

Commercial PD Rights, Markets & Prisons

In addition, we also have proposals to:

  • increase the maximum floorspace limit for the extension or alteration of a Class E building on non-protected land to either 200 square metres or a 100% increase over the original building size; 
  • expand the floorspace limit for a new industrial building or warehouse that can be built under PD from 200 square metres to 400 square metres.
  • increase the maximum floorspace of a new industrial and/or warehousing extension on non-protected land to the lesser of either 1,500 square metres or a 75% increase over the original building; and
  • increase the number days on which markets can be held on land without planning permission to 28 days or such other number as the consultation responses may suggest; and
  • the creation of a new PD Right to allow the government to build new open prisons without planning permission.

Call for Evidence: nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects, and diversification

The final part of this consultation relates to a DEFRA-led call for evidence on "nature-based solutions, farm efficiency projects, and diversification".

Nature based solutions

The government is seeking responses to the following questions (amongst others) in relation to nature-based mitigation schemes and the application of EIA and Habs Regs assessments to the planning system:

  • What guidance, policy, or legislative changes could help to provide a more supportive framework for planning authorities to determine planning applications within?
  • What new permitted development rights, or amendments to existing permitted development rights, would streamline and simplify the process? If referring to an existing permitted development right, please be as specific as possible.
  • Would a specific and focused permitted development right expedite or resolve a specific delivery challenge for nutrient mitigation schemes?
  • Would any issues impeding the delivery of nutrient mitigation schemes be resolved by amending planning practice guidance or permitted development rights, or any other solutions?
  •  Do you foresee any unintended negative consequences that may result from more nature-based solutions coming forward (e.g., impacts to other species, flood risk, wildfire risk, risk to public safety, releasing contaminants from contaminated land or hydrology etc.)? How could these be avoided?

From which it looks as if there may be a plan afoot to introduce a specific PD Right for nutrient mitigation schemes in the near future....

Similar questions are also asked about planning applications required to support farmer's access to:

  • the Slurry Infrastructure grant (£33.9 million in the first round), to help farmers increase their slurry storage to better manage nutrients and reduce diffuse water and air pollution; and
  • the Water Management grant (£10 million in the first round), to fund capital items for crop irrigation, including reservoirs to collect rainwater and surface water runoff over winter and reduce reliance on water abstraction in the summer months.

Namely, permissions for built structures, such as above ground stores, and dug stores such as slurry lagoons and reservoirs, which are generally considered development and require planning permission. 

It looks as if a PD right aimed at these schemes may also be under consideration, along with a wider range of PD rights to support farm diversification - as this is also subject to a similar evidence gathering exercise. 

How to implement a 30 month local plan

The second mammoth consultation deals with all things related to the 30 month local plan. This one is hard to summarise and I would strongly recommend reading it in full - several times. 

The proposals seem, however, to cluster around the following themes:

Plan content

Proposals to set out, in future policy guidance, a series of core principles relating to the content of local plans, including (but obviously not limited to):

  • a locally distinct vision which will anchor the plan, provide strategic direction for the underpinning policies and set out measurable outcomes for the plan period .
  • that sustainable development should run as a golden thread throughout plans, with growth being directed to suitable locations and supported by required infrastructure and good design.
  • that plans should contain ambitious locally distinctive policies which meet key economic, social, and environmental objectives, linked to the vision;
  • that plans should foster beautiful places and recognise the importance of design, linking to design codes where appropriate; and
  • that plans should set out a detailed approach to monitoring and ongoing review of the plan, for example how key policies and designations are implemented and applied, and the extent to which the plan is meeting the overall vision for the area.
  • There are also requirements that plans should be digitally accessible and contain core diagrams explaining their vision and content.

The new 30 month plan timeframe

The consultation sets out a detailed programme and timetable for the preparation of a 30 month plan, which can largely be summarised as follows:

  • A scoping and early participation stage – including requirements to “notify” the public and stakeholders including statutory bodies and “invite” participation; prepare or update the local plan or minerals and waste timetable  and give a minimum of four months’ of the LPAs intention to formally commence the 30 month plan preparation timeframe (starting with the first gateway assessment). Participation and evidence gathering required to inform the Strategic Environmental Assessment (and its eventual replacement Environmental Outcomes Reports) also begins in this stage.
  • Plan visioning and strategy development – including a requirement to undertake visioning about the future of the area (see Chapter 1) and the first formal public consultation on the plan.
  • Evidence gathering and drafting the plan – including a requirement to undertake the second gateway assessment.
  • Engagement, proposing changes and submission of the plan – including a requirement for the second public consultation on the plan and undertaking the third gateway assessment.

There are also proposals on how and when councils should report on when they hit each stage of plan development and the level of internal approval required for each stage.

I will leave it to those in local authorities to comment as to whether this is realistic or not, but it certainly strikes me as.... ambitious... to say the least.

Digital plans

There is an evidence gathering exercise on how best to use digitisation to support the roll out, preparation and accessibility of the new style local plans. 

Evidence and the tests of soundness

An entire chapter of the consultation is devoted to evidential standards and the tests of soundness - despite recognising that these changes will require further changes to the NPPF and (inevitably) yet more consultation in due course. 

