Planners call for bolder moves after consent extension

The Government has announced changes to the planning process, to extend expiring planning consents into next year and make planning appeals faster.

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not started on site. Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see consent extended to 1 April 2021. The Government said this would prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether.

The move comes as the Government estimates that by the end of this month, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired.

Alongside the permission extension, measures have also been brought in to permanently grant the planning inspectorate the ability to use more than one procedure, whether written representations, hearings and inquiries, at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal, which is hoped to enable appeals to happen faster.

While the extension of planning consent periods will be welcomed by many, the move may not be enough to get schemes started which were approved in 2017 and are yet to begin construction at the end of their three-year approval period, potentially due to issues unrelated to Covid-19.

Gary Halman, principal at Avison Young’s Manchester office, said: “The additional flexibility which this provides to developers and occupiers is welcome, but the period of the extension is pretty limited; essentially if you have a consent expiring at the end of December you’ll only get three more months to implement it.

“With all the challenges around getting development started again, it would have made more sense to make a bolder move and extended all consents for at least 12 months from the date that they would otherwise have expired.

“In the housing sector, development rates of sites will have slowed partly due to the shutdown of sites for a period earlier this year, but also because of the effects of house-buyers being more cautious and the general economic slowdown.

“This will have an effect in terms of the all-important five year housing land supply that councils must maintain; with slower rates of actual delivery more councils will face the prospect of dipping below the minimum five years, rendering them more susceptible to appeals.”

Ian Fletcher, director of real estate policy at the British Property Federation, said: “An extension to planning permissions is a welcome boost for development sites across the country and something we have been working with Government throughout lockdown to progress.

“It is vital to economic recovery that new investment continues to flow into our towns and cities, homes and high streets, and for those projects on rapidly expiring planning permissions over the coming months, this extension allows them to proceed with a little more leeway.

“Government should also continue to monitor the situation post April 2021 given the tremendous economic and operational challenges developers continue to face.”

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