The overall direction of travel, however, appears to be that:

  • national policy guidance as to what constitutes an appropriate evidence base for a local plan will become clearer;
  • A policy distinction will be drawn between  evidence produced and submitted to demonstrate that the plan is sound and legally compliant, and  the information gathering, assessment and other plan-making activities which are used to inform the plan but are not related to soundness or legal compliance. 
  • Clarifying in national policy that evidence should only normally be discussed and argued against at examination where there is a significant and demonstrable reason for doing so, in relation to the tests of soundness and legal requirements.
  • Providing clearer guidance to support the existing national policy that a plan should represent an appropriate strategy for the area, but that planning authorities do not need to demonstrate it is the most appropriate strategy.
  • Providing additional overarching guidance on ‘what good evidence looks like’. 
  • requiring councils to complete a new, light touch and templated ‘statement of compliance with legislation and national policy’ – which would set out where in the suite of evidence each national policy has been considered, acting as a signposting document; and
  • further exploratory work examining whether a change to this test of soundness would be beneficial, balancing the need to ensure there is sufficient confidence that planned development will come forward.

Gateway assessments during plan-making

The consultations proposes the following gateway assessments for the new local plans:

Plan examination

Plan Examinations are to be reduced to a maximum six month duration - with a possible three month extension if a consultation is required on plan modifications.

These timescales will not be set in regulations - so will be advisory only - and would largely be implemented through changes in PINS Guidance. 

A six month time limit will also be set on the ability to 'pause' a local plan during the examination process. 

Community engagement, consultation and a requirement to assist 

Wide ranging changes are proposed to consultation and engagement with local plans, with an increased focus on early and digital engagement and streamlined, more standardised, consultation procedures. 

There is also a proposal that the legal duty to assist with plan production be applied to the following bodies and organisations:

  • Environment Agency
  • Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England (Heritage England)
  • Natural England
  • Civil Aviation Authority
  • Homes & Communities Agency
  • Integrated Care Boards
  • Office of Road and Rail
  • Highway Authority, Local Transport Authority, Integrated Transport Authority or Transport for London
  • Local Enterprise Partnership
  • Local Nature Partnerships
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategy responsible authorities
  • Health & Safety Executive
  • Lead Local Flood Authority
  • National Health Service Commissioning Board
  • Rail Infrastructure Managers or Rail Network Operators
  • Sport England
  • Energy Undertakers
  • Telecommunications Undertakers
  • Water & Sewerage Undertakers

and a number of other bodies whose involvement may not be required on all local plans (such as the Coal Authority and the Forestry Commission).

Chapter 10: Monitoring of plans

The monitoring of plans is to be completely overhauled. Councils will now be required to provide:

  • a light touch annual return. This will include progress against plan making activities proposed in the local plan or minerals and waste plan timetable, and as a minimum it will also report on a small number of nationally prescribed metrics to assess the implementation of key policies against the output of the plan; and 
  • a detailed return to inform updates to the plan. By 4 years after adoption of a local plan or minerals and waste plan, at the latest, planning authorities should prepare a fuller analysis of how planning policies and designations are being implemented, and the extent to which the plan is meeting the overall vision for their area. 

The anticipated reporting metrics are pretty extensive and include:

Proposed monitoring metricsDetail of metrics
HousingNet additional dwellings completed (including conversions)
 Net affordable units completed
 Proportion of new homes permitted on brownfield land
 Net additional pitches & plots for gypsies and travellers
EconomyNet change in employment floorspace
Environment and Open spaceNet change in designated open space
 Net change in designated habitats due to development
 Delivery of 10% Biodiversity Net Gain
 Progress toward net zero emissions from buildings (to be developed)
Minerals*Aggregate landbank
 Amount (ha) of non-mineral development granted permission in a Mineral Safeguarding Area despite a Mineral Planning Authority objection
Waste*Waste generated (split by waste stream)
 Waste management methods (% recycled, recovered and disposed)
 Capacity at waste management facilities (split by management method)
Environmental Outcome Reports (EORs)Assessment of the contribution to meeting Environmental Outcomes and identification of any remedial action that needs to be undertaken

Other changes 

There are also detailed proposals relating to supplementary plans, mineral and waste plans and community land auctions which are worth reviewing. 

The proposed process for community land actions is set out in full and, to be honest, it looks really quite complicated. 

If you want to review it for yourself - the explanatory table can be found here

 Approach to roll out and transition

We do at least have some clarity on the transition arrangements, as the consultation goes to some pains to point out the following:

"235. We confirm our intention that the latest date for plan-makers to submit local plans, minerals and waste plans, and spatial development strategies for examination under the current system will be 30 June 2025. We also confirm our intention that those plans will, in general, need to be adopted by 31 December 2026. As referred to above, these dates are contingent upon Royal Assent of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, as well as Parliamentary approval of the relevant regulations. However, we are setting this out now to provide planning authorities with as much notice as possible of these dates."

with detailed proposals on exactly how the roll out of the new system is to be carried out following in the final chapters of the consultation. 

Between the two consultations, there is a LOT to get your teeth into! But hey, who needs a summer holiday? 

This consultation contains proposed changes to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, as amended. It covers the following areas:

Changes to certain permitted development rights that allow for the change of use to dwellinghouses.
Changes to certain permitted development rights that allow agricultural diversification and development on agricultural units.
Changes to certain permitted development rights that allow for non-domestic extensions and the erection of new industrial and warehouse buildings.
Changes to the permitted development right that allows for the temporary use of land to allow markets to operate for more days.
Changes to the existing permitted development right that allows for the erection, extension or alteration of schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, and closed prisons to also apply to open prisons.
The application of local design codes to certain permitted development rights.